Baking texture maps

As explained in the tutorial Rendering a scene with a RenderMan compliant renderer the render tool can be used to render a scene via a RenderMan compliant renderer. But instead of producing a final image, the render tool can also be used to render a texture map that captures such things as ambient occlusion or the full illumination including shadows and global illumination effects. Such maps can then be used to rerender the scene much more quickly or the map can be used for interactive rendering in games or VR applications.

This tutorial explains the steps necessary to bake a texture map such as an ambient occlusion map. However, the steps are the same if you want to bake anything else. You can bake anything your renderer supports.

The files for doing this tutorial are available in the archive (195KB).


To be able to bake a texture map for a 3D model you need a model that already has appropriate texture coordinates for baking. So this has to be done in the modeling package you are using for creating the model in the first place.

Then you need a RenderMan compliant renderer. No special baking functionality is required on part of the renderer, so any RenderMan renderer will do. Note however, that in this tutorial we are using the Shading Language function occlusion() assuming that it uses ray tracing internally. So if you are using one of the freely available renderers, you can use 3Delight or Pixie, but as Aqsis doesn’t support ray tracing yet, it won’t produce the desired results (it is possible to create the below images with Aqsis as well, but it requires a slightly different technique which isn’t directly supported by cgkit yet).

Preparing the model

The first step is to create the model in your favorite modeling package. Currently, only polygonal models can be used for baking. For this tutorial, we’re using the model in the following image (which doesn’t represent anything particular, it’s just an object with a few concavities to show the effect of ambient occlusion):


As we want to apply the baked texture map later on we need texture coordinates for the baked map. How exactly you are doing that is up to you. You can either assign the texture coordinates manually to have full control about the uv layout. In this case, you have to make sure that the final uv layout has no overlapping parts, otherwise it wouldn’t later be possible to assign a separate color for each surface point on your model. You should also make sure that there’s a little space around each texture area to prevent the color from one texture area “leaking” through to another face where it doesn’t belong to. Instead of manually assigning the texture coordinates you can also let your modeling package do the job. That’s how I obtained the following uv layout for the above model:


Now the model is ready for baking. You just have to save it into a format that cgkit can read. Here, I saved the model in the Wavefront Object format.

Baking the map

For baking a map we have to set a few parameters, so we will create a small Python script that loads the model, does all the necessary setup and then serves as input for the render tool. Here is the entire script, the explanation follows:

# Bake a texture map

    bake = True,
    resolution = (512, 512),
    pixelsamples = (2,2),
    output = "ao_map.tif",
    displaymode = "rgba"

# Load the model

# Obtain a reference to the model
model = worldObject("Model")

# Set the bake material
mat = RMMaterial(
    surface = RMShader(
         samples = 1000

In the Globals section we first activate texture baking by setting the variable bake to True. This has the same effect than specifying the option -B or --bake to the render tool. All remaining options are usual rendering options that are not particular to baking. The resolution of the map is set to 512x512. We are using a power of two resolution as we want to be able to use the map in OpenGL and we don’t want OpenGL having to scale the image. The pixel samples setting is set to the standard 2x2. The output image will be called ao_map.tif and will contain an alpha channel as the display mode is set to "rgba" (which is the default for baking anyway, in contrast to normal rendering).

There are two more options specific to baking that we did not use here. The bakemodel parameter allows to specify the model that should be used for baking. It can either be the name of an object or the object itself. As we only have one single mesh in our scene, specifying this parameter is not necessary. The next parameter is bakevarst which contains the name of the primitive variable that holds the texture coordinates for use with baking. The default value is "st" which is fine in our case. You might have to modify this variable if you want to bake a textured model and your shader already uses the standard st variable for looking up the texture. In this case, you may need a separate set of texture coordinates for baking.

After the Globals block the model is loaded and a reference to the model is obtained (to do so, you have to know the name of your model. In our case, it’s simply called “Model”).

Now the model receives a special RenderMan shader as material. This shader determines what you are actually baking. Any shader that is used for baking has to be made aware of this. Our shader, which is simply baking an ambient occlusion map, looks like this:

  Bake Ambient Occlusion

surface bake_ao(float samples=128; varying point Pref = point(0,0,0))
  normal Nshad = BAKE_NORMAL(N);

  Ci = 1-occlusion(P, Nshad, samples);
  Oi = 1;

Every shader used for baking must take a parameter called Pref which must be of type varying point. This variable carries the actual 3D point on the surface of our model where shading should take place (remember, we are actually rendering a flat texture map, so our regular P is bascially somewhere in uv space and that’s why we have to carry the original 3D P with us as variable Pref).

The entire shader code should be enclosed by the BAKE_BEGIN and BAKE_END macros which will be provided by the render tool. At the beginning, the global variable P will be replaced by Pref, so the shader can actually use P just as usual. There is another macro BAKE_NORMAL() which should be used for obtaining the correct normal. For this to work correctly, the model must supply normal information! So you should make sure you saved the normals with your model and that the format you’re using actually stores the normals. The remainder of the shader computes the color for the texture map using P and the obtained normal Nshad.

A shader that is prepared using the BAKE_ macros can also be used for normal rendering. When the render tool is not in bake mode, the BAKE_BEGIN and BAKE_END macros will simply be substituted by an empty string and the BAKE_NORMAL() macro expands to the usual faceforward(normalize(N),I);. This also means, you can simply turn any shader into a “bake shader” by adding Pref as argument and enclosing everything by the above macros. If there are still parts in the shader that only work either during baking or during normal rendering you can use the BAKE_PASS variable to find out in which mode you currently are. This variable will only be defined during baking, so you can enclose your code by an #ifdef or #ifndef:

#ifdef BAKE_PASS
   // something specific to baking...

Now everything is set up to actually start the renderer. Here, we are using 3Delight to render the map, so we invoke the render tool like this: -r3delight

After a few moments (for testing purposes you could decrease the number of samples for calculating the ambient occlusion) you see a map like this:


Using the baked map

Now that the baked texture map has been rendered, it can be used just like any other texture image. However, there’s a slight problem with the generated TIF image and PIL (which is used by cgkit to read images). For some reason, PIL doesn’t accept the rendered TIF images when they have an alpha channel. So before you can actually use the image you have to convert it to another format such as PNG (make sure that the alpha channel remains intact during conversion).

Now we create another Python script that loads the model and assigns a material that uses the converted map ao_map.png:

# Use the previously rendered texture map

    up = (0,1,0)

model = worldObject("Model")

mat = GLMaterial(
    diffuse = (0,1,0),
    texture = GLTexture(
        mode = GL_DECAL,
        transform = mat4().scaling(vec3(1,-1,1))

One thing to note is the transform parameter of the OpenGL texture. The image has to be mirrored so that the uv spaces between OpenGL and RenderMan actually match. Another thing is the up parameter in the Globals section. The model uses the Y axis as up axis, so we have to specify that as the default up axis in cgkit is the Z axis. In the previous bake pass we did not do that because usually, it doesn’t matter what is up for baking.

Now you can view the scene with the interactive OpenGL viewer tool:

The model now looks like this:


What you see here is only the ambient occlusion contribution without any additional shading. The white parts are not occluded at all, i.e. there is no direction in the hemisphere above the surface point that is blocked by other geometry, whereas the darker a point is, the more directions are blocked. This ambient occlusion term can now be used to replace the ambient part in a regular shader. Often, this ambient part is just set to some constant color which makes the result appear rather flat. By using the ambient occlusion percentage we are assuming that the ambient light comes from far away and can be shadowed by nearby geometry. This is still a crude approximation, but at least the results look much nicer than with a constant ambient term. To activate shading again in our material, we should use the mode GL_MODULATE instead of GL_DECAL for the texture. Then a surface point will be shaded by OpenGL as usual and the result will be multiplied by the ambient occlusion term (this means, the diffuse and specular term are also influenced by the ambient occlusion instead of just the ambient color but that’s just how far as we can get without any programmable shading. By using the OGRE viewer and writing your own shader you will get full control of how the ambient occlusion term is utilized).

So far so good, but if this is a model that will later appear to be standing on some ground instead of floating in space it would have been better to bake the map with a floor in the scene. So let’s just do that by adding the following lines to the bake pass (i.e. the file

    lx = 5,
    ly = 5,
    rot = mat3().fromEulerXYZ(radians(90),0,0)

This plane serves as a floor but only during baking the map. Note that the plane has to be rotated by 90 degrees as we have the Y axis as the “up” direction.

After baking the new map, the model looks like this:


Now even the ambient occlusion term alone already looks quite pleasing and makes the model appear somewhat realistic. That’s because now we have a situation that corresponds to an illumination where light comes from the entire hemisphere above the ground (like on a cloudy day).

Texture seams

So far we were using the baked texture map while it still had an intact alpha channel. As the alpha value distinguishes between what has actually been baked and what is just background in the texture, the background was never visible. Now if you want to cut down memory usage or your image file format does not support alpha channels you have to use the plain RGB image. But if we do that, the final model looks like this:


In this particular case, the result looks as if some cartoon rendering algorithm has been applied here, but what you’re actually seeing are the borders of the texture areas and the black color on the edges is the background color in the baked map. The background leaks through because of filtering and because the original texture coordinates won’t necessarily lie on pixel boundaries.

cgkit comes with a little tool called that comes to the rescue here. This tool will post process a baked texture map by enlarging all seperate texture areas by one pixel so that the background isn’t “seen” anymore during filtering.

You invoke the tool as follows: ao_map.png ao_map2.png

The input file ao_map.png must still have a valid alpha channel. The output file ao_map2.png will then be saved without alpha. Using the new map, we get:


The lines have vanished. However, there still can be artifacts when you view the model at grazing angles and you have mip mapping activated (which is the default). In this case, the edges will again turn black. This is because the mip maps still contain the black background and with higher mip map levels we still have the same situation as before. To prevent that you either have to disable mip mapping or manually retouch the texture map by filling the entire background area with an appropriate color (i.e. the color from the nearest texture area).

Another example

In the above example, we were using a simple shader that just outputs the ambient occlusion contribution. But of course, you can bake anything you can express as a RenderMan shader like procedural patterns and entire illumination results including shadows (which can be used for static scenery).

The following image is the result of baking some sort of marble shader on the Stanford Bunny that is standing on a parquet floor. The parquet shader is the one that was once distributed with the Blue Moon Rendering Tools by Larry Gritz. The shader was prepared for baking using the BAKE_ macros as described above.


If you want to inspect the bunny yourself, here are the files: You can just use the interactive viewer tool to view the scene:

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