This is my first attempt to render volumetric clouds in a fragment shader. Initially, I started to implement the clouds of Horizon Zero Dawn, as described in “The real-time volumetric cloudscapes of Horizon Zero Dawn” by Andrew Schneider and Nathan Vos. In the end, I created probably something totally different. The clouds are rendered using the improved integration method of volumetric media, as described in “Physically Based Sky, Atmosphere and Cloud Rendering in Frostbite” by Sébastien Hillaire.


You can find (the full source of) the fragment shader here: https://www.shadertoy.com/view/MdGfzh.

The shader above combines the output of 4 different shaders (buffers in Shadertoy). This is mainly done to improve performance, but also because I had to precalculate some lookup tables. The clouds are rendered in Buffer D, the landscape is rendered in Buffer C. To reduce noise I use temporal reprojection (both for clouds and the terrain) separately.

Volumetric clouds (Buffer D)

The shape of the clouds is modeled by using two look-up textures, filled with different frequencies of (Perlin -) Worley noise:

  • Buffer A: The main look-up texture for the cloud shapes.
  • Buffer B: A 3D (32x32x32) look-up texture with Worley Noise used to add small details to the shapes of the clouds. I have packed this 3D texture into a 2D buffer.

Because it is not possible (yet) to create buffers with a fixed size, or 3D buffers, the look-up texture in Buffer A is 2D, and a slice of the volume that is described in the article. Therefore, and because I didn’t have any slots left (in Buffer C) to use a cloud type/cloud coverage texture, the modeling of the cloud shapes in this shader is in the end mostly based on trial and error and is probably far from the code used in Horizon Zero Dawn.

Landscape (Buffer C)

To create an interesting scene and to add some scale to the clouds, I render a terrain using a simple heightmap, based on the work by Íñigo Quílez on value noise and it’s analytical derivatives.
In fact, the heightmap of this shader is almost exactly the same as the heightmap that is used in Íñigo Quílez’ shader Elevated

Volumetric clouds: Himalays