The Most Realistic Renderings Of Cloth We've Ever Seen

A new technique makes for some very comfy-looking pillows, which could be useful in video games and animation.

Rendered Cloth

Materials pictured: On the top row, from left to right, linen plain, silk crepe de chine, the front side of polyester satin charmeuse fabric, and the back side of the polyester satin charmeuse. On bottom, silk-shot fabric, velvet, an imaginary fabric made of silk and polyester threads with a shantung weaving pattern, and an imaginary fabric with asymmetric peaks, done in a mirror-like way.Iman Sadeghi et. al., Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

It's complicated for artists and designers to replicate how light plays off the folds of cloth or fabric. Some research has already gone into how to more accurately and efficiently reproduce those materials in computer renderings, and now a computer-sci team is suggesting a different way--and the results don't look half-bad.

Google software engineer Iman Sadeghi previously worked on a system for rendering hair in Disney's "Tangled" (which, the trailer confirms to me, featured a lot of hair). Now Sadeghi is turning his attention to the similarly problematic cloth.

Rendered Pillows

Iman Sadeghi et. al., Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

Basically, the system works by breaking down the cloth to the level of individual threads, modeling how each thread reflects light. Then, based on how those threads are stitched together in a material (velvet is different than polyester, and reflects light differently), the program simulates the cloth. Since the process is super-granular, the researchers say they can simulate any type of cloth--even if it doesn't really exist. (Silk plus polyester threaded with a shantung pattern? Sure!) To make that possible, the team examined threads under a microscope, examining and measuring how different materials and patterns reflected light.

If you're technically minded, you can check out the details of the process here. Otherwise, enjoy these shiny pillows.