Per-Object Motion Blur

Originally posted on 24/09/2012

A while back I published a tutorial describing a screen space technique for approximating motion blur in realtime. The effect was simplistic; it took into account the movement of a camera through the scene, but not the movement of individual objects in the scene. Here I'm going to describe a technique which addresses both types of motion. But let's begin with a brief recap:

A Brief Recap

Motion pictures are made up of a series of still images displayed in quick succession. Each image is captured by briefly opening a shutter to expose a piece of film/electronic sensor. If an object in the scene (or the camera itself) moves during this exposure, the result is blurred along the direction of motion, hence motion blur.

The previous tutorial dealt only with motion blur caused by camera movement, which is very simple and cheap to achieve, but ultimately less realistic than 'full' motion blur.

For full motion blur, the approach I'll describe here goes like this: render the velocity at every pixel to a velocity buffer, then subsequently use this to apply a post process directional blur at each pixel to the rendered scene. This isn't the only approach, but it's one of the simplest to implement and has been used effectively in a number of games.

Velocity Buffer

In order to calculate the velocity of a point moving through space we need at least two pieces of information:
  • where is the point right now (a)?
  • where was the point t seconds ago (b)?

Technically the velocity is (a - b) / t however for our purposes we don't need to use t, at least not when writing to the velocity buffer.

Since we'll be applying the blur as a post process in image space, we may as well calculate our velocities in image space. This means that our positions (a and b) should undergo the model-view-projection transformation, perspective divide and then a scale/bias. The result can be used to generate texture coordinates directly, as we'll see.

To actually generate the velocity buffer we render the geometry, transforming every vertex by both the current model-view-projection matrix as well as the previous model-view-projection matrix. In the vertex shader we do the following:

   uniform mat4 uModelViewProjectionMat;
   uniform mat4 uPrevModelViewProjectionMat;

   smooth out vec4 vPosition;
   smooth out vec4 vPrevPosition;

   void main(void) {
      vPosition = uModelViewProjectionMat * gl_Vertex;
      vPrevPosition = uPrevModelViewProjectionMat * gl_Vertex;

      gl_Position = vPosition;
And in the fragment shader:
   smooth in vec4 vPosition;
   smooth in vec4 vPrevPosition;

   out vec2 oVelocity;

   void main(void) {
      vec2 a = (vPosition.xy / vPosition.w) * 0.5 + 0.5;
      vec2 b = (vPrevPosition.xy / vPrevPosition.w) * 0.5 + 0.5;
      oVelocity = a - b;
You may be wondering why we can't just calculate velocity directly in the vertex shader and just pick up an interpolated velocity in the fragment shader. The reason is that, because of the perspective divide, the velocity is nonlinear. This can be a problem if polygons are clipped; the resulting interpolated velocity is incorrect for any given pixel:

For now, I'm assuming you've got a floating point texture handy to store the velocity result (e.g. GL_RG16F). I'll discuss velocity buffer formats and the associated precision implications later.

So at this stage we have a per-pixel, image space velocity incorporating both camera and object motion.


Now we have a snapshot of the per-pixel motion in the scene, as well as the rendered image that we're going to blur. If you're rendering HDR, the blur should (ideally) be done prior to tone mapping. Here are the beginnings of the blur shader:
   uniform sampler2D uTexInput; // texture we're blurring
   uniform sampler2D uTexVelocity; // velocity buffer
   uniform float uVelocityScale;

   out vec4 oResult;

   void main(void) {
      vec2 texelSize = 1.0 / vec2(textureSize(uTexInput, 0));
      vec2 screenTexCoords = gl_FragCoord.xy * texelSize;

      vec2 velocity = texture(uTexMotion, screenTexCoords).rg;
      velocity *= uVelocityScale;

   // blur code will go here...
Pretty straightforward so far. Notice that I generate the texture coordinates inside the fragment shader; you can use a varying, it doesn't make a difference. We will, however, be needing texelSize later on.

What's uVelocityScale? It's used to address the following problem: if the framerate is very high, velocity will be very small as the amount of motion in between frames will be low. Correspondingly, if the framerate is very low the motion between frames will be high and velocity will be much larger. This ties the blur size to the framerate, which is technically correct if you equate framrate with shutter speed, however is undesirable for realtime rendering where the framerate can vary. To fix it we need to cancel out the framerate:
   uVelocityScale = currentFps / targetFps;
Dividing by a 'target' framerate (shutter speed) seems to me to be an intuitive way of controlling how the motion blur looks; a high target framerate (high shutter speed) will result in less blur, a low target framerate (low shutter speed) will result in more blur, much like a real camera.

The next step is to work out how many samples we're going to take for the blur. Rather than used a fixed number of samples, we can improve performance by adapting the number of samples according to the velocity:
   float speed = length(velocity / texelSize);
   nSamples = clamp(int(speed), 1, MAX_SAMPLES);
By dividing velocity by texelSize we can get the speed in texels. This needs to be clamped: we want to take at least 1 sample but no more than MAX_SAMPLES.

Now for the actual blur itself:
   oResult = texture(uTexInput, screenTexCoords);
   for (int i = 1; i < nSamples; ++i) {
      vec2 offset = velocity * (float(i) / float(nSamples - 1) - 0.5);
      oResult += texture(uTexInput, screenTexCoords + offset);
   oResult /= float(nSamples);
Note that the sampling is centred around the current texture coordinate. This is in order to reduce the appearance of artefacts cause by discontinuities in the velocity map:

That's it! This is about as basic as it gets for this type of post process motion blur. It works, but it's far from perfect.

Far From Perfect

I'm going to spend the remainder of the tutorial talking about some issues along with potential solutions, as well as some of the limitations of this class of techniques.


The velocity map contains discontinuities which correspond with the silhouettes of the rendered geometry. These silhouettes transfer directly to the final result and are most noticeable when things are moving fast (i.e. when there's lots of blur).

One solution as outlined here is to do away with the velocity map and instead render all of the geometry a second time, stretching the geometry along the direction of motion in order to dilate each object's silhouette for rendering the blur.

Another approach is to perform dilation on the velocity buffer, either in a separate processing step or on the fly when performing the blur. This paper outlines such an approach.

Background Bleeding

Another problem occurs when a fast moving object is behind a slow moving or stationary object. Colour from the foreground object bleeds into the background:

A possible solution is to use the depth buffer, if available, to weight samples based on their relative depth. The weights need to be tweaked such that valid samples are not excluded.

Format & Precision

For the sake of simplicity I assumed a floating point texture for the velocity buffer, however the reality may be different, particularly for a deferred renderer where you might have to squeeze the velocity into as few as two bytes. Using an unsigned normalized texture format, writing to and reading from the velocity buffer requires a scale/bias:
// writing:
   oVelocity = (a - b) * 0.5 + 0.5;

// reading:
   vec2 velocity = texture(uTexMotion, screenTexCoords).rg * 2.0 - 1.0;
Using such a low precision velocity buffer causes some artifacts, most noticeably excess blur when the velocity is very small or zero.

The solution to this is to use the pow() function to control how precision in the velocity buffer is distributed. We want to increase precision for small velocities at the cost of worse precision for high velocities.

Writing/reading the velocity buffer now looks like this:
// writing:
   oVelocity = (a - b) * 0.5 + 0.5;
   oVelocity = pow(oVelocity, 3.0);

// reading:
   vec2 velocity = texture(uTexMotion, screenTexCoords).rg;
   velocity = pow(velocity, 1.0 / 3.0);
   velocity = velocity * 2.0 - 1.0;


Transparency presents similar difficulties with this technique as with deferred rendering: since the velocity buffer only contains information for the nearest pixels we can't correctly apply a post process blur when pixels at different depths all contribute to the result. In practice this results in 'background' pixels (whatever is visible through the transparent surface) to be blurred (or not blurred) incorrectly.

The simplest solution to this is to prevent transparent objects from writing to the velocity buffer. Whether this improves the result depends largely on the number of transparent objects in the scene.

Another idea might be to use blending when writing to the velocity buffer for transparent objects, using the transparent material's opacity to control the contribution to the velocity buffer. Theoretically this could produce an acceptable compromise although in practice it may not be possible depending on how the velocity buffer is set up.

A correct, but much more expensive approach would be to render and blur each transparent object separately and then recombine with the original image.


It's fairly cheap, it's very simple and it looks pretty good in a broad range of situations. Once you've successfully implemented this, however, I'd recommend stepping up to a more sophisticated approach as described here.

I've provided a demo implementation.


  1. Great post John! I'm in the process of implementing per-object motion blur right now, and found this post as a resource.

    Regarding the problem of silhouettes, I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to do a prepass of the velocity buffer by blurring it WITH the velocity buffer itself. Then using that resulting blurred velocity buffer to blur the image. I've only skimmed the paper describing the velocity buffer dilation technique, but I guess it's probably similar to that?

    1. Hi Andrew. "Velocity Dilation Methods" on p2 of the McGuire paper notes some limitations of using straightforward convolutions on the velocity buffer, mainly that these tend to cause overblur in the result as well as that any componentwise blurring of vectors will affect their direction.

      The implementation in the McGuire paper finds a "dominant" local velocity and uses that in the blur reconstruction: I'd say that it's worth taking the time to understand and implement, as the results are much superior to other techniques I've seen!

  2. Thank you so much for this cleanly written, concise article!

  3. In regards to your demo, I'm curious what you are using to do font rendering and slider bars.

    1. I wrote it myself - it's pretty raw, I just use it to tweak variables at runtime and render the profiling data. It uses OpenGL, renders to the backbuffer after the main render pass. If you take a look at the "framework" source folder in any of the demos you can see how it works.

  4. Very good explanation!
    but, about precision:

    >// writing:
    > oVelocity = (a - b) * 0.5 + 0.5;
    > oVelocity = pow(oVelocity, 3.0);

    Imho, this code means that we have low precision on negative speed values, and hi precision on positive values.

    I've modified your code a little bit and get correct result:

    // writing:
    oVelocity = pow(abs(a - b), 1/3.0)*sign(a - b) * 0.5 + 0.5;

    // reading:
    vec2 velocity = texture(uTexMotion, screenTexCoords).rg;
    velocity = pow(velocity*2-1, 3.0);

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Epic tutorial!

    But, for the love of God, to spare yourself 5 hours of debugging,
    make sure you set oResult /= float(nSamples) alpha to 1 after division. Otherwise alpha
    blending makes some nasty errors!

    Thank you for great lesson!

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