We have this new system we are currently testing. We call it Meta Materials. What is a meta material? It is just stuff.
Let's build an abstract snowman:
We could render this using a nice snow material for the snow balls. For traditional rendering this would be a normal map and some other maps describing surface properties, like roughness, specularity, etc.
What happens if the camera get extremely close? In a real snowman you would see that there is no single clear surface. The packed snow is full of holes and imperfections. If we go close enough we may be able to see the ice crystals.
A meta material is information about stuff at multiple scales. It helps a lot when dealing with larger things than a snowman. A mountain for instance:
An artist hand-built this at the grand level. It would be too much work to manually sculpt every rock and little bump in the ground. Instead, the artist has classified what type of material goes in every spot. These are the meta materials. At a distance they may be just rendered using surface properties, however up close they can be quite large geometric features measuring 10 meters or more.
We would like a system that seamlessly covers from mountain to snowflakes, but we are taking smaller steps:
Here you can see a massive feature measuring more than 2 kilometers.
As you approach it, it comes into nice detail. Here is something that looks like a cave entrance. It is on top of the large thing. Note the rocks in the ground, these are coming from the meta-material:
I like this direction, it is a simple and robust way to define procedural objects of any shape and size. We intend to release this as an engine feature soon, I am looking forward to what people can create with a system like this. I will be posting more screenshots and videos about it.