Adapting UsdLux to the Needs of Renderers


This proposal has been implemented. This document exists for historical reference and may be outdated. For up-to-date documentation, see the UsdLux overview page.

Copyright © 2020, Pixar Animation Studios, version 1.4

Background and Goals

UsdLux was designed to foster interchange of lights between DCC’s and between renderers. Its declarative schemas provide an independent (from any particular renderer’s implementation), documentable specification that is conducive to interchange. The tradeoff in representing lights declaratively, however, is that it hides the reality that many high quality renderers (including RenderMan, an ongoing top priority for Pixar) actually represent lights as shading networks, or something very like shading networks. Our initial assessment was that the combination of extensible Lights and LightFilters might be rich enough to provide shader-network capabilities to lights while maintaining the possibility of interchangeability, since LightFilters essentially encode a chain of shaders modifying a light’s output, but we have received feedback that it is not. In particular, some renderers (including, soon, RenderMan) support driving light inputs with pattern networks. As we consider expanding the role shaders play in UsdLux, we also reconsider how we will organize LightFilters, and how we encode light “portals”.

Additionally, as we have gained experience integrating UsdLux through Hydra to RenderMan we have encountered limitations of the purely schema-based approach that we would like to address; the principal problem is that every renderer has its own “signature” for each of the core light types that will not perfectly match the UsdLux schemas, thus necessitating a remapping and conversion process that ideally should be data-driven, but which currently must be largely hard-coded in Hydra render delegates.

We propose to address all of these issues by imbuing UsdLux with qualities of our UsdShade schemas such that we can process lights, light filters, and their inputs more like shading networks (through usdImaging and Hydra, to render delegates) which are data driven, without compromising the interchangeability of the core schemas. In the following sections we will review some relevant core USD features, finally making a proposal that, while potentially non-data-backwards-compatible, should be largely API compatible with the UsdLux of today. We will refer to RenderMan throughout, but we believe the analysis extends to other top-tier renderers as well.

Foundational Technologies in USD


The SdrRegistry is USD’s mechanism for dynamically discovering shaders defined (via plugin) by any consuming system, and mapping their interfaces to types, concepts, and GUI elements familiar to USD. To RenderMan (and most other high-quality renderers), lights, light filters, integrators, and display filters are all plugins that map very well to the concept of “shader” (some plugin types interact with the renderer in richer ways than, say, pattern shaders, but from an authoring and data transmission perspective, treating them as shaders generally suffices).

Although Sdr does rely on plugins to locate shader definitions and to parse those definitions, the definitions themselves are either the shader assets (in the case of OSL) or metadata files, such as the args files RenderMan already maintains for its clients. Given that every renderer defines its lights in its own way, and that any renderer that desires to render via a Hydra render delegate is already building and shipping USD-based plugins, we believe that Sdr provides a versatile way for renderers to adapt their own light definitions to a form known to the USD ecosystem.

USD Schemas

The limitation of fully representing lights as Sdr-based shaders is that Sdr’s dynamic and fluid nature cannot provide any mechanism for standardization of classes or types of shaders, and therefore it cannot help us define a standard for cross-renderer interchange - this analysis extends to the pattern (which has been suggested on the OpenUSD forum) of binding lights to UsdShadeMaterials to achieve complete expressiveness of light-shader networks. Cross-renderer interchange of lights is the entire point of UsdLux, which, in addition to providing certain core encodings and behaviors such as light linking, provides a handful of common, concrete light schemas that should be interpretable by most DCC’s and renderers. The USD approach of canonizing graphics concepts into schemas has been very successful for geometry, material, and skeletal skinning data, and is underway for volumes and spatial audio, and some VFX studios had already begun using UsdLux lights for interchange in their own pipelines, even before Hydra supported UsdLux at all.

Schemas in USD have two components:

  • A dynamic, runtime component that is completely data-driven, which provides information to core USD value resolution and to clients and GUIs about the properties that a schema defines (names, types, default values, etc). The hub for this functionality is the UsdSchemaRegistry, which consumes USD files that describe the schemas at runtime. For a schema to participate in this mechanism, all that is required is a suitable USD file (which is typically generated by usdGenSchema) and a modification to a plugInfo.json file.

  • A compiled API class that contains named accessors for the various schema properties (to aid in robust coding to/from the schema) and provides a place to hang behaviors specific to the schema, such as computations based on the schema’s raw data. While schemas have proven valuable for both maintaining robust import/export in all the DCC’s we use and in pipeline use, the techniques we use for versioning/evolving schemas are too heavyweight to handle frequent churn.

Having light interfaces represented as schemas allows lights to integrate seamlessly into USD-based tools just like other schema-based prims do, without needing to know about or consult a different definition system like Sdr. Recently completed work in USD’s core allows applied (single and multi) schemas to contribute alongside the prim’s primary schema type to the prim’s “definition”. This means that if a renderer follows the guidance UsdLux provides in extending the core light types via applied API schema, that the fully configured, renderer-specific definition of the light will be available to clients through core methods like UsdPrim::GetProperties(), and the GUI in usdview.

It is less clear that the code-generated C++ and python interfaces to renderer-specific light extensions will be useful, but we believe we can leverage the separation between the two halves of schemas enumerated above to allow renderer-providers to generate only the dynamic, runtime components of lighting related schemas, should they desire. Given that plugins do not (cannot) generally provide linkable API, we think this may be more useful than full-fledged schema generation, and also allows a renderer to provide useful information for USD consumption, without itself linking against USD.

UsdImaging and Hydra

UsdImaging provides a concrete adapter class for each type of UsdLuxLight that it supports (not all types are yet supported), though they currently do little more than populate an Sprim with a light-type token defined at the Hd level that is similar to the UsdLux prim-type names. An imaging adapter would definitely be needed for more complicated light types like the UsdLuxGeometryLight, though it seems like for most light types, a common UsdLuxLight based adapter would suffice, if (as has been independently requested) usdImaging were able to leverage base-class adapters for concrete prim types.

But the key problem with the current mechanism is defining how render delegates get values and information about specific light parameters through Hydra. Currently, HdSceneDelegate provides a GetLightParamValue() method that allows a render delegate to query a light parameter by name; this requires knowing the right name to use, which Hd attempts to provide by defining core light tokens in HdLightTokens. These tokens wind up baking in UsdLux naming conventions, and the file that defines them, along with render delegates that consume them, must be kept in sync with any changes to UsdLux. It is this organization that has generated the most friction to date in supporting lights in hdPrman, since hdPrman must map its own light plugin parameter names to the HdLightTokens names in order to query the data it needs, and it must do so regardless of whether any data was authored for the corresponding parameter.

By contrast, Hydra already uses the SdrRegistry as its way to transmit material shading network identity from scene delegates to render delegates, which hdPrman uses to process material networks in a completely data-driven way. If we were to represent lights (etc.) as SdrRegistry-based shaders in Hydra, we expect it would substantially simplify and make more maintainable hdPrman’s (and other render delegates’) existing handling of lights and light filters.


Currently lights and light filters are completely schema-based, with an assumption that either Hd will reflect the USD schema for a new light type, or render delegates must just know the proper names to query from a scene delegate. Further, nothing about UsdLuxLight is connectable: the filters relationship allows specification of a linear chain of UsdLuxLightFilter that act as modifier-shaders, but that is the extent of procedural customization. We propose to imbue lights and light filters in USD with the following qualities of Sdr and UsdShade, resulting in core changes to UsdLux, UsdImaging, and Hd, which we will explore in further detail in following sections.

  • UsdLuxLights and UsdLuxLightFilters will become Connectable, like a UsdShadeNodeGraph. This will allow any light input parameter to be driven by a shading network (encapsulated by the Light), and, if useful, allow renderers to publish multiple computations from lights as outputs. Renderers that are incapable of handling more general shading networks for lights can ignore any networks connected to light inputs, consuming instead the value authored on the input, thus basic light interchange is preserved.

  • Every Light and LightFilter will have (per-renderer) Sdr definitions that will allow Hydra to marshal Light networks similarly to how it marshals shading networks, and will allow renderers to translate from the UsdLux specifications in a data-driven fashion. The Sdr identifiers for the core UsdLux lights will be the schema typeName, and we will introduce PluginLight and PluginLightFilter schemas for use in applications that are using USD simply as the most convenient way to get data to a renderer through Hydra, which would allow all the same ways of identifying an SdrShaderNode as a UsdShadeShader has, and without providing a specific schema for each such light.

  • UsdLuxLightPortal will become UsdLuxPortalLight, to reflect the need (for RenderMan, and possibly other renderers) that portals:

    • Benefit from possessing LightFilters

    • Want to serve as a source of light parameter overrides to the environment (or potentially other) light that they modify

Changes to UsdLux

Making Lights Connectable

In UsdShade, NodeGraphs, Materials, and Shaders are all “connectable”, by virtue of conforming to the non-applied API schema UsdShadeConnectableAPI, which requires that all “input parameters” be placed in the “inputs:” property namespace, and all outputs be placed in the “outputs:” namespace, to facilitate clear point-to-point connections. We propose to create a new schema domain, UsdNode, that abstracts the concepts of connectability, NodeGraph, and “bearing an Ndr node definition”, because these concepts are now deemed applicable to UsdLux, and potentially other domains. We will explore the specifics of refactoring UsdShade and UsdNode elsewhere.

The point of making Connectability a lower-level concept is so that we can make every UsdLuxLight and UsdLuxLightFilter be connectable. We believe we can do so without greatly perturbing the API’s in UsdLux; however, it will necessitate a change to the core encodings themselves, as every existing light attribute’s name will change to be prefixed by the “inputs:” namespace. We will investigate the cost of making this change be backwards compatible for existing Light assets (at least for the existing usdImaging adaptors for UsdLux). Backwards compatibility is not a high priority for Pixar as we have not yet begun using UsdLux in earnest in production, so if backwards compatibility is important to you, please let us know.

We also propose that, like Materials, Lights be made to encapsulate their shading networks. This makes it easier to reference lights robustly, and is an aid to dependency tracking for interactive rendering. Note that while Lights and NodeGraphs will both encapsulate all of their connected shading networks, NodeGraph inputs cannot be connected to any shader contained inside the NodeGraph, but Light inputs will be connectable to (and only to) outputs of shaders contained inside the Light (or LightFilter).

Associating Lights with Sdr Definitions

Primarily as a matter of documentation of expected downstream behavior, UsdLux will decree that every typed (IsA) Light typeName constitutes an Sdr identifier that renderers can rely on to retrieve a renderer-specific definition for the light type. We would expect, for example, that hdPrman would register RenderMan’s definition (provided by an args file that ships with each RenderMan release) for PxrRectLight under the Sdr identifier “RectLight”, with a source type of “ri”, using SdrShaderProperty’s implementationName metadata to map the PxrRectLight names to the UsdLuxRectLight names.

For every concrete light type defined in UsdLux, we will add a companion API schema as a base class for renderer-specific extensions. For example, we would add a UsdLuxRectLightAPI applied schema. The purpose of having such (empty) base-classes is to allow renderer plugins to include runtime schema definitions for their implementations of the core UsdLux lights that derive from the appropriate base class: when DCC’s such as Presto add a RectLight to a scene, they can automatically apply the extensions of all registered Hd renderers for a given pipeline by simply finding the TfType-derived subclasses of UsdLuxRectLightAPI. When a renderer’s definition for a light is “applied” to the base UsdLux-typed prim, it allows USD (as of 20.05) to configure the prim’s definition so that all tools can enumerate and query the available “builtin” properties. Applied API schemas can therefore augment or modify a typed schema’s definition; in general, modifications should be undertaken with great caution (lest we violate the promise that prim.IsA<SomeType>() makes), but can be leveraged here usefully: if one of the core UsdLuxRectLight parameters really does not make sense for a particular renderer (cannot be translated to something useful), then the renderer’s subclass of RectLightAPI can make that parameter “hidden” to keep it from showing up in GUI’s (usdview does not yet honor hidden metadata).

It may also be useful for UsdLux to register “fallback” or “universal” SdrShaderNode definitions for the UsdLux light types so that even if there are no render delegates registered, one can always find an Sdr definition for any UsdLux light type, and a render delegate could use the fallback definitions if it chose to model its lights directly on the schema spec. Doing so would require adding an NdrDiscoveryPlugin to UsdLux, and either sharing the USD Sdr parser currently provided by UsdShade, or crafting another solution for registering the definitions.

UsdLuxPluginLight, UsdLuxPluginLightFilter

We expect “published, pipeline citizen” render delegates to provide typed and applied dynamic schemas that derive from the UsdLux base types (even if only LuxLight) for all of the renderer’s core light types. But some render delegates may be developed as part of a proprietary application package that is only using USD as a mechanism to communicate to that render delegate… in other words, the application doesn’t really want to participate in the open USD ecosystem, but needs to use it for rendering scenes imported from USD and augmented using application/renderer-specific lighting features, or finds it useful to use USD as an archiving format to send jobs to a render-farm so that the full application need not be run there.

In order to lower the barrier somewhat for such applications, we will provide UsdLuxPluginLight and UsdLuxPluginLightFilter , concrete Light/Filter schema types that bear the same “node identification” encoding that UsdShadeShader does today so that the application need only plug its extensions into Sdr (by providing node definitions that will be consumed by render delegates), and not be required to take the extra step of generating dynamic USD schema definitions. Because they provide less easily accessible information to users, we do not advocate using these new types in pipeline-persistent “user-level” USD files, and at Pixar we expect to enforce this.


At Pixar we conceive of portals as not just a sampling-strategy modifier, but also as filters/modifiers to the environment lights with which they are associated. We find it useful to both attach LightFilters to portals, which will apply to all light “passing through” the portal, and to change the quality of light by either adjusting the light linking, or by modifying core Light parameters, by authoring light parameters on the portal prim, which serve as overrides (or in some cases, modifiers, e.g. intensity serves as a multiplier to the environment light’s intensity). We understand that many renderers may support none of these “advanced” Portal behaviors (and some renderers do not support Portals at all), and believe it is fine for a render delegate to ignore unsupported features, consuming only the basic geometric information associated with the Portal.

Making both of these abilities possible requires only re-deriving the portal schema from UsdGeomXformable to UsdLuxLight. But since we have a convention of ending all light names with “Light” we would also rename the schema PortalLight; this is a change we can make backwards compatible with existing scene description for a period of time, if we hear that backwards compatibility is important. By making Portals into lights, we enable them to be linkable, and additionally define their own LightFilters:

Portal Filter and Linking Behavior

  • Filters:

    We stipulate that a Portal inherits all of the filters of its associated environment light, and appends its own filters to the end of that list.

  • Linking:

    All linking include/exclude rules specified on a Portal must be intersected against those inherited from the environment light; i.e. a portal cannot “see” anything the environment light itself cannot see.

Changes to UsdImaging

With the exceptions of DomeLight (because of its possession of PortalLights) and GeometryLight (because of its complex relationship to geometry), the UsdImagingAdapter behavior for all UsdLux light types would now be uniform: we populate a similar data-structure as we extract from UsdShadeMaterial networks (currently an HdMaterialNetwork) with the authored data for the light and its associated light filters, and set the identifier for the light’s and filters’ HdMaterialNodes to the light/filter’s schema typeName. The primary extra information beyond what is carries by HdMaterialNetwork for lights is the inclusion of per-light and per-filter linking information. Neither PortalLights nor Geometry lights have been incorporated into UsdImaging or Hd yet, so we will defer speculating about how to handle those. Other scene delegates, such as those in Katana, Maya, Houdini, and Presto will need to be similarly updated.

The pattern by which DomeLights and their associated PortalLights get populated and represented in Hydra still needs to be worked out; as neither UsdImaging nor Hydra yet support existing LightPortals, we will not address the problem in this document.

Changes to Hd

Instead of the HdIdentifier they currently contain, the Render Index representation for lights would contain the data structure created by UsdImaging or other scene delegates, which describes the light’s shading network. The key idea here is that a scene delegate packages up the authored light properties , as we do for materials, and associates “nodes” (where now a node is either a light shader, a shader associated with a light filter, or a pattern network) with Sdr identifiers. Thus the need for GetLightParamValue() and the pattern of render delegates querying for every possible parameter goes away.

  • Hd no longer needs to define any tokens for specific light property names, and possibly no longer even needs to define tokens for the “core” UsdLux-defined, interchangeable lights, because it is a scene delegate’s responsibility to supply the UsdLux typeName as identifier, and from then on all processing is data-driven.

  • Sdr already supports the idea that different renderers can each provide different definitions for the same identifier, by registering a definition for its own, unique “source type”. Although Sdr requires that all definitions for the same implementation must have the same value types for properties that are defined as having the same name in both, it allows different definitions to each define unique properties, and specify different metadata even for properties shared by multiple definitions. Of note, Sdr Properties support name aliases ( SdrShaderProperty::GetImplementationName), which gives us a completely data-driven way of conforming RenderMan Pxr lights to UsdLux lights. It is possible that in some cases name-changes alone are insufficient; SdrShaderProperty supports arbitrary metadata authored in the definition, so it may be possible to handle such cases without hardcoding for specific light types in hdPrman and other render delegates.

Changes to HdPrman and Other Render Delegates

The proposed changes to hdPrman code are mostly implied by the changes to Hd: we can rip out all of the manual light translation code and parameter lists, and handle lights similarly to how we handle materials, possibly sharing some of the same code. It will also be the new responsibility of every render delegate to minimally publish Sdr definitions for each of the core UsdLux lights and any other renderer-specific typed light schemas it provides. The provisioning of these definitions should adhere to the following rules:

  • The schema typeName should be the identifier for each definition

  • The source type each renderer queries is the same string it already uses as a “material network selector”, for simplicity (for RenderMan and hdPrman, this is “ri”)

  • The context provided for each definition should be SdrNodeContext->Light

  • The definition uses the “implementation name” Sdr concept to map Lux definition names to the renderer’s own implementation input names.

This new responsibility should be more than compensated by the ability to maintain much simpler, data-driven code in the render delegate’s implementation. Additionally, we strongly encourage render delegates to package dynamic USD API schema definitions for their extensions to core UsdLux lights, to aid in debugging in usdview, and to provide DCC’s with a uniform mechanism for interacting with lights (e.g. when populating GUI’s). We plan to provide a utility that can generate a generatedSchema.usda from a selection of (properly instrumented) SdrShaderNode definitions, so that the added development cost to providing dynamic schemas should be, we hope, minimal.