Last modified on 27 September 2014, at 18:37

Cg Programming/Unity/Skyboxes

View from a skyscraper. As long as the background is static and sufficiently far away, it is a good candidate for a skybox.

This tutorial covers the rendering of environment maps as backgrounds with the help of cube maps.

It is based on Section “Reflecting Surfaces”. If you haven't read that tutorial, this would be a very good time to read it.

Rendering a Skybox in the BackgroundEdit

As explained in Section “Reflecting Surfaces”, a skybox can be thought of as an infinitely large, textured box that surrounds a scene. Sometimes, skyboxes (or skydomes) are implemented by sufficiently large textured models, which approximate an infinitely large box (or dome). However, Section “Reflecting Surfaces” introduced the concept of a cube map, which actually represents an infinitely large box; thus, we don't need the approximation of a box or a dome of limited size. Instead, we can render any screen-filling model (it doesn't matter whether it is a box, a dome, or an apple tree as long as it covers the whole background), compute the view vector from the camera to the rasterized surface point in the vertex shader (as we did in Section “Reflecting Surfaces”) and then perform a lookup in the cube map with this view vector (instead of the reflected view vector in Section “Reflecting Surfaces”) in the fragment shader:

         float4 frag(vertexOutput input) : COLOR
         {
            return texCUBE(_Cube, input.viewDir);
         }

For best performance we should, of course, render a model with only a few vertices and each pixel should be rasterized only once. Thus, rendering the inside of a cube that surrounds the camera (or the whole scene) is fine.

Complete Shader CodeEdit

The shader should be attached to a material, which should be attached to a cube that surrounds the camera. In the shader code, we deactivate writing to the depth buffer with ZWrite Off such that no objects are occluded by the skybox. (See the description of the depth test in Section “Per-Fragment Operations”.) Front-face culling is activated with Cull Front such that only the “inside” of the cube is rasterized. (See Section “Cutaways”.) The line Tags { "Queue" = "Background" } instructs Unity to render this pass before other objects are rendered.

Shader "Cg shader for skybox" {
   Properties {
      _Cube ("Environment Map", Cube) = "" {}
   }
   SubShader {
      Tags { "Queue" = "Background" }
 
      Pass {   
         ZWrite Off
         Cull Front
 
         CGPROGRAM
 
         #pragma vertex vert  
         #pragma fragment frag 
 
         #include "UnityCG.cginc"
 
         // User-specified uniforms
         uniform samplerCUBE _Cube;   
 
         struct vertexInput {
            float4 vertex : POSITION;
         };
         struct vertexOutput {
            float4 pos : SV_POSITION;
            float3 viewDir : TEXCOORD1;
         };
 
         vertexOutput vert(vertexInput input) 
         {
            vertexOutput output;
 
            float4x4 modelMatrix = _Object2World;
            output.viewDir = mul(modelMatrix, input.vertex).xyz 
               - _WorldSpaceCameraPos;
            output.pos = mul(UNITY_MATRIX_MVP, input.vertex);
            return output;
         }
 
         float4 frag(vertexOutput input) : COLOR
         {
            return texCUBE(_Cube, input.viewDir);
         }
 
         ENDCG
      }
   }
}

Shader Code for Unity's Skybox SystemEdit

The shader above illustrates how to render a skybox by rendering a cube around the camera with a specific shader. This is a very general approach. Unity, however, has its own skybox system that doesn't require any game object: you just specify the material with the skybox shader in the main menu Edit > Render Settings > Skybox Material and Unity takes care of the rest. Unfortunately, we cannot use our shader for this system since we have to do the lookup in the cube texture at the position that is specified by the vertex texture coordinates. This is actually easier than computing the view direction. Here is the code:

Shader "Cg shader for Unity-specific skybox" {
   Properties {
      _Cube ("Environment Map", Cube) = "white" {}
   }
 
   SubShader {
      Tags { "Queue"="Background"  }
 
      Pass {
         ZWrite Off 
         Cull Off 
 
         CGPROGRAM
         #pragma vertex vert
         #pragma fragment frag
 
         // User-specified uniforms
         samplerCUBE _Cube;
 
         struct vertexInput {
            float4 vertex : POSITION;
            float3 texcoord : TEXCOORD0;
         };
 
         struct vertexOutput {
            float4 vertex : SV_POSITION;
            float3 texcoord : TEXCOORD0;
         };
 
         vertexOutput vert(vertexInput input)
         {
            vertexOutput output;
            output.vertex = mul(UNITY_MATRIX_MVP, input.vertex);
            output.texcoord = input.texcoord;
            return output;
         }
 
         fixed4 frag (vertexOutput input) : COLOR
         {
            return texCUBE (_Cube, input.texcoord);
         }
         ENDCG 
      }
   } 	
}

As mentioned above, you should create a material with this shader and drag the material to Edit > Render Settings > Skybox Material. There is no need to attach the material to any game object.

SummaryEdit

Congratulations, you have reached the end of another tutorial! We have seen:

  • How to render skyboxes in general.
  • How to render skyboxes in Unity without a game object.

Further ReadingEdit

If you still want to know more


< Cg Programming/Unity

Unless stated otherwise, all example source code on this page is granted to the public domain.