CS315: Illumination 2

Highlights of this lab:

This lab extends your knowledge of basic illumination
  1. The Blinn-Phong equation revisited
  2. Distance and Positional Lights
  3. Hemisphere lighting


After the lab lecture, you have approximately one week to:

Lab Notes

Start with the files from Lab5.zip.

In last week's lab you saw these pictures. They show a full implementation of the Blinn-Phong reflection equation being applied in three different ways. The first is flat shading - one colour is used for one whole primitive (triangle). The second is Gouraud shading - reflection is only calculated at the vertices, and colours are interpolated. The last is Phong shading - the full lighting equation is performed per fragment in the fragment shader. This week you will see results that look like all three columns, but you will always be doing Gouraud shading. You will add the Blinn-Phong specular component to a vertex shader, which produces the whitish highlight you see. The smoothness or flatness you will observe will be created entirely in the model - either by using the same normal for all vertices of a primitive (flat-like results) or high resolution meshes (Phong-like results).

Flat Shading Gouraud Shading Phong Shading
Flat Shaded Low-tesselation torus Gouraud Shaded Low-tesselation torus Phong Shaded Low-tesselation torus
Flat Shaded Mid-tesselation torus Gouraud Shaded Mid-tesselation torus Phong Shaded Mid-tesselation torus
Flat Shaded High-tesselation torus Gouraud Shaded High-tesselation torus Phong Shaded High-tesselation torus

Figure 1:Torus at different resolutions lit with Blinn-Phong reflection and shaded with different shading models.


A. Blinn-Phong Equation Revisited

When you start to work with lighting, you move beyond color to normals, material properties and light properties. Normals describe what direction a surface is facing at a particular point. Material properties describe of what things are made of — or at least what they appear to be made of — by describing how they reflect light. Light properties describe the type and colour of the light interacting with the materials in the scene. Lights and materials can interact in many different ways. Describing these many different ways is one reason shaders are so important to modern 3D graphics APIs.

One common lighting model that relates geometry, materials and lights is the Blinn-Phong reflection model. It breaks lighting up into three simplified reflection components: diffuse, specular and ambient reflection. In this week's lab we will focus on specular reflection. The other two are left here for your reference.

Specular Reflection

Specular reflection represents the shine that you see on very smooth or polished surfaces. Phong specular reflection takes into account both the angle between your eye and the direction the light would be reflected. As your eye approaches the direction of reflection, the apparent brightness increases. It assumes that light will be scattered toward the mirror reflection direction. A special shininess parameter is used to control how tight this scattering is. The Blinn-Phong specular reflection is very similar to Phong, but it fixes some technical shortcomings having to do with backscatter (compare the curves you see if figure 5). Instead of using the reflection vector it uses a vector that is halfway between the light and the eye. This vector is then compared to the normal.

The Blinn-Phong specular component is calculated by these equations:

h = (e+l)/|(e+l)|
Is = ms Ls (h · n)s


Specular exponent
1 10 100
Phong Phong with low shine Phong with medium shine Phong with high shine
Blinn-Phong Blinn-Phong with low shine Blinn-Phong with medium shine Blinn-Phong with high shine

Figure 2: Phong vs Blinn-Phong With Varying Shininess Values.
Both the Phong and Blinn-Phong reflectance functions cause a highlight to appear around the direction of reflection. Blinn-Phong has a fix that allows a near-diffuse disctribution at low shininess. Notice that at shininess 1 the Phong highlight would be invisible past 90° from the reflection direction, but Blinn-Phong is visible well past that point. Blinn-Phong also appears slightly more diffuse at all shininess values than Phong.


Figure 3: Interactive Lighting Calculation Exploration Tool
Click and drag on the tip of the eye and light arrows to change light and eye positions. The curves drawn around the point show the half-scale (relative to the normal) shape of a cross section of the lighting reflectance distribution function where the eye, light, normal and vertex all lie in the same plane. If Lambertian and one specular function are selected, the sum of the functions is shown. If all three are selected, they are overlaid.

Putting Things Together

This specular colour is added to the diffuse and ambient colours described in last week's lab. The illumination of an object from one light, then, is the sum of each of these components.

I = Is + Id + Ia

A vertex shader that implements all of this is included in Demo 1. Its code is shown below. The new specular lighting code is highlighted for your convenience:
Multi-Light Shader with added Specular

//diffuse and ambient multi-light shader

attribute vec4 vPosition;
attribute vec3 vNormal;

varying vec4 color;

struct _light
    vec4 diffuse;
    vec4 ambient;
    vec4 specular;
    vec4 position;

struct _material
    vec4 diffuse;
    vec4 ambient;
    vec4 specular;
    float shininess;

const int nLights = 1; // number of lights

uniform mat4 p;     // perspective matrix
uniform mat4 mv;    // modelview matrix
uniform bool lighting;  // to enable and disable lighting
uniform vec4 uColor;    // colour to use when lighting is disabled
uniform _light light[nLights]; // properties for the n lights
uniform _material material;    // material properties

vec4 mvPosition; // unprojected vertex position
vec3 N; // fixed surface normal

vec4 lightCalc(in _light light);

void main() 
  //Transform the point
  mvPosition = mv*vPosition;  //mvPosition is used often
  gl_Position = p*mvPosition; 

  if (lighting == false) 
	color = uColor;
    //Make sure the normal is actually unit length, 
    //and isolate the important coordinates
    N = normalize((mv*vec4(vNormal,0.0)).xyz);
    //Combine colors from all lights
    color.rgb = vec3(0,0,0);
    for (int i = 0; i < nLights; i++)
        color += lightCalc(light[i]);
    color.a = 1.0; //Override alpha from light calculations

vec4 lightCalc(in _light light)
  //Set up light direction for positional lights
  vec3 L;
  //If the light position is a vector, use that as the direction
  if (light.position.w == 0.0) 
    L = normalize(light.position.xyz);
  //Otherwise, the direction is a vector from the current vertex to the light
    L = normalize(light.position.xyz - mvPosition.xyz);

  //Set up eye vector
  vec3 E = -normalize(mvPosition.xyz);

  //Set up Blinn half vector
  vec3 H = normalize(L+E); 

  //Calculate specular coefficient
  float Ks = pow(max(dot(N, H),0.0), material.shininess);
  //Calculate diffuse coefficient
  float Kd = max(dot(L,N), 0.0);

  //Calculate colour for this light
  vec4 color =  Ks * material.specular * light.specular
               + Kd * material.diffuse * light.diffuse
               + material.ambient * light.ambient;
  return color;

Appropriate changes should be made to get and set the specular colour and shininess uniforms. The process is similar to what you observed with diffuse and ambient lighting.


Specifying Material Properties

Classic OpenGL has five material properties affect a material's illumination. They are introduced in the Blinn-Phong model section and implemented in the shaders in lab demo 2. They are explained below.

Diffuse and ambient properties:
The diffuse and ambient reflective material properties are a type of reflective effect that is independent of the viewpoint. Diffuse lighting describes how an object reflects a light that is shining on the object. That is, it is how the surface diffuses a direct light source. Ambient lighting describes how a surface reflects the ambient light available. The ambient light is the indirect lighting that is in a scene: the amount of light that is coming from all directions so that all surfaces are equally illuminated by it. Both properties are usually set to the similar colours, though the ambient colour is usually scaled down or darker than the diffuse colour.

Specular and shininess properties:
The specular and the shininess properties of the surface describe reflective effects that are affected by the position of the viewpoint. Specular light is reflected light from a surface that produces the reflective highlights in a surface. The shininess is a value that describes how focused the reflective properties are.

Emissive property:
Emissive light is the light that an object gives off by itself. Objects that represent a light source are typically the only objects that you give an emissive value. Lamps, fires, and lightning are all objects that give off their own light.

Our shader does not support emissive values as such, but we can simulate it by disabling lighting and using a uniform colour. The light spheres in this week's sample are represented this way.
Choosing the Material Properties for an Object

The steps are as follows:

  1. Decide on the diffuse and ambient colors;
  2. Decide on the shininess of the object.
  3. Decide whether the object is giving off light. If it is, assign it the emissive properties

Seeing the effects of varying material properties may help you select the ones you want.

In this week's first demo - seen below - specular, diffuse and ambient material properties have been implemented. The program provides convenient colour pickers to allow you to select different specular and diffuse/ambient colours interactively. It also provides sliders to rotate the light about the Y-axis and change the shininess value. You should take some time to get familiar with the effects of the different properties. You will be expected to design your own specular material in the exercise after you add specular features to the exercise code.

Click here to view demo on its own.


B. Distance and Positional Lights

In the real world a point light source, or positional light, will have less power to light an object the farther the two are apart. This is called attenuation. Because the light spreads out in an ever increasing sphere, the intensity of the light decreases in inverse proportion to the square of the distance. Classic OpenGL has three parameters to calculate the attenuation factor: constant, linear, and quadratic attenuation. These three factors are used as shown in this equation:

float attenuation = 1.0;
if (/* light is positional */)
   float dist = length(light.position.xyz - mvPosition.xyz);
   attenuation = 1.0/(constant + linear * dist + quadratic * dist*dist);

This calculation is applied separately to the entire colour of each light - you multiply that light's colour by the attenuation, something like this

// where color is the color result for one light
// and attenuation is 1 for directional lights
color = attenuation * color;

Attenuation is not implemented in the shaders in this week's lab. This is left for you to do as an exercise.


C. Hemisphere Lighting

Specular lighting adds a lot to the diffuse and ambient lighting you learned last week. But there's more to add to diffuse lighting. The ambient components are a hack to simulate global illumination, and they do a pretty poor job. Unless you use textures, there's no detail to be seen in ambient light - only a flat silhouette. Hemisphere is a better looking hack that extends the light all around the object. Like diffuse/ambient it uses two light colours, but each is considered to be in opposite hemispheres shining down on the object. Toward the middle, their colours blend smoothly. These colours are intended to represent the sky and the ground, but many implementations allow you to specify the direction of the north pole, or top hemisphere, so it becomes simple to specify, directional, two colour global illumination.

This picture illustrates the intent:

Demonstration of effect of same light striking flat surface at different angles.
Figure 5: Hemisphere lighting's concept. Light falls on the object from two opposite hemispheres and blends across the object.

Downward facing normals are lit entierly by the bottom hemisphere. Upward facing normals are lit entirely by the upper hemisphere. Angled normals are linearly blended (or lerped) between the two based on their angle to the "north pole" or top direction.

The proper equation for this is:

Color = a · TopColor + (1 - a) · BottomColor


a = 1.0 - (0.5 · sin(Θ)) for Θ ≤ 90°
a = (0.5 · sin(Θ)) for Θ > 90°

This can be simplified without too much error to:

a = 0.5 + (0.5 · cos(Θ))

Which replaces an expensive sin() with a cos() and saves a branch instruction. Remember, both paths through a branch are always executed in WebGL shader programs. Since this method of global illumination is already approximate, the error is mostly harmless. Here are the two curves overlaid on each other:

Demonstration of effect of same light striking flat surface at different angles.
Figure 6: Comparison of real vs. fake a calculation for hemisphere lighting.

The following shader implements hemisphere lighting:

Hemisphere Lighting Vertex Shader

//hemisphere lighting shader with optional diffuse lighting path

attribute vec4 vPosition;
attribute vec3 vNormal;

varying vec4 color;

struct global_ambient
    vec4 direction;  // direction of top colour
    vec4 top;        // top colour
    vec4 bottom;     // bottom colour

struct _material
    vec4 diffuse;   

uniform mat4 p;     // perspective matrix
uniform mat4 mv;    // modelview matrix

uniform _material material; // material properties
uniform global_ambient global;	// global ambient uniform

vec4 mvPosition; // unprojected vertex position
vec3 N; // fixed surface normal

void main() 
  //Transform the point
  mvPosition = mv*vPosition;  //mvPosition is used often
  gl_Position = p*mvPosition; 

  //Make sure the normal is actually unit length, 
  //and isolate the important coordinates
  N = normalize((mv*vec4(vNormal,0.0)).xyz);
  //Make sure global ambient direction is unit length
  vec3 L = normalize(global.direction.xyz);
  //Calculate cosine of angle between global ambient direction and normal
  float cosTheta = dot(L,N);

  //Calculate global ambient colour
  float a = 0.5+(0.5*cosTheta);
  color = a * global.top * material.diffuse
  	      + (1.0-a)* global.bottom * material.diffuse;
  color.a = 1.0; //Override alpha from light calculations 
                 // (only needs to be done once)

And here is a working hemisphere and Lambertian sample for you to experiment with:

Observe how much detail you can make out in the shadows with Hemisphere Lighting as compared with Lambertian Directional Lighting. Notice, also, that the Lambertian blows out the whites if you just increase the brightness of shadows - this is because the ambient and diffuse colours are added rather than linearly blended as with Hemispherical lighting.



Start with the files from Lab5.zip. This lab adds two useful libraries - Apple's j3di.js, which provides an OBJ file loader, and East Desire's jscolor.js which provides the colour picker you see in the demos. They are in the lab folder for your convenience. You might want to consider putting copies in the Common folder for your own future use.

If you don't use Visual Studio Code's Live Server extension, Batman - a local .obj file - might not show up in any of the samples. You might need to to start Chrome from a Mac Terminal like this if you want to open local files (like Batman or your own OBJ):

open /Applications/Google\ Chrome.app --args --allow-file-access-from-files

The white ball in the center of the screen is interactive. You can move it side to side and forward and back with the WASD keys. It can also be moved up and down with the Q and E keys. You will enhance this light with specular calculations and distance fading (attenuation). You will also add a second light to the lamp post and make the shiny spots from the lights look nicer with Phong shading. Good luck!!



  • You will make several changes to L5E.html and L5E.js. There are //EXERCISE #: comments scattered throughout the code to help guide you through the following numbered items. Please try to keep these intact. I may have missed a couple, but I tried to be thorough.
    1. _/2 EXERCISE 1: Add specular illumination code to gshader.vert and L5E.js. Specifically:
      • Add the specular member to the _light and _material structures where indicated
      • Add the shininess member to the _material structure where indicated
      • Add the specular highlighting calculations to the lightCalc() function where indicated
      • Note the specular colours and shininess that are already added to light[0], material.clay and material.redPlastic
      • Search for and note the places specularLoc and shininessLoc have already been queried from the shader and added to convenience functions so they can easily be set at the same time as other lighting properties.
      • In testing, you should see a white highlight that follows your glowing ball, especially on the sphere if you increase Sphere Rez (careful - there's a big performance hit at high Rez).
    2. _/2 EXERCISE 2: Add attenuation code to gshader.vert and L5E.js. Specifically:
      • In gshader.vert, add attenuation coefficients as a member of the _light structure where indicated.
      • In gshader.vert, add the light distance and attenuation calculations to the lightCalc() function where indicated.
      • Multiply the return of the lightCalc() function by the attenuation.
      • In L5E.js, add attenuation coefficients to light[0]. To understand how the quadratic, linear and constant coefficients interact, you can try playing with this fooplot.
      • In L5E.js, continue following the EXERCISE 2: markers to find where to request your attenuation uniforms and send them to the shader. Finish this work by example.
      • In testing, you should notice that lighting changes a lot more as you move the glowing ball. The scene should get noticeably darker as the light moves away from your objects.
    3. _/2 EXERCISE 3: Complete the code to allow 2 or more lights to gshader.vert and L5E.js. Specifically:
      • In gshader.vert, change the nLights constant as directed. You can add more lights later by changing this number.
      • In gshader.vert, add a for loop around the line where lightCalc() is called so that it is called once for every light.
      • In L5E.js, use a loop to request uniform locations for your new lights where indicated. It is easiest to hard code a number to match the shader since you cannot query the value of a constant from a shader program. Some GL programmers use string parsing to make the two values match.
      • In L5E.js, add propeties for your new light(s) where indicated.
      • In L5E.js, set the second light's position in World coordinates to match the sphere on the lamp post.
        If you are extra clever, you can make it so the light automatically follows the lamp post if you change its location...
      • In testing, you should notice a subtle light coming from the direction of the lamp post regardless of the position of the floating ball.
    4. _/2 EXERCISE 4: Make a Phong shading version of your multi-light specular shader so you can see your specular highlights more clearly. Specifically:
      • Copy gshader.vert and gshader.frag to pshader.vert and pshader.frag respectively.
      • Move all the lighting structures, lighting constants, lighting uniforms and the lightCalc() function and prototype from pshader.vert to pshader.frag.
      • Move the code marked as Color Caclulation from pshader.vert's main to pshader.frag's main. The last line of pshader.frag should be the one that sets fragColor = color;.
      • In pshader.vert, remove the color output and N global. Switch the mvPosition and mvN globals to outputs.
      • In pshader.frag, switch the color input to a global, add vec3 N; as a global, and adjust your inputs to match pshader.vert's outputs.
      • In pshader.frag, uncomment the line that initializes the phong shader program, then use it instead of gouraud.
      • In testing, you should see very smooth highlights on the red plastic sphere at all resolutions.
    5. _/2 EXERCISE 5: Make and name a material property for Batman or an OBJ of your choice. Specifically:
      • In L5E.js, add at least one material to the materialobject where indicated. Be sure to give it a descriptive name like the samples you see there.
      • You can use the color pickers and sliders in the lab notes to help you design your material. MacOS has a built-in Digital Color Meter app that is perfect for this.
      • Replace Batman's clay material with yours.
      • Optional: replace Batman with an OBJ of your choice, or give him a friend. Ask your lab instructor for help converting free models from free3d.com if they don't work directly off the site.
      • In testing, you should see your material on Batman or other OBJ of your choice.