Trapcode Tao

Rendering Group

The Rendering group allows you to put the finishing touches on your work, and gives you options for creating a variety of different looks with your geometry. rendering_ui

The Shader pop-up menu plays an important role in the appearance of the geometry and it responds to After Effects lights and cameras. Each Shader option has an optimal combination with certain Material settings and Blend modes, and we suggest those combinations below. Other settings can be used, of course, if a certain look is desired.

  • Density: works as thin material, like a veil would. It looks more dense when looking at an angle then when looking straight on. It also decreases in density when stretched out by fractal displacement, and correspondingly looks more dense where the fractal pinches the material together. This shader should normally be used with the Blend pop-up menu set to Add or Super Add, and DepthBuf set to Off.

  NOTE: When Shader is set to Density, Diffuse Softness, Specular, and Shininess in the Material & Lighting group are disabled, and Density Affect and Normal Affect in the Rendering group are enabled. shader_flatdensity  

  • Smooth: polygons are rendered as a smooth surface. It should normally be used with the Blend pop-up menu set to Off and DepthBuf set to On.


  • Flat: uses constant normals across polygon faces. This is the default setting, and can be used to achieve a “low-poly” look.


The Draw mode decides how to draw the geometry. Draw options create very different looks for the mesh. rendering_drawmode

There are seven Draw modes:

  • Fill: the default setting. The polygons that make up the mesh render as filled in on all sides.
  • Wirefame: turns the polygons of the mesh into a wireframe skeleton of the plane. In this mode you can use Line Size to increase the width of the lines in the wireframe. Higher numbers will create thicker lines. When changing to Wireframe mode, you may want to change to a reduced Segment > Segments setting if there are too many wireframe lines in your scene.
  • Points: renders vertices as a point cloud. Use Point Size to increase the size of the points.
  • Front Fill, Back Wire: creates a filled texture on its front side, and a wireframe texture on its back side.
  • Front Fill, Back Cull: creates a filled texture on its front side, and culls the backfaces. Backface culling makes the inside face of polygons invisible when pointed towards the camera.
  • Front Wire, Back Cull: turns front-facing polygons into wireframe mesh, and culls the backfaces.
  • Front Points, Back Cull: turns the vertices of front-facing polygons into points, and culls the backfaces.

draw_fill_wireline draw_points_frontback draw_front_cull

The Blend pop-up menu determines how overlapping polygons are blended together. There are four Blend modes:  

  • Off: turns blending off. Generally the Blend mode should be set to Off when Shader is set to either Flat or Smooth to produce the best results. Note that Ambient Occlusion can be seen best when Blend is set to Off.
  • Normal: performs regular composite operation. This is of limited use in Tao but provided as a creative option.
  • Add: adds polygons to each other so intensity increases as polygons overlap. This mode has the tendency to create white highlights in the lighting scheme where two intense lights overlap each other. Useful with the Density shader.
  • Super Add: useful when there are very bright lights in the scene that cause colors to become gray-ish. When activating the Super Add mode, Tao uses HDR calculations to reveal the real colors in the gray areas, even in 8bpc and 16bpc modes. However, activating the Super Add mode sacrifices the alpha channel, rendering everything on a black background.

blend_off_normal blend_add_superadd

The DepthBuf pop-up menu sets the depth buffer to On or Off. By default it is set to On, which means that pixels at a nearer distance get drawn over pixels at a further distance. This usually creates better results when using Ambient Occlusion. Setting this to Off can alleviate issues with overlapping geometry, and typically creates better results when Shader is set to Density. depthbuff_on_off   shader_densitybuff_png

Density Affect sets how much the fractal displacement affects the density of the material. It is only active when Shader is set to Density. densityaffect

Normal Affect changes the way materials are viewed when seen at an angle. At higher values, the more the material is facing the camera, the more transparent it becomes. This can be used to mimic the way a thin material would behave. Adjusting the Amplitude in combination with this control to create an interesting 'x-ray' look. It is only active when Shader is set to Density. normalaffect

The Second Pass pop-up menu allows you to add a wireframe overlay to your geometry. The wireframe becomes enabled by changing the pop-up menu from Off (default) to Wireframe. This also enables two other parameters (SP Line Size and SP Color) which allow you to customize the look of the wireframe overlay. Use SP Line Size to change the size of the wireframe lines when the Second Pass wireframe is turned on. Use SP Color to change the color of the Second Pass wireframe. Click the color swatch to open the color picker to select a color, or click the eyedropper to sample a color from your scene. original_secondpass

Ambient Occlusion Ambient occlusion (AO) provides non-directional shadowing of inset polygons that are obscured by the mesh around it, which is useful to add depth. AO is most obvious in the creases of the geometry. All modes except Off take the same amount of time to render. When set to Off, there will be no AO on the mesh, which reduces VRAM usage and increases render speed. ambientocclusion

The Ambient Occlusion pop-up menu has five modes:

  • Off: no ambient occlusion. This reduces VRAM usage and increases render speed.
  • On: produces smooth (i.e. non-noisy) AO, but can contain artifacts. When turned on, AO analyzes how embedded a polygon is in relation to the other polygons around it.
  • Dither 1: produces AO with dithering.
  • Dither 2: produces AO with an alternate dithering algorithm. This is the most accurate mode of the three Dither settings.
  • Dither 3: produces AO with an alternate dithering algorithm.

AO Intensity controls the strength of AO. Turn up the AO Intensity to add strength to the Ambient Occlusion and darken the shaded areas. Keeping the AO Intensity low can prevent banding issues while still adding a dimension of depth, so it should be kept at the smallest acceptable value to reduce artifacts and noise. ao_intensity

Changing AO Radius will affect the size of the AO effect. The higher the value the larger the shadow, which tends to spread out and diffuse the shadow. The AO Radius is the one exception under these controls and works best when set at a higher number. ao_radius

AO Lift can reduce self-occlusion and other artifacts by “lifting” the AO off of the surface. The AO Lift control can also be used to brighten the shadows. Lowering AO Lift all the way down to 0 may create self occlusion, so this control should be kept at 0.2 or higher to avoid this.   ao_lift

AO Scale scales the AO calculation. A higher value reduces the AO effect. AO Scale acts as an inversion of AO Intensity, but is generally not necessary to adjust beyond its default setting. aoscale

Multisample sets the number of sample points per pixel and is helpful as an anti-aliasing tool. Turn this control up to get rid of jagged edges around the Tao geometry. Keep in mind that the higher the setting, the more memory and render time will be required. Because high Multisample values can significantly slow render times, we highly recommend that you turn multisampling down to a low setting when you first set up the path. NOTE: Different video cards support different levels of multisampling. Tao will only let this be set as high as the card permits. Most cards will allow a value of 8, but some cards may be able to support 32. Supersample allows you to oversample the entire scene. Unlike Multisample, Supersample also works on the interior of polygons. This is useful for example when using a detailed Reflection Environment Map (found in Material & Lighting > Image Based Lighting). If the interior of polygons looks aliased (i.e. jagged), try using this setting. A value of 9x is recommended. Higher values don’t lead to better quality in most cases, but it does take a lot of VRAM. supersample_off supersample_9x

The Render Mode pop-up menu controls what is ultimately output by the plug-in. rendermode_popup

There are six options:

  • Full Render: this is the default mode. Renders the full scene.
  • Normals: renders polygon normals. Normals describe how the polygon surface is oriented. This can be used for example to re-light a Tao render using another software application. In the Normals calculations, RGB = XYZ.
  • Position: shows space position coordinates, where RGB = XYZ. This mode works best in 32 bpc (float).
  • Depth: renders the distance from the eye for each pixel as a lightness (gray scale) value. This mode works best in 32 bpc (float) since the distance values can be outside the 0-255 range of 8 bpc. This can be useful when adding post effects such as Depth of Field to a Tao render.
  • Depth Normalized: a normalized version of Depth, normalized so that the output range is 0-255 in 8 bpc, and 0-32767 in 16bpc and 0.0 - 1.0 in 32bpc (float). The Visibility > Near and Visibility > Far planes are mapped to min, max respectively. This mode was made so that depth can be rendered in 8bpc. This can be useful when adding post effects, such as Depth of Field to a Tao render.
  • AO: renders only the ambient occlusion. This can be useful when re-lightning a Tao render or to just get more control over the AO (for example, blurring it before applying to Tao).

rendermode_ren_nor_pos rendermode_depth_normal_ao

Depth of Field can either be set to Camera Settings or Off

dofoff  dofon

Left shows Depth of Field set to 'Off' versus the right side showing it at 'Camera Settings'

Note: The pixel blur radius for Tao is capped at extreme values around 300 pixels. If your blur extends to beyond that radius, the blur quality will potentially show deterioration.