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Fast Realistic Water Shader for Lakes and Rivers

Rendering realistic 3D water can often be a challenging task, requiring complex fluid simulations to accurately represent the movement of water. While oceans generally need to be simulated; lakes, rivers and puddles can be rendered using simple shading techniques.

In this tutorial we use Autodesk Maya and Redshift to create a basic shader for rendering a relatively calm body of water such as a lake.

The key elements to the water shader are:

  • Perlin noise displacement – this gives the surface of our water the rippled effect
  • Refraction – essential to making any surface transparent
  • Index of Refraction – water has a refractive index of 1.333

The demo scene in the tutorial takes only 35 seconds to render on a single GPU(GTX980 4GB) with Redshift, however it should be a quick render in any other renderer. This simple and easy to use water shader works well in different lighting conditions and can be animated by keyframing a single time attribute on the perlin noise generator.