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I have a fairly simple scene with two cubes and a sphere on a plane. Each of the items has an image texture applied to it and a point lamp provides illumination.

The sphere has a slightly more complex material:

enter image description here

Images of the scene rendered in Cycles show a very unusual artifact:

enter image description here

As you can see, there is a very strange "staircase" pattern in the shadow of the UV sphere. What is causing this and how can I get rid of it?

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This is called the Terminator Effect. Cycles is not the only engine that has this problem. The solution is often to apply the subdivision surface modifier (if your object has one). Also HDRis can lead to this problem or using bump/ normals.

For instance: Pro-Lighting sky gives you this problem. The solution to the problem is to give your object more geometry.

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  • $\begingroup$ I just discovered this before you posted your answer :) Thanks for the helpful explanation. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Osman Apr 30 '17 at 3:48

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