a real-time 40,000 particle MPM fluid simulation made in Unity using techniques outlined in this page
source code for this article: incremental_mpm on GitHub
i’ve been playing around with particle-based simulations for a while now, and found that some approaches feel a little more esoteric than others. one i had a hard time getting started with is the material point method (MPM).
i’m going to give a very broad outline of the family of methods MPM comes from, just to contextualise it a bit. i’ll then give some bare-bones example implementations, and pointers towards where i’ve found most helpful to learn more.
compared to a few years ago, there’s really great literature on the theory behind MPM, but i always found actual implementation references hard to come by, or webbed up in massive simulation libraries.
my open-source MIT licensed implementations are all single-file (almost-)self contained examples. hopefully this’ll help bridge the gap a little: source code for this article: incremental_mpm on GitHub
note: deformable simulation is a huge field. my interest is mostly motivated by real-time interactive applications and my mode of understanding is more gestural than mathematically rigorous. i’m going to be very hand-wavey and essentialist. buuuut, hopefully this can act as a little nudge in a less confusing direction if you’d like to play around with these ideas.
throughout this page i’ll be referencing existing papers and building an implementation out of them. i won’t really delve too deeply into the theoretical "why"s of how MPM works, but more why i make certain choices. for a more solid backing in what makes MPM tick, here’s a list of papers and resources i’ve found the most helpful to learn from:
MPM Course (SIGGRAPH 2016 notes):
APIC original paper:
Taichi MPM implementation, slides & notes
MLS-MPM original paper:
MLS-MPM implemented in 88 lines of c++
a maintained curated list of current MPM research
note: this page contains an appendix with a guide to the acronym soup that permeates the physics-simulation world. you can consult it to get a quick overview of what various techniques are all about.
MPM is a hybrid Lagrangian-Eulerian method that’s really good at simulating a wide range of physical phenomena. you might have first come across MPM through this viral sensation from Disney Research. in it, they showcase an implementation of a material model for snow, simulated using MPM. i think it’s a good introduction to the kind of versatility MPM affords.
MPM was originally introduced as an extension of FLIP, to tackle problems in computational solid dynamics. it takes the simulation framework of PIC / FLIP and generalises it to basically anything you can describe with a constitutive equation. solids, liquids, gases, squishy things, you name it.
note: constitutive equations describe relationships between quantities that characterise the material you want to model. they often include terms like stress, strain, pressure, density, elasticity, etc.
so. as of writing this, a lot of existing MPM literature builds its examples out from a simple material model, like an isotropic elastic material using something like a Neo-Hookean constitutive model.
if you’re anything like me, you have / had no idea what any of them were talking about. i don’t know how common a path it is to come to MPM via other simulation mentalities, but my experience beforehand was mostly other fully particle based methods and i’d never had to confront much continuum mechanics.
i’m going to build out an MPM simulation incrementally, with the end goal of a simple little fluid simulation, assuming some prior knowledge of particle-based methods. specifically i’m going to be implementing a variation of MLS-MPM, and hack around with it a little to try and get something working real-time.
to simulate any sort of matter, you need to discretise it in some way. this basically just means deciding on a concrete way to describe what the matter is made up of in terms that can be worked on numerically. this could be like a point cloud (think: particles), a discrete grid of values (think: voxels), or a mesh that describes an area/volume of the surface you’re modeling (think: wireframe vaporwave album covers).
broadly speaking, if you’re wanting to simulate something squishy / fluid-like / deformable, there are usually 3 viewpoints that different simulation models take.
on one end of the spectrum, if the underlying spatial representation of your matter deforms along with its motion, you're using a Lagrangian representation. examples of this would be SPH and PBF, where the spatial representation is the makeup of the particles themselves, or Lagrangian FEM, where the grid / mesh itself deforms under motion.
on the other end, if you choose a completely fixed reference frame, like a regular grid, you're using an Eulerian representation. you divide the domain into fixed chunks, and evaluate continuous field quantities like velocity and density at fixed points on the grid (usually edges or faces). examples of this would be are the Marker-and-Cell method and Lattice-Boltzmann methods.
then there’s the ~liminal space~ betwixt. Hybrid methods basically pick and choose between these two ways of looking at the domain. whatever perspective a particular model takes at any given time is basically just whatever works best for the problem it’s trying to solve.
you can find a more thorough exposition of the differences of these reference frames here.
the reason Hybrid methods are even a thing is that some aspects of physical simulation are just generally more straightforward or efficient to compute from a certain reference frame.
for example, particles are good for mass conservation and handling advection. grids are great for forcing incompressibility for fluids using pressure projection, and it’s significantly easier to evaluate gradients on grids with interpolation methods and finite differences.
with that in mind, let’s say we want to simulate a fluid. to start with, we’ll use PIC, as it’s one of the first Hybrid approaches to appear on the scene.
PIC works out the box, but its major problem is that it’s really dissipative. in order to evaluate velocity it has to interpolate data back and forth between the particles and the underlying grid a bunch. because this is never perfect, a little bit of information is lost every time. the result is that a lot of sharp high-res detail of the simulation gets smoothed out, and everything’s very mushy. stable, but mushy:
Particle In Cell advection showing high dissipation
yeuch! look at all that artificial viscosity. what if we want something more turbulent, and less viscous?
some time later, FLIP is developed. FLIP is just an extension to PIC that uses a slightly different method of advecting particles. it basically feeds a little bit of a particle’s raw individual velocity into the advection routine. most FLIP simulations use a blending value to control how much of this velocity to feed back in, tuning it to keep things stable. here’s that same simulation above using a blending value of 0.95 — 95% FLIP velocity, 5% PIC.
FLIP fluid simulation showing more turbulent motion
sidenote: if you’re familiar with Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics, think of this PIC-FLIP mixing as being a little like XSPH. it’s pretty much artificial viscosity made from a smooth-average / “blur” of the velocity field. here the blurred contribution comes from PIC, and the higher resolution per-particle contribution comes from FLIP.
FLIP is a very straightforward extension to PIC that lets you get a much wider range of fluid motion. HOWEVER, it’s still plagued by some big issues. FLIP simulations tend to be a bit less stable than standard PIC, and prone to weird noise. as an example, look at the jittery surface of the above gif. the free surface here is particularly noisy because there’s fewer particles to scatter data to the grid. as a result, the errors are more pronounced.
good news: the problems with FLIP have recently been pretty much solved! see the Affine Particle In Cell method (APIC), or a high-order generalisation of it, PolyPIC. these approaches one-up FLIP’s approach of mixing more info back into the grid, by storing a little affine matrix at each particle that holds a little extra context for use in our particle-grid scattering.
the reason this is relevant to MPM is that one recent development, Moving Least Squares MPM (MLS-MPM) makes use of APIC-style transfers at its core. i’ll be implementing MLS-MPM in my incremental simulations, because it’s both more efficient and actually simpler than standard MPM! wow!
why skip straight to MLS-MPM, rather than standard MPM first?
because it’s simpler! standard MPM requires you to calculate both grid interpolation functions and their gradients, for each particle. MLS-MPM allows you to do away with gradients completely. for me, the gradient stuff feels a bit like conceptual baggage, and is more computationally intensive. the MPM course i linked to above is a good reference for further info.
at this point, i’m going to pivot over to MLS-MPM from an implementation perspective. as we get further in, we’ll see how all that we’ve covered in this section links in.
so, off we pop. our goal is to start by trying to make what i guess could be MPM’s “hello world”, a little elastic shape.
more specifically: i’m going to be building a 2D simulation of an elastic material, using MLS-MPM with quadratic b-spline weights under an explicit time integration scheme. i’ll be building it out as single-file examples in Unity, using Unity’s data-oriented language High-Performance C#.
i think the most readable intro to the structure of MPM i know of is the SIGGRAPH 2016 MPM course. however, it doesn’t cover MLS-MPM. i find the original MLS-MPM paper a bit overwhelming to just drop into, so instead i’m going to reference the structure of the course pdf and then specify wherever i switch over to MLS-MPM.
to set the scene a little, here’s an overview of the structure of our data. we need particles and a grid. here is the minimum required for a basic MLS-MPM sim:
our particles’ mass will stay constant throughout the simulation. it becomes more relevant if you’re doing multi-phase simulation, but in all my examples it’ll just be set to
our grid is made up of individual cells. it’s literally just a big array of them. in the implementation below, i use a 1D grid for efficiency reasons, and remap to 2D indices when required. you can easily do this with a 2D/3D array of cells instead if you like.
the size of our grid determines the resolution of our simulation. if we choose a grid size of, say, 32 by 32, then our particles’ coordinates will range from
(0, 0) to
(31, 31). it’s common to use a power of 2 for the grid size, for performance reasons when parallelising. i’m usually using a grid size of 64 in the gifs on this page.
conceptual clearup: the grid in MPM is cleared at the start of every frame. it’s just a scratch-pad for calculating certain quantities, and you chuck it away at the end of each simulation step. so, none of the values in our Cell struct are constant throughout the simulation.
note: the above is the near-minimum for a getting a classical MPM simulation moving. if we want more sophisticated behaviour (we do), we’ll likely need to keep track of a deformation gradient matrix at each particle, and some notion of their volume. when we move on to using MLS-MPM, we’ll add a little bit more info still. namely, each particle needs to store an affine momentum matrix we talked about above for APIC.
in traditional MPM, you would also store a force vector at each cell. with MLS-MPM, you can get rid of explicitly it entirely, and instead fuse it together with the velocity update!
below is an outline of the MLS-MPM algorithm.
at each step, i’ve included a brief note on what the algorithm’s trying to do, with inline references to our fave papers. i find it helpful to look at the broad strokes of how MPM actually runs around the data, before diving into the specifics of how each step specifically transforms it. hopefully it’ll clear up what happens where.
for a more detailed step-by-step walkthrough, i recommend looking at chapter 10.5, “MPM Scheme: Full Algorithm” in the MPM course. that outlines the procedure of standard MPM. from there, look at section 4, “From MPM to MLS-MPM” in the original MLS-MPM paper.
ok, so at this point, a lot of the actual details are pretty occluded. i think the above-mentioned papers do a pretty good job of filling in the conceptual details. so let’s look at fleshing it out a little.
i’ve annotated the source code with references to the papers that give more detail, so i think learning from a combination of these references and the source itself will be the best way to work your way through it.
the first version of our MPM implementation just creates some particles initialised with random velocities, and the MPM takes over the rest and moves them around a wee bit.
MPM with no deformation model, just randomised initial velocities
source code: incremental_mpm on GitHub
this is a first blush with how things generally move in MLS-MPM, using APIC-style grid transfers. it completely omits anything to do with modeling deformations, but we’ll build from here.
i use quadratic interpolation for calculating the cell weights, which evalates the 3x3 cell-neighbourhood of each particle. it’s a good balance between performance and stability. you’ll get more physically accurate and stable simulations if you use higher order interpolation over bigger stencil sizes. but quadratic interpolation strikes a nice balance of being cheap to compute and a improving significantly on linear interpolation behaviour-wise.
i’m using a neat trick for calculating the weights that i first came across in Yuangmin Hu’s 88-line MLS-MPM example. it just stores 3 float2’s and cross-multiplies them when iterating over the 9 cells surrounding a given particle. depending on how you end up arranging your cell memory accesses, you may want to lay things out differently.
MPM simulation with isotropic elasticity using a Neo-Hookean model
source code: incremental_mpm on GitHub
we’re now actually making use of the deformation gradient and affine momentum matrix we’d set up for part 1. as in part 1, references to derivations are included inline in the source. just to get your bearings, here’s a stripped back focus on where the majority of the actual material modelling is implemented:
for part 2, i’ve parallelised some of the steps of the MPM algorithm. this is easy to do with HPC# in Unity, and hopefully doesn’t confuse you too much. it’s mostly for performance in the demos.
i’ve only parallelised the parts that can be done ‘naively’, namely steps 1, 3 & 4 of the pseudocode outline above. i just split the workload of each loop evenly into several blocks, without rearranging the structure of our data. we can do this for these steps of the algorithm as they only do concurrent reads to shared areas of memory, and there’s no risk of a data race when writing here as each thread is effectively dedicated to either 1 cell or 1 particle independently.
you can get an absolutely wild range of motion just from part 2. you can even kinda approximate fluid just by changing the Lamé parameters (try e.g.
lambda = 100, mu = 0.1). but the fact is, we’ve chosen a constitutive model most suited to elastic deformation. for fluids, we want a different approach.
left: “fake” fluids with Neo-Hookean elasticity — right: using a constitutive model for isotropic fluids
source code: incremental_mpm on GitHub
i was first drawn to MPM by its real-time fluid simulation potential (particularly the work of Grant Kot). i generally found that MPM out of the box isn’t actually that great for this, compared to something like Position Based Fluids. the reason being mostly that for a fluid, the deformation that happens at an individual particle can be massive relative to its initial configuration, extremely quickly, e.g. when a liquid splashes. this means you typically would need to use a prohibitively low timestep. MPM is also kind of tricky to fully parallelise (it’s do-able, but a bit of a pain).
to get to the real-time fluid sims you see on this page, i tweak a few things from standard MPM. credits to Grant Kot for the altered volume calculations and boundary conditions tricks.
to start with, we need a constitutive model better suited to fluids. i trawled the web and found the stress-strain relationship of Newtonian fluids, and from there it’s just a matter of swapping out the stress-strain model we used in part 2 for something appropriate for fluids. in code it looks roughly like this:
the pressure term here is given by an equation of state, which you might recognise from SPH simulations. in the attached example, i use the Tait equation of state, which is a pretty typical choice for weakly compressible fluids (look up WCSPH as an example of this in an SPH context).
in part 2, we used the “classic MPM” way of determining volume. you start with an initial value for each particle’s volume at the start of your simulation. you then update your understanding of the volume a particle occupies by looking at its deformation gradient as it undergoes change. the issue with this is that volume is susceptible to inaccuracies that snowball over time. the accuracy of your volume estimate is determined heavily by the accuracy of your numerical integration scheme and the timestep that you choose. for a fluid, where the surrounding area of an individual particle can rapidly change and is basically undergoing constant plastic deformation, it can blow up very easily.
a way of tackling this is to re-do that initial calculation of each particle’s volume that you did at the start of the simulation, and go through that process every simulation step. this means your volume is no longer a quantity integrated over time and thus susceptible to that kind of numerical error. the downside: it’s significantly less computationally efficient per-frame. the upside: you can get away with a significantly higher timestep! in practice, i found that this tradeoff was definitely worth it.
the way i calculate a particle’s volume is reminiscent of the way SPH/PBF does it: by looking at neighbourhoods to get a density estimate. first, we scatter every particle’s mass to the grid. then, we gather them back up, weighting each grid cell’s contribution by the interpolation weights (or “shape function”, in MPM-speak). scattering mass is already a step in the P2G phase of MPM, so it comes down to injecting another subroutine to loop over particles and sum up density. skipping over the boilerplate cell/weight calculations, it’s roughly like this:
this is the exact same procedure i used in part 2’s initialisation phase, to determine particles’ initial volumes. if you exchanged part 2’s existing volume calculation based on
p.volume_0, it’d yield very similar results. this of course comes at the cost of significantly more scattered memory reads at each particle. but it’s worth it for those sweet soupy vortices. i promise you.
i’ve been using a very simple boundary condition up until now: a ‘slip’ condition that zeroes out the tangent component of the grid’s velocity field at the edges.
for improved stability in our real-time simulation, we can alter the boundary conditions a bit to operate on particles directly, as well as on cells. in addition to zeroing out particle velocities, we can do a bit of a predictive leap in deciding when to enforce our boundary conditions. this generally helps with particles ‘tunneling’ through to the boundary at high speed.
here’s an isolated view of where and how boundary conditions are actually enforced this way:
with the above-mentioned 3 tweaks, i’ve managed to get some really nice interactive and stable fluid simulations running in real-time. the main trade-off being made is that of continuously reevaluating the volume, as it does create another memread bottleneck (and MPM already has quite a few of these).
i don’t imagine MPM being a go-to solution for real-time simulations like this in general as it has such high computational overhead. nonetheless, i think shooting for real-time has been really nice when experimenting with new material models. and it makes for some fun squishy toys.
a note on multi-phase simulation:
getting multiple phases running in your simulations is literally as easy as storing material properties with your particles rather than globally. you can then instantiate particles with the desired individual characteristics and everything will be nicely coupled together.
a note about surface tension:
i haven’t actually directly implemented any solution for this. however, a combination of 1) the equation of state giving negative pressures (that i clamp a little), and 2) the quadratic kernels themselves, yield really nice filaments already.
if you do want to explicitly mix in more tweakable surface tension, i’d maybe start by looking at the paper “On the Modeling of Surface Tension and its Applications by the Generalized Interpolation Material Point Method”.
however, that approach requires evaluating weight gradients for determining surface curvature, which MLS-MPM manages to otherwise avoid. finding a way to integrate surface tension models into a gradient-free MLS-MPM implementation would be a cool direction for further research!
hip-hip hooray, this is just the beginning!!
there are so many avenues left unexplored right now. i’ve written up a small list below.
if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me. i’m easiest to reach on twitter @nialltl.
there are heaps of techniques for simulating deformable objects. i found it easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of criss-crossing references to different approaches and histories when trying to pick up MPM. here’s a quick overview of some stuff that you might come across:
Grant Kot's work on MPM and real-time sims in general has been really inspiring and useful! he also helped me out a bunch with MPM back in the day.
Yuanming Hu very kindly looked over this page to ensure i wasn’t spreading any cursedly off-piste information about MPM, thanks Yuanming!
Sebastian Aaltonen's various twitter threads on simulations and parallel architecture for real-time work have been a great reference and source of motivation.