VRay Next: The Science Behind the New Hair Shader
Rendering hair correctly in computer graphics is a fairly complex problem to solve. Because hair is made up of thousands of translucent and scaly cylinders, it’s a fairly complex surface. This makes it difficult to determine exactly how light interacts as it transmits, reflects and bounces off it. To make it even more challenging, an average head of human hair contains more than 100K hairs, and these hairs are very fine — usually thinner than a single pixel.
A Follicle History
While previous hair shaders have been a good approximation, it can be difficult to get hair color and reflectivity just right. In V-Ray Next, with research based on the paper A Practical and Controllable Hair and Fur Model for Production Path Tracing, we’ve created a new shader that renders hair in a more physiological way. Biologically speaking, hair color is determined by its amount of melanin. So instead of setting an arbitrary color value, we’ve created a simple melanin slider to control hair color realistically. The same goes for shininess. The new settings are now based on the physiology of real hair. While this may be unfamiliar at first, with a little understanding of the biology of hair, the new shader is much easier to control and much more predictable.
Hair Color is All About Melanin
Your hair color is determined by its amount of melanin. The more melanin you have, the darker your hair will be. Blonde hair has very little melanin, while black hair has the most. But there are actually two types of melanin that control your hair color: eumelanin and pheomelanin. The ratio of these two types of melanin determines how red your hair is. If you have more pheomelanin, your hair will be redder.
In the new V-Ray hair material you can set hair color with just a single slider control. A value of 0 is white hair, and a value of 1 is black hair. All other hair colors fall somewhere in between. To make red hair, first set the melanin to the desired darkness, then adjust the pheomelanin slider until you reach the desired redness. This sets the ratio of eumelanin to pheomelanin, with 0 being all eumelanin and 1 being all pheomelanin.