Using Shaders to Create Realistic Special Effects in Web Design


WebGL has become the subject of experimentation and testing the limits of what is possible on the web. Almost each day we stumble upon grandiose solutions powered by it. As proof, we have already examined a number of real projects.

Today we are going to explore some concepts that show the benefits of using shaders. We are going to focus on GLSL.

GLSL stands for Graphics Library Shader Language. It is an integral part of WebGL, and responsible for the majority of mind-blowing solutions we see in the wild. Living up to its name, it provides developers with tools to manipulate graphics intuitively. In the right hands, it is able to bring almost any idea to life.

Codepen is already teeming with fascinating projects created with the help of shaders. However, those that show realistic effects are the most impressive and inspiring. And we are going to prove this in today’s collection. Let’s dive in.

Waterdroplet WebGL Shader by Stefan Weck

Stefan Werk opens our roundup with his masterpiece, proving to everyone that high-end technologies are real magic. He managed to recreate rain falling on a window (or in our case, a screen). The behavior and realization of raindrops are so real that you want to touch them. Here, JavaScript stands behind the rain simulation whereas WebGL shader takes responsibility for the gooey effect and refraction.

Three js water shader by Jonathan Blair / ShaderToy Compilation by David Hartley

Perhaps the next two projects are among the most impressive examples of using shaders in our collection. Although each one forces your computer to operate at full capacity to cope with everything happening behind the scenes, nevertheless, it is worth it. Each concept, with all of those ripples, small and large waves, along with changing colors look incredibly realistic and very inspiring.

While Jonathan Blair has recreated only the water surface, David Hartley has made things a bit interesting by giving the latter a spherical shape, thereby skillfully imitating the Earth. Both projects are mind-blowing.

Pixijs.v3 Shader Example by Omar Shehata

Powered by Pixi.js, this fascinating concept by Omar Shehata will surprise you with its highly-detailed simulation of a haze effect. Spiced up with beautiful purplish coloring and a dark background, these clouds of smoke look incredibly authentic. The behavior is well-thought-out. The concept is just mesmerizing.

Snowfall WebGL Shader by Boris Šehovac

This concept lives up to its name. It is highly realistic. Boris Sehovac has used different sizes of snowflakes, different levels of blurriness and different speeds to recreate depth. What’s more, he has also tried to simulate wind by forcing the composition to change its direction from left to right and vice versa. As a result, we can witness some kind of a small snow storm. A native WebGL shader stands behind this beauty.

Concept by Anand Davaasuren

If the previous example has left a good impression on you, then Anand Davaasuren’s concept will undoubtedly please your eye. The solution is based on the same idea. The falling snow effect lies at the heart of it: though with one exception. This example uses hearts instead of snowflakes. As a result, the concept has got a lovely atmosphere that is hard to resist. Maybe it is not brutally realistic, but still, the falling effect as well as the hearts’ behavior are incredibly polished.

Clouds Shader by David Hartley

This is another masterpiece created by David Hartley. This time the artist demonstrates his take on clouds and their floating behavior. Again, Pixi.js stands behind this grandiose project. Here, the camera goes right through the clouds, letting you feel the whole beauty of the idea. But it was not enough for David. He has also provided us with an opportunity to explore the scene by moving the cursor around. Just incredible.

Fire shader by 14islands

From a freezing snowstorm and cold fluffy clouds to the hot stuff, here is a successful attempt at simulating fire. The team behind 14islands uses a bunch of particles and custom shaders to bring this idea to life. As a result, we can witness a small bonfire with smoke that exudes warmth on all fronts.

GLSL: Chrome by Liam Egan

Chrome by Liam Egan features liquid with a high density. The project slightly reminds of a scene from the epic Terminator 2, when the evil T-1000 showed his liquid metal composition. The concept feels artificial, without a doubt. Yet the behavior and glossy surface look incredibly lifelike. What’s more, you are welcome to play around by moving your mouse up and down to change the smoothing parameter.

Ripple effect by Martin Laxenaire

This project by Martin Laxenaire is a perfect example of shaders put in practice. Here, the author managed to pull off a real ripple effect that makes the image move like a curtain upon mouse hover. Curtains.js powers this concept. The only drawback is that it may be too early to supply each and every image on a website with this effect since it is still too heavy for a low-end computer to “digest” it.

Glitched Fireflies by Fabien Motte

Fabien Motte’s project also features a practical solution. However, we do not mean these bright fireflies that chaotically move around the vertical axis. We are talking about a glitch effect that occasionally hits the screen. It is just incredible. And since it is popular these days, this concept can serve as a perfect foundation for your experiments.

Throw Some Shade

Shaders are powerful tools. While we have focused on realistic solutions in this article, there are a bunch of other mind-blowing concepts that look more artificial. You can create absolutely different scenes and compositions – it is here where your imagination can run wild.

However, with great power comes great responsibility. There are a couple of issues that you need to take into account before jumping into this whole shader thing.

First, there is an issue with browser compatibility. Not everyone can enjoy its beauty. And secondly, not every computer can handle it without a hitch. This means that shaders are not universal tools – at least not yet.

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