The case of the noisy shadows

In this case, a client reported a lot of noise in the shadows of his forest of opacity-mapped trees. In a progressive render, he saw lots of fireflies at the low AA levels, so it seemed to be something out of the ordinary, since he’d never had this problem before in other, similar scenes.

He managed the get rid of the noise by cranking up the light samples, the AA, and the transparency depth, at the cost of extremely long render times.

But sampling wasn’t the problem, or the solution, in this case. The problem was a large  “sky” sphere that had the skydome HDR mapped to it. This sphere was just there to make the sky visible, but this sphere was visible to all ray types. The solution was to make the sphere visible to camera rays only.

Unlike a Skydome light, a textured sphere isn’t importance-sampled intelligently by Arnold. So you’ll get noise and fireflies from the random diffuse rays that happen to hit a super bright pixel in the sky texture.

hat tip: TI

[Arnold] Tips for reducing noise when rendering interior scenes with indirect lighting

Indirect lighting of interior scenes can be a challenge, but there are some things you can do. In this post, we’ll give you some quick tips, but you can find more detailed information on, both for interior lighting and for troubleshooting noise.

Avoid the Skydome and use a Sky background and Quad lights

Instead of using a Skydome light, use a Sky for the background and quad lights for the light coming in through the windows. The quad lights should just barely cover the entire window.

If there’s anything visible outside the window, you may want to put a spot light on them. Just be careful not to let the spot light go into the room.

Use a distant light to simulate beams of light coming into the room

A distant_light is an easy-to-use option that perfectly matches sun light.

Spot lights don’t produce realistic sun beams since the beams look like they’re expanding, which sun beams don’t do. Moving the spot light further back, and also making sure it’s no larger than it needs to be to illuminate the window, will reduce noise and make it look more realistic.

Don’t put lights too close to the windows

If a light is too close to the window, that means the light hitting the window area is significantly more concentrated and so much brighter than the light hitting the far side of the room and so this produces more noticeable noise.

Make sure your materials are physically based

For example, don’t shade the room Standard shaders with a Diffuse weight of 1, and Diffuse color full white (1 1 1). I don’t think there’s any material known to man that is this reflective. Lowering the Diffuse weight to 0.7 will roughly match white paint and it will also get rid of noise. If it’s too dark, then try increasing the intensity of the lights, increase the number of diffuse bounces, or increase the camera’s exposure.

For a richer look, avoid fake lights inside the room

Consider getting rid of any fake lights you may have inside the room, and instead increase the number of diffuse and glossy bounces in order to get an even more realistic look, not to mention make the lighting easier. Doing that does increase render times, unfortunately, but does give a richer look.

hat tip: Thiago

Noise, world coordinates, and offsets

If you’re using world coordinates for your noise, then obviously as an object moves in global space, the noise will change. Here I’ve extracted a polygon and moved it: same shader tree that uses noise, but different noise because I’m using world coordinates.

You could keep the same noise by applying an offset equal to the translation:
Note that I’ve assumed that there’s no scaling of the noise. If there was, I’d have to multiply my offset by the same scaling.