Quick Introduction

In RenderMan, in addition to the built-in AOVs, light path expressions (LPEs), which are adopted from Open Shading Language's Light Path Expression, specify what light transport paths to output to a display channel. In other words, we don't have to modify the shaders or plugins to output a custom AOV that uses the LPE.

The setup is the same as an AOV except we use a light path expression instead of an AOV channel name. Additionally, we can group the outputs by light groups and/or by geometry set up by a lpegroup.

You will find a useful set of video tutorials and discussion of these practices on the RenderMan Community site.

LPE Tokens

To better understand how an LPE is constructed, the below tokens are used to define interactions. For most users, the pre-built LPE are easily selected and explained below.

LPE EventsDescriptionExample

All LPEs must contain a camera event.

<type event 'group'>
Scattering event specified by scattering type, scattering event, or lpe groupC<RD'floor'>[LO] matches diffuse reflections from the floor lpe group
Light, i.e. analytic and geometric lightsC.*<L.'key'> matches all light paths from the key light group
Emissive object, i.e. camera visible lights and material glowC.*O matches all emissive object light paths

A period will match any relevant scattering type or event

C.L which is the same as C<..>L or C<[RT][DS]>L

Scattering Types

ReflectionCR[LO] which is the same as C<R.>[LO] or C<R[DS]>[LO] matches direct reflection
Transmission or refractionCT[LO] which is the same as C<T.>[LO] or C<T[DS]>[LO] matches direct transmission
Scattering Events

Diffuse lobes (D1, D2, D3, D4)CD[LO] which is the same as C<.D>[LO] or C<[RT]D>[LO] matches direct diffuse.
Specular/Glossy lobes (S1, S2, S3, S4, S5, S6, S7, S8)CS[LO] which is the same as C<.S>[LO] or C<[RT]S>[LO] matches direct specular
User Event


User lobes to output material properties, not light transport (U1 to U12)

Note: User events must be explicit and will not match wildcards

CU2L matches the camera visible user2 lobe, typically albedo


( )Parentheses allow grouping of a sequence of LPE eventsCDSL, C(DS)L, and CD(SL) are all functionally equivalent

|A vertical bar separates alternativesCD|(SD)L matches CDL or CSDL
[ ]Square brackets that match any one of the enclosed eventsC[S2S3S4]L matches CS2L, CS3L, or CS4L
[^ ]
Square brackets that match any one event not contained within the bracketsC[^D2D3]L matches all light paths besides diffuse2 and diffuse3 (including specular)

An asterisk will match the preceding event zero or more timesC.*[LO] matches all light paths, including emissive
A plus sign will match the preceding event one or more timesC.+[LO] matches direct and indirect light paths, but not emissive
?A question mark will match the preceding event zero or one timesC.?[LO] matches direct and emissive light paths
Curly brackets that match the preceding event exactly n timesCT{2}[LO] matches double transmission light paths
Curly brackets that match the preceding event min or more timesC.{2,}[LO] matches all indirect light paths
Curly brackets that match the preceding event at least min but not more than max timesC.{0,2}[LO] matches all light paths with up to one bounce of indirect


To specify an LPE in RIB, reference a DisplayChannel in the Display. This is the most basic way to view what's being output.

DisplayChannel "color directDiffuse" "string source" ["color lpe:CD[<L.>O]"]
Display "myRender.exr" "openexr" "directDiffuse"


LPE tokens are not necessarily the most artist-friendly things. For this reason, we provide a list of LPEs in our plugins that can be easily selected and output. We also provide options on how specific you want to be when it comes to output; from outputting all your direct or indirect interactions at once per type or outputting them per-lobe which provides greater control for advanced workflows.

Basic LPEs 

For basic workflows, the following LPE are recommended. Note that we are specifying the DisplayChannel and a name (which can be most anything). Note that these LPE will collect the light interaction from different lobes of materials and store them in the same AOV. For example: reflections from the Glass Lobe in PxrSurface will be combined with other specular reflections in the direct and indirectSpecular AOVs. This can simplify the outputs.

Understand that emissive LPE results are a special case. In the materials provided it's referred to as "Glow" or emission. Light sources directly visible to the camera are also output into this LPE. In the below example, the candle flames are using the glow lobe in PxrSurface.

color emissive
color lpe:C[<L.>O]
color directDiffuse
color lpe:C<RD>[<L.>O]
color indirectDiffuse
color lpe:C<RD>.+[<L.>O]
color subsurface
color lpe:C<TD>.*[<L.>O]
color directSpecular
color lpe:C<RS>[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecular
color lpe:C<RS>.+[<L.>O]
color transmissive
color lpe:C<TS>.*[<L.>O]

RenderMan Still Life by Dylan Sisson

Per-Lobe LPEs

Bxdf materials may have more than one diffuse or specular lobe which are summed for D and S, respectively. However, in some situations, it may be desirable to output a specific lobe separately.

For example, some PxrSurface usage may involve the Clearcoat lobe. Normally this is summed under the S token. Routing this lobe to the S4 token will allow you to use S4 in your LPEs. These name-to-lobe mappings are controlled by render options. Up to 4 diffuse lobes and 8 specular lobes are available for LPEs. By default, S1 contains all unspecified specular lobes, so use any higher tokens such as S2 for explicit per-lobe LPEs. The standard lobe mappings are:

LPE LobesNamed Lobes
D1(default diffuse)
S1(default specular)
U1(default user)

For advanced workflows that want to separate all scattering lobes into separate AOVs, the below LPE are provided. These capture the light interaction for each lobe, direct and indirect, and store them into separate AOVs. This is useful for tweaking individual effects at the cost of added AOVs and image output. The documentation for PxrMarschner and PxrSurface list these user lobes at the bottom of their page under an Advanced Rollout as it is for informational purposes and not actual operation.

Note that the emissive LPE is repeated below. For materials in RenderMan it's typically called Glow.

For legacy reasons, subsurface scattering requires an extra LPE event from diffuse. For example, direct subsurface lighting is CD3.{1}[<L.>O] and indirect is CD3.{2,}[<L.>O].

color directDiffuseLobe
color lpe:CD2[<L.>O]
color indirectDiffuseLobe
color lpe:CD2.+[<L.>O]
color subsurfaceLobe
color lpe:CD3.*[<L.>O]
color directSpecularPrimaryLobe
color lpe:CS2[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecularPrimaryLobe
color lpe:CS2.+[<L.>O]
color directSpecularRoughLobe
color lpe:CS3[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecularRoughLobe
color lpe:CS3.+[<L.>O]
color directSpecularClearcoatLobe
color lpe:CS4[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecularClearcoatLobe
color lpe:CS4.+[<L.>O]
color directSpecularIridescenceLobe
color lpe:CS5[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecularIridescenceLobe
color lpe:CS5.+[<L.>O]
color directSpecularFuzzLobe
color lpe:CS6[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecularFuzzLobe
color lpe:CS6.+[<L.>O]
color transmissiveSingleScatterLobe
color lpe:CS7.*[<L.>O]
color directSpecularGlassLobe
color lpe:C<RS8>[<L.>O]
color indirectSpecularGlassLobe
color lpe:C<RS8>.+[<L.>O]
color transmissiveGlassLobe
color lpe:C<TS8>.*[<L.>O]
color emissive
color lpe:C[<L.>O]

Caustics are not included in the built-in list because they overlap with indirectdiffuse lpe:C<RD>[DS]+[<L.>O] However, you can select caustics with the expression lpe:CDS+[<L.>O]  Below you can find an example of the caustics LPE output, Indirect Diffuse, and the difference between them. Note that the Caustics LPE output doesn't capture indirect lighting from object to object, in this case the red cube. You can create the image on the far right with the indirect diffuse minus the caustic result using the following source: lpe:C<RD>D[DS]*[<L.>O]

LPE Macro

If a custom LPE is useful for your shots, you can add your custom LPE by creating a macro in rendermn.ini file. The custom LPE will appear in the RenderMan for Maya (RfM) LPE list after relaunching Maya.  For example:

/prman/lpe/macro/myDiffuse    CD<L.>
  • It is important to use <L.> instead of only L so that it will be compatible with light groups. Otherwise, the renderer will output a warning.
  • The lpe: prefix will be automatically added to your macro's name when the file is parsed.

LPE Groups

An LPE group (lpegroup) allows us to specify which objects we want to use for an LPE channel. The attributes can be added in RenderMan plugins using the software's menu system such as PrmanObjectSettings in Katana.

LPE Group Example RIB

Attribute "identifier" "string lpegroup" ["ground"]
DisplayChannel "varying color plane2Shadow" "string source" ["color lpe:shadows;C<..'ground'><L.>"]

Predefined LPE Groups

For the built-in LPE such as shadowcollector, it assumes a predefined lpegroup named "collector". So for the objects that we want to collect shadow, we can simply name its lpegroup to "collector". Specifying lpe:shadowcollector will collect the shadow for these objects.

This may be useful for creating holdouts using a manual workflow.

Advanced LPE Group Logic

You can use the usual regular expression character classes syntax to define more complex LPEs by considering each lpegroup as a single token.

For instance, provided you are using lpegroups "foo" and "bar", you can define the following LPEs:


Light Groups

By default, LPEs retrieve the response to all lights in the scene. To limit the LPE to the contribution due to a single light or set of lights, assign each light to the group by setting the __group parameter on each light to the same name.

For the short LPE name, suffix the name with '_' followed by the light group name. For the long expression, place the light group name in single quotes inside the LPE.

For instance, say we have a light group named "key".  The following are both valid LPEs:

DisplayChannel "varying color lpe:diffuse_key"
DisplayChannel "varying color lpe:CD<L.'key'>"

LPE Prefixes

User Defined Signals

/prman/lpe/user2                 Albedo,DiffuseAlbedo,SubsurfaceAlbedo,HairAlbedo