We propose neural control variates (NCV) for unbiased variance reduction in parametric Monte Carlo integration. So far, the core challenge of applying the method of control variates has been finding a good approximation of the integrand that is cheap to integrate. We show that a set of neural networks can face that challenge: a normalizing flow that approximates the shape of the integrand and another neural network that infers the solution of the integral equation. We also propose to leverage a neural importance sampler to estimate the difference between the original integrand and the learned control variate. To optimize the resulting parametric estimator, we derive a theoretically optimal, variance-minimizing loss function, and propose an alternative, composite loss for stable online training in practice. When applied to light transport simulation, neural control variates are capable of matching the state-of-the-art performance of other unbiased approaches, while providing means to develop more performant, practical solutions. Specifically, we show that the learned light-field approximation is of sufficient quality for high-order bounces, allowing us to omit the error correction and thereby dramatically reduce the noise at the cost of negligible visible bias.
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