Writing Map Shaders


Many of the topics covered in the general Writing Shaders page apply to Map shaders, and it is advised that you look there first.

Map shaders produce color values and are typically bound to drive the value of an attribute on a Material, Displacement, or Volume shader, but they can also be rendered directly using MoonRay’s Extra Aovs. They can be chained together with other Map shaders which can modify their output. These types of shaders are sometimes referred to as “pattern generators”, and while they can produce procedural patterns such as checker squares, polka dots, noise, gradients, etc. they can also read values from primitive attributes, 2D image textures, volumetric data, etc.

A Map shader’s job is to produce a color, given some set of inputs.

Source files

There are typically 4 files that make up a Map shader’s source:

  • <ClassName>.cc
  • <ClassName>.ispc
  • <ClassName>.json
  • CMakeLists.txt

The .cc file is written in C++ and contains the class definition, the constructor/destructor, the update() function, and the static scalar SampleFunc function implementation.

The .ispc file is written in ISPC and contains the vector SampleFuncv function implementation. It is also common for the .ispc source to contain any data structures or enumerations needed by the shader.

Attributes are declared in the .json file via JSON.

The sample() function

Each Map shader implements two static functions to support MoonRay’s scalar and vector execution modes. The SampleFunc and SampleFuncv function prototypes are defined in scene_rdl2’s Types.h.

Map shaders inherit two protected function pointer members (mSampleFunc and mSampleFuncv) which they must set, typically in the constructor, to point to the two implementations which are named sample() by convention.

The moonray::shading::State

The shading State provides the sample function with geometric data at the shading point.

The vectorized sample function (SampleFuncv) implementation is routinely followed by a call to the DEFINE_MAP_SHADER macro which is defined in ShaderMacros.isph

DEFINE_MAP_SHADER(<shader_name>, <sample_function_name>)

This macro provides enables profiling of the vectorized sample function and defines a function ispc::<shader_name>_getSampleFunc() which is used to get a function pointer to the ispc sample function from c++ code.


There are many Map shaders in the moonray and moonshine codebases that can provide concrete examples.

See the CheckerboardMap for a relatively simple example.