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Advanced shading language for production GI renderers

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Contents of this file:

  * Introduction
  * How OSL is different
  * What OSL consists of
  * Building OSL
  * Current state of the project and road map
  * Contacts
  * Credits


Welcome to Open Shading Language!

Open Shading Language (OSL) is a small but rich language for
programmable shading in advanced renderers and other applications, ideal
for describing materials, lights, displacement, and pattern generation.

OSL was developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks for use in its in-house
renderer used for feature film animation and visual effects. The
language specification was developed with input by other visual effects
and animation studios who also wish to use it.

OSL is distributed under the "New BSD" license (see the "LICENSE" file
that comes with the distribution).  In short, you are free to use it in
your own applications, whether they are free or commercial, open or
proprietary, as well as to modify the OSL code as you desire, provided
that you retain the original copyright notices as described in the

How OSL is different

OSL has syntax similar to C, as well as other shading languages.
However, it is specifically designed for advanced rendering algorithms
and has features such as radiance closures, BSDFs, and deferred ray
tracing as first-class concepts.

OSL has several unique characteristics not found in other shading
languages (certainly not all together).  Here are some things you will
find are different in OSL compared to other languages:

* Surface and volume shaders compute radiance closures, not final colors.

  OSL's surface and volume shaders compute an explicit symbolic
  description, called a "closure", of the way a surface or volume
  scatters light, in units of radiance.  These radiance closures may be
  evaluated in particular directions, sampled to find important
  directions, or saved for later evaluation and re-evaluation.
  This new approach is ideal for a physically-based renderer that
  supports ray tracing and global illumination.

  In contrast, other shading languages usually compute just a surface
  color as visible from a particular direction.  These old shaders are
  "black boxes" that a renderer can do little with but execute to find
  this one piece of information (for example, there is no effective way
  to discover from them which directions are important to sample).
  Furthermore, the physical units of lights and surfaces are often
  underspecified, making it very difficult to ensure that shaders are
  behaving in a physically correct manner.

* Surface and volume shaders do not loop over lights or shoot rays.

  There are no "light loops" or explicitly traced rays in OSL surface
  shaders.  Instead, surface shaders compute a radiance closure
  describing how the surface scatters light, and a part of the renderer
  called an "integrator" evaluates the closures for a particular set of
  light sources and determines in which directions rays should be
  traced.  Effects that would ordinarily require explicit ray tracing,
  such as reflection and refraction, are simply part of the radiance
  closure and look like any other BSDF.

  Advantages of this approach include that integration and sampling may
  be batched or re-ordered to increase ray coherence; a "ray budget" can
  be allocated to optimally sample the BSDF; the closures may be used by
  for bidirectional ray tracing or Metropolis light transport; and the
  closures may be rapidly re-evaluated with new lighting without having
  to re-run the shaders.

* Surface and light shaders are the same thing.

  OSL does not have a separate kind of shader for light sources.  Lights
  are simply surfaces that are emissive, and all lights are area lights.

* Transparency is just another kind of illumination.

  You don't need to explicitly set transparency/opacity variables in the
  shader.  Transparency is just another way for light to interact with a
  surface, and is included in the main radiance closure computed by a
  surface shader.

* Renderer outputs (AOV's) are specified using "light path expressions."

  Sometimes it is desirable to output images containing individual
  lighting components such as specular, diffuse, reflection, individual
  lights, etc.  In other languages, this is usually accomplished by
  adding a plethora of "output variables" to the shaders that collect
  these individual quantities.

  OSL shaders need not be cluttered with any code or output variables to
  accomplish this.  Instead, there is a regular-expression-based
  notation for describing which light paths should contribute to which
  outputs.  This is all done on the renderer side (though supported by
  the OSL implementation).  If you desire a new output, there is no need
  to modify the shaders at all; you only need to tell the renderer the
  new light path expression.

* Shaders are organized into networks.

  OSL shaders are not monolithic, but rather can be organized into
  networks of shaders (sometimes called a shader group, graph, or DAG),
  with named outputs of some nodes being connected to named inputs of
  other nodes within the network.  These connections may be done
  dynamically at render time, and do not affect compilation of
  individual shader nodes.  Furthermore, the individual nodes are
  evaluated lazily, only their outputs are "pulled" from the later nodes
  that depend on them (shader writers may remain blissfully unaware of
  these details, and write shaders as if everything is evaluated

* No "uniform" and "varying" keywords in the language.

  OSL shaders are evaluated in "SIMD" fashion, executing shaders on many
  points at once, but there is no need to burden shader writers with
  declaring which variables need to be uniform or varying.  In OSL, this
  is done both automatically and dynamically, meaning that a variable
  can switch back and forth between uniform and varying, on an
  instruction-by-instruction basis, depending on what is assigned to it.

* Arbitrary derivatives without grids or extra shading points.

  In OSL, you can take derivatives of any computed quantity in a shader,
  and use arbitrary quantities as texture coordinates and expect correct
  filtering.  This does not require that shaded points be arranged in a
  rectangular grid, or have any particular connectivity, or that any
  "extra points" be shaded.  This is because derivatives are not
  computed by finite differences with neighboring points, but rather by
  "automatic differentiation", computing partial differentials for the
  variables that lead to derivatives, without any intervention required
  by the shader writer.

What OSL consists of

The OSL open source distribution consists of the following components:

* oslc, a standalone compiler that translates OSL source code into
  an assembly-like intermediate code (in the form of .oso files).

* liboslc, a library that implements the OSLCompiler class, which
  contains the guts of the shader compiler, in case anybody needs to
  embed it into other applications and does not desire for the compiler
  to be a separate executable.

* liboslquery, a library that implements the OSLQuery class, which
  allows applications to query information about compiled shaders,
  including a full list of its parameters, their types, and any metadata
  associated with them.

* oslinfo, a command-line program that uses liboslquery to print to the
  console all the relevant information about a shader and its parameters.

* liboslexec, a library that implements the ShadingSystem class, which
  allows compiled shaders to be executed within an application.
  Currently, it implements a SIMD-like interpreter of the OSL bytecodes.

* testshade, a program that lets you execute a shader (or connected
  shader network) on a rectangular array of points, and save any of its
  outputs as images.  This allows for verification of shaders (and the
  shading system) without needing to be integrated into a fully
  functional renderer, and is the basis for most of our testsuite
  verification.  Also note that the source code for testshade is
  currently the best example of how to call the OSL libraries.

* A few sample shaders.

* Documentation -- at this point consisting of the OSL language
  specification (useful for shader writers), but in the future will have
  detailed documentation about how to integrate the OSL libraries into

Building OSL

Please see the "INSTALL" file in the OSL distribution for instructions
for building the OSL source code.

Current state of the project and road map

This is not a final production-ready release.

OK, here's the straight dope:

At Sony Pictures Imageworks, OSL has been integrated into our renderer
and pipeline, the Shading department has recoded nearly all the facility
shaders in OSL and is approaching full functionality of the shader
library, and multiple shows are now doing early look development with

But we are NOT yet ready for full lighting and rendering production.  In
addition to some missing (very minor) functionality in the language
itself, OSL's shading performance is still much slower than our previous
C-language shaders (we're aiming for approximate parity with our old
shaders).  We are making rapid progress and hope to hit our performance
targets in the next 3-4 weeks.  In fact, we HAVE to, since our own shows
will need full performance as they get into full production within the
next few months.

We thought that even in this state, it was worth making the code
available.  The performance shouldn't get in your way -- even if you
start integrating OSL into your renderer right away, by the time you are
ready to do serious production, we will be at full performance.

What's missing?  Here are a number of things that we wish had been
included in the first public release of the code but are not ready yet,
we promise that we are working on them and within a few weeks they will
no longer be issues:

* More documentation, in particular the "Integration Guide" that
  documents all the public APIs of the OSL libraries that you use when
  integrating into a renderer.

* Currently an application executing shaders with liboslexec needs to
  access a few data structures and APIs that ought to be hidden.  Expect
  a minor overhaul of the public ShadingSystem APIs so that invoking
  shaders from an application is easier, cleaner, and needs less access
  to the internal details of the library.

* The 'testshade' program runs shaders on an unwrapped flat rectangular
  array of points, and does not have any good way to test whether lights
  are working properly.  We will eventually have another test program
  that will render a "lit ball" that will be more indicative of how the
  integration and lighting work.

* Currently, you have to write your own "integrator" from scratch when
  incorporating into a renderer application, which is less than ideal.
  We will eventually provide at least one sample integrator which may be
  used in a renderer, and outline what you need to do for more
  sophisticated integration strategies.

* Our set of sample shaders is quite anemic.  We will eventually have a
  more extensive set of useful shaders.

* The code that implements "light path expressions" is currently missing
  from the OSL libraries.  We naively thought at first that this was a
  renderer feature and implemented it on the wrong side of the boundary
  between our renderer and OSL.  We will rectify that, moving the code
  into the public OSL library so that other renderers can use the same
  light expressions without needing to reimplement it.

* Performance issues -- OSL shaders currently execute 2-10 times slower
  than the equivalent shader written in optimized C (our goal is to
  achieve parity with our old C shaders).  This is simply due to having
  just started optimization; We're making rapid progress -- a month ago
  we were 100-200x slower than C -- and there are multiple obvious
  optimizations we are working on that we are confident will achieve our
  performance goals within the next several weeks.

That's the short term -- all these should be completed within the next
few months (over the course of the first several months of 2010).

In the longer term, there are a number of projects we hope to get to
leading to a 2.x or 3.x cut of the language and library.  Among our
long-term goals:

* Currently "closure primitives" are implemented in C++ in the OSL
  library, but we would like a future spec of the language to allow new
  closure primitives to be implemented in OSL itself.

* Similarly, integrators are now implemented in the renderer, but we
  want a future OSL release to allow new integrators to be implemented
  in OSL itself.

* We would like to implement alternate "back ends" that would allow
  translation of OSL shaders (and shader networks) into code that can
  run on GPUs or other exotic hardware (at least for the biggest subset
  of OSL that can be expressed on such hardware).  This would, for
  example, allow you to view close approximations to your OSL shaders in
  realtime preview windows in a modeling system or lighting tool.

* We would like to experiment with LLVM or other dynamic compilation
  technologies to see if there is a significant benefit to translating
  OSL shader networks all the way to native machine code, rather than
  interpreting byte codes at runtime.

We (the renderer development team at Sony Pictures Imageworks) probably
can't do these all right away (in fact, probably can't do ALL of them in
any time range).  But we hope that as an open source project, other
users and developers will step up to help us explore more future
development avenues for OSL than we would be able to do alone.


OSL home page at SPI:

OSL project page at Google Code:

Read or subscribe to the OSL development mail list:

Email the lead architect:  lg AT imageworks DOT com


The main developers of OSL are (in order of joining the project):

    Larry Gritz
    Cliff Stein
    Chris Kulla
    Alejandro Conty
    Jay Reynolds

We cannot possibly express sufficient gratitude to the managers at Sony
Pictures Imageworks who allowed this project to proceed, supported it
wholeheartedly, and permitted us to release the source, especially Rob
Bredow, Brian Keeney, Barbara Ford, and Rene Limberger.

Huge thanks also go to the crack shading team at SPI, and the brave
lookdev TDs and CG supes willing to use OSL on their shows.  They served
as our guinea pigs, inspiration, testers, and a fantastic source of
feedback.  Thank you, and we hope we've been responsive to your needs.

OSL was not developed in isolation.  We owe a debt to the individuals
and studios who patiently read early drafts of the language
specification and gave us very helpful feedback and additional ideas.
(I hope to mention them by name after we get permission of the people
and studios involved.)

The OSL implementation incorporates or depends upon several other open
source packages:

OpenImageIO (c) Larry Gritz, et al.
Boost - various authors       
IlmBase (c) Industrial Light & Magic.
Thread Building Blocks (c) Intel Corp.
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