Summary
Displacement mapping is an alternative computer graphics technique in contrast to bump, normal, and parallax mapping, using a texture or height map to cause an effect where the actual geometric position of points over the textured surface are displaced, often along the local surface normal, according to the value the texture function evaluates to at each point on the surface. It gives surfaces a great sense of depth and detail, permitting in particular self-occlusion, self-shadowing and silhouettes; on the other hand, it is the most costly of this class of techniques owing to the large amount of additional geometry. For years, displacement mapping was a peculiarity of high-end rendering systems like PhotoRealistic RenderMan, while realtime APIs, like OpenGL and DirectX, were only starting to use this feature. One of the reasons for this is that the original implementation of displacement mapping required an adaptive tessellation of the surface in order to obtain enough micropolygons whose size matched the size of a pixel on the screen. Displacement mapping includes the term mapping which refers to a texture map being used to modulate the displacement strength. The displacement direction is usually the local surface normal. Today, many renderers allow programmable shading which can create high quality (multidimensional) procedural textures and patterns at arbitrarily high frequencies. The use of the term mapping becomes arguable then, as no texture map is involved anymore. Therefore, the broader term displacement is often used today to refer to a super concept that also includes displacement based on a texture map. Renderers using the REYES algorithm, or similar approaches based on micropolygons, have allowed displacement mapping at arbitrary high frequencies since they became available almost 20 years ago. The first commercially available renderer to implement a micropolygon displacement mapping approach through REYES was Pixar's PhotoRealistic RenderMan. Micropolygon renderers commonly tessellate geometry themselves at a granularity suitable for the image being rendered.
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