Fluid simulation in one tweet

270 bytes of code

David A Roberts

This post dissects my tiny fluid simulation, implemented in a surprisingly small amount of code.

A video recording of the final shader.

Code in one tweet

Click here to load the tweet

As with many of my other simulations, this is implemented in GLSL fragment shaders. To make it a bit easier to read, here's the code with extra whitespace, comments, and some minor edits for improved portability:

// Common
#define M void mainImage(out vec4 r, vec2 u) { vec2 v, i = u-u; r -= r
#define A texelFetch(iChannel0,ivec2(i+u),0)

// Buffer A (iChannel0)
M; for(int k=0; k++<196;
       v = A.xy+i,
       r += vec4(v-i + v-v*A.z,1,1) * A.z / exp(dot(v,v)) / 3.142)
     i = vec2(k%14,k/14)-7.;
   r.xy /= r.z + 1e-6; // add epsilon to avoid division by zero
   iFrame%500<2 ? r += vec4(u/1e3-.5,.3,0) : r;}

// Image

Of course, it's still not the easiest to read, as it's been heavily obfuscated to fit into 270 bytes (excluding whitespace and comments). I originally created it as a simplification of this shader by lomateron, with my version using only a single buffer and a fifth of the amount of code (much thanks to Greg and Fabrice for helping to shave off the final few bytes). However it can also be derived as an approximation to a more physically accurate fluid simulation model, which is helpful in understanding how it works.

Note that the hack used to avoid division by zero reduces the visual quality of the simulation somewhat (the fluid tends to clump together more, and the splashes aren't quite as explosive). A better option is to explicitly check for zero:

if(r.z > 0.) r.xy /= r.z;

However, this has its own drawbacks, one being that it consumes a few more bytes, the other being that it can still result in division by zero problems on some platforms, particularly when 16-bit floats are being used.

Fluid simulation

This section presents a deobfuscated version of the one-tweet code above. The simulation method we'll use is similar to reintegration tracking, with two exceptions:

These simplifications make it much easier to implement, as we only need to store three values per pixel, and don't need to evaluate any integrals. Each simulation step performs the following calculations, at each cell of the simulation grid:

In fact, the shader needs to do this operation in reverse: instead of moving the particle at the current cell into neighbouring cells, it considers all of the neighbouring cells which will contribute to the current cell. The precise number of neighbours that are considered isn't too important, so long as it's large enough to capture all of the cells with a non-negligible contribution (non-zero Gaussian density). This can be implemented with the following code:

void mainImage(out vec4 r, vec2 u) {
    float m = 0.; vec2 p = vec2(0), i;

    // iterate over neighbouring cells
    for(i.x = -6.; i.x <= 6.; i.x++)
      for(i.y = -6.; i.y <= 6.; i.y++) {
        // mass, velocity, and relative position of neighbouring particle
        vec4 A = texelFetch(iChannel0, ivec2(u + i), 0);
        float mi = A.z;
        vec2  vi = A.xy;
        vec2  xi = i + vi; // move particle according to velocity

        // Gaussian diffusion, sigma=sqrt(.5)
        float G = exp(-dot(xi, xi)) / 3.142;

        // advection
        m += G * mi; // add the diffused mass that ends up in this cell
        p += G * mi * vi; // momentum (p=m*v) contributed by neighbour

    // calculate velocity from momentum
    vec2 v = vec2(0);
    if(m > 0.) v = p / m;

The next part of the simulation computes particle forces, which act to push the fluid towards an equilibrium density \(\rho_0\). In other words, wherever the pressure is positive, the fluid is forced outwards, whereas regions of negative pressure get sucked inwards. A method of calculating this force is provided by smoothed-particle hydrodynamics:

\[ \begin{align*} F &= - m_0 \sum_i m_i \left( P_0 + P_i \right) \nabla G(x_i) \\ \text{where }\nabla G(x_i) &= x_i G(x_i) \\ P_i &= m_i (m_i - \rho_0) \quad\text{approx pressure.} \\ \end{align*} \]

This could be implemented with code such as:

float m0 = texelFetch(iChannel0, ivec2(u), 0).z;
f += - m0 * mi * (m0*(m0 - rh0) + mi*(mi - rh0)) * G * xi;

However, it's possible to approximate it a bit further, to save a few extra bytes. In particular, dropping all of the terms which depend on the mass \(m_0\) of the particle in the current cell yields a simplified equation:

\[ F = \sum_i G(x_i) m_i (\rho_0 - m_i) x_i \]

This approximation does impact how physically accurate the simulation is. In particular, conservation of momentum is visibly affected, and smaller blobs of fluid tend to oscillate in an unstable manner. However, these features actually work quite nicely aesthetically speaking, so the loss is not too great. The code to implement these forces can be written like so:

    // fluid forces (smoothed particle hydrodynamics)
    vec2 f = vec2(0);
    float rho0 = 1.; // reference fluid density
    for(i.x = -6.; i.x <= 6.; i.x++)
      for(i.y = -6.; i.y <= 6.; i.y++)
        // compute G, etc
        f += G * mi * (rho0 - mi) * xi;

    // add acceleration (f=m*a) to velocity
    if(m > 0.) v += f / m;

Finally, it's necessary to specify some initial conditions for the fluid. A simple option is to splash in some extra fluid occasionally, with suitably varying velocity:

    // splash!
    if(iFrame % 500 == 0) { // once every several seconds
        m += 0.5; // add extra fluid
        v += (u - iResolution.xy/2.) / 1000.; // velocity sprays outwards

    r = vec4(v, m, 0); // store cell mass and velocity to texture

Live simulation

The final product, running live in your browser via WebGL: