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Three.js Post Processing

Post processing generally refers to applying some kind of effect or filter to a 2D image. In the case of THREE.js we have a scene with a bunch of meshes in it. We render that scene into a 2D image. Normally that image is rendered directly into the canvas and displayed in the browser but instead we can render it to a render target and then apply some post processing effects to the result before drawing it to the canvas. It's called post processing because it happens after (post) the main scene processing.

Examples of post processing are Instagram like filters, Photoshop filters, etc...

THREE.js has some example classes to help setup a post processing pipeline. The way it works is you create an EffectComposer and to it you add multiple Pass objects. You then call EffectComposer.render and it renders your scene to a render target and then applies each Pass.

Each Pass can be some post processing effect like adding a vignette, blurring, applying a bloom, applying film grain, adjusting the hue, saturation, contrast, etc... and finally rendering the result to the canvas.

It's a little bit important to understand how EffectComposer functions. It creates two render targets. Let's call them rtA and rtB.

Then, you call EffectComposer.addPass to add each pass in the order you want to apply them. The passes are then applied something like this.

First the scene you passed into RenderPass is rendered to rtA, then rtA is passed to the next pass, whatever it is. That pass uses rtA as input to do whatever it does and writes the results to rtB. rtB is then passed to the next pass which uses rtB as input and writes back to rtA. This continues through all the passes.

Each Pass has 4 basic options

enabled

Whether or not to use this pass

needsSwap

Whether or not to swap rtA and rtB after finishing this pass

clear

Whether are not to clear before rendering this pass

renderToScreen

Whether or not to render to the canvas instead the current destination render target. Usually you need to set this to true on the last pass you add to your EffectComposer.

Let's put together a basic example. We'll start with the example from the article on responsiveness.

To that first we create an EffectComposer.

const composer = new EffectComposer(renderer);

Then as the first pass we add a RenderPass that will render our scene with our camera into the first render target.

composer.addPass(new RenderPass(scene, camera));

Next we add a BloomPass. A BloomPass renders its input to a generally smaller render target and blurs the result. It then adds that blurred result on top of the original input. This makes the scene bloom

const bloomPass = new BloomPass(
    1,    // strength
    25,   // kernel size
    4,    // sigma ?
    256,  // blur render target resolution
);
composer.addPass(bloomPass);

Finally we had a FilmPass that draws noise and scanlines on top of its input.

const filmPass = new FilmPass(
    0.35,   // noise intensity
    0.025,  // scanline intensity
    648,    // scanline count
    false,  // grayscale
);
filmPass.renderToScreen = true;
composer.addPass(filmPass);

Since the filmPass is the last pass we set its renderToScreen property to true to tell it to render to the canvas. Without setting this it would instead render to the next render target.

To use these classes we need to import a bunch of scripts.

import {EffectComposer} from './resources/threejs/r110/examples/jsm/postprocessing/EffectComposer.js';
import {RenderPass} from './resources/threejs/r110/examples/jsm/postprocessing/RenderPass.js';
import {BloomPass} from './resources/threejs/r110/examples/jsm/postprocessing/BloomPass.js';
import {FilmPass} from './resources/threejs/r110/examples/jsm/postprocessing/FilmPass.js';

For pretty much any post processing EffectComposer.js, and RenderPass.js are required.

The last things we need to do are to use EffectComposer.render instead of WebGLRenderer.render and to tell the EffectComposer to match the size of the canvas.

-function render(now) {
-  time *= 0.001;
+let then = 0;
+function render(now) {
+  now *= 0.001;  // convert to seconds
+  const deltaTime = now - then;
+  then = now;

  if (resizeRendererToDisplaySize(renderer)) {
    const canvas = renderer.domElement;
    camera.aspect = canvas.clientWidth / canvas.clientHeight;
    camera.updateProjectionMatrix();
+    composer.setSize(canvas.width, canvas.height);
  }

  cubes.forEach((cube, ndx) => {
    const speed = 1 + ndx * .1;
-    const rot = time * speed;
+    const rot = now * speed;
    cube.rotation.x = rot;
    cube.rotation.y = rot;
  });

-  renderer.render(scene, camera);
+  composer.render(deltaTime);

  requestAnimationFrame(render);
}

EffectComposer.render takes a deltaTime which is the time in seconds since the last frame was rendered. It passes this to the various effects in case any of them are animated. In this case the FilmPass is animated.

To change effect parameters at runtime usually requires setting uniform values. Let's add a gui to adjust some of the parameters. Figuring out which values you can easily adjust and how to adjust them requires digging through the code for that effect.

Looking inside BloomPass.js I found this line:

this.copyUniforms[ "opacity" ].value = strength;

So we can set the strength by setting

bloomPass.copyUniforms.opacity.value = someValue;

Similarly looking in FilmPass.js I found these lines:

if ( grayscale !== undefined )    this.uniforms.grayscale.value = grayscale;
if ( noiseIntensity !== undefined ) this.uniforms.nIntensity.value = noiseIntensity;
if ( scanlinesIntensity !== undefined ) this.uniforms.sIntensity.value = scanlinesIntensity;
if ( scanlinesCount !== undefined ) this.uniforms.sCount.value = scanlinesCount;

So which makes it pretty clear how to set them.

Let's make a quick GUI to set those values

import {GUI} from '../3rdparty/dat.gui.module.js';

and

const gui = new GUI();
{
  const folder = gui.addFolder('BloomPass');
  folder.add(bloomPass.copyUniforms.opacity, 'value', 0, 2).name('strength');
  folder.open();
}
{
  const folder = gui.addFolder('FilmPass');
  folder.add(filmPass.uniforms.grayscale, 'value').name('grayscale');
  folder.add(filmPass.uniforms.nIntensity, 'value', 0, 1).name('noise intensity');
  folder.add(filmPass.uniforms.sIntensity, 'value', 0, 1).name('scanline intensity');
  folder.add(filmPass.uniforms.sCount, 'value', 0, 1000).name('scanline count');
  folder.open();
}

and now we can adjust those settings

That was a small step to making our own effect.

Post processing effects use shaders. Shaders are written in a language called GLSL (Graphics Library Shading Language). Going over the entire language is way too large a topic for these articles. A few resources to get start from would be maybe this article and maybe the Book of Shaders.

I think an example to get you started would be helpful though so let's make a simple GLSL post processing shader. We'll make one that lets us multiply the image by a color.

For post processing THREE.js provides a useful helper called the ShaderPass. It takes an object with info defining a vertex shader, a fragment shader, and the default inputs. It will handling setting up which texture to read from to get the previous pass's results and where to render to, either one of the EffectComposers render target or the canvas.

Here's a simple post processing shader that multiplies the previous pass's result by a color.

const colorShader = {
  uniforms: {
    tDiffuse: { value: null },
    color:    { value: new THREE.Color(0x88CCFF) },
  },
  vertexShader: `
    varying vec2 vUv;
    void main() {
      vUv = uv;
      gl_Position = projectionMatrix * modelViewMatrix * vec4(position, 1);
    }
  `,
  fragmentShader: `
    varying vec2 vUv;
    uniform sampler2D tDiffuse;
    uniform vec3 color;
    void main() {
      vec4 previousPassColor = texture2D(tDiffuse, vUv);
      gl_FragColor = vec4(
          previousPassColor.rgb * color,
          previousPassColor.w);
    }
  `,
};

Above tDiffuse is the name that ShaderPass uses to pass in the previous pass's result texture so we pretty much always need that. We then declare color as a THREE.js Color.

Next we need a vertex shader. For post processing the vertex shader shown here is pretty much standard and rarely needs to be changed. Without going into too many details (see articles linked above) the variables uv, projectionMatrix, modelViewMatrix and position are all magically added by THREE.js.

Finally we create a fragment shader. In it we get get pixel color from the previous pass with this line

vec4 previousPassColor = texture2D(tDiffuse, vUv);

we multiply it by our color and set gl_FragColor to the result

gl_FragColor = vec4(
    previousPassColor.rgb * color,
    previousPassColor.a);

Adding some simple GUI to set the 3 values of the color

const gui = new GUI();
gui.add(colorPass.uniforms.color.value, 'r', 0, 4).name('red');
gui.add(colorPass.uniforms.color.value, 'g', 0, 4).name('green');
gui.add(colorPass.uniforms.color.value, 'b', 0, 4).name('blue');

Gives us a simple postprocessing effect that multiplies by a color.

As mentioned about all the details of how to write GLSL and custom shaders is too much for these articles. If you really want to know how WebGL itself works then check out these articles. Another great resources is just to read through the existing post processing shaders in the THREE.js repo. Some are more complicated than others but if you start with the smaller ones you can hopefully get an idea of how they work.

Most of the post processing effects in the THREE.js repo are unfortunately undocumented so to use them you'll have to read through the examples or the code for the effects themselves. Hopefully these simple example and the article on render targets provide enough context to get started.

Questions? Ask on stackoverflow.
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