A brief introduction to 3D

With WebGL and Molehill around there is a new playground for us flash developers. First I felt a bit stressed over the fact that I have to compete with people doing this for years on the desktop, consoles, mobiles and with plugins like Unity. But it’s just a good thing. There is loads of information and knowledge around waiting for us to consume. We can cut to the chase and use the techniques developed by people before us. We are also several years left behind cutting edge 3D regarding performance and features, so the 3D community have produced loads of forum-threads, tutorials and papers. It will be interesting to see how the flash community will embrace this “new” technique. Games is a obvious field, but what about campaigns and microsites?

Some days ago I had the opportunity to hold a presentation about 3D basics. My goal was to give a overview of topics that could be good to look into as a starter. I have tried to pick them from the perspective of a “online developer”, with MolehillWebGL and Unity as a foundation. The word-cloud above show some of the words I put into context.  It’s basic stuff, in keywords and bullet-lists, so think of this as a dictionary of topics to find more information about on your own. There is some cool demos and resources in there as well. If you are into 3D programming already, this is probably not so interesting for you though, instead you can help me review the slides and point out possible improvements ;).

Here is the presentation as PowerPoint (16 MB, with fancy transitions and animations) and pdf (6 MB, not so fancy but comments are more visible). If you don’t have PowerPoint installed you can  just download PowerPoint viewer here instead.

Important topics missing? Thing I got wrong? I would love to hear some feedback on things to improve.

Interior mapping in Unity3D


I have finally started to play with Unity3D. First goal is to get an overview of how shaders work. This will come in handy regardless of what platform I choose as my target. My favorite method when it comes to learning is to port stuff from another languages. Here I get the opportunity to learn two new languages at the same time. And all the trial and error involved often inspires me to do things that wasn’t intended in the first place.

My choice of shader to implement is written by Joost van Dongen (@JoostDevBlog) and he calls it “interior mapping”. It’s a technique to render buildings with a facade with reflections and lighting, and perspectively correct looking interiors (well, at least the walls is correct. Furniture or details on the walls is of course flat) seen through the windows, giving an illusion of loads of geometry on a wall with just two triangles. All done by a single shader. The use of raycasting together with interpolated fragments opens up for a lot of interesting ideas. It’s not a new technique though, I’m just exploring this field for the first time. Check out his excellent paper for details, complete with sources and explanations.

In this demo I use another source of inspiration as well. If you’re into Unity, you have probably seen this cityscape made by @bartekd. I using his example to plot out procedural buildings in a grid, and in the same time learning how to create meshes by scripting. That leaded me to add roads, sidewalks and lights. I also added a simple day/night-system which fades between two sky-boxes (looks weird with  fading sun, but that’s enough for this demo ), this parameter also control the lighting and if the activity in the building. Check it out:


View the procedural city here


One thing that I’m totally missing here is optimization skills. Unity folks will shake their heads and laugh out loud.  I don’t know where to start really. The buildings and ground is just few triangles, but I have added loads of point lights and streetlight models. I should probably use some sort of light-mapping, but I think that is pro-licence-feature only. The ground is also a grid that looks exactly the same in each cell, maybe there is a way to optimize that. I have tried combining children and meshes, but I got stuck with light-problems or hitting the roof of max vertices. The shader has to be unique for each building, so I can’t combine those either. About shader models, this shader uses shader model 3.0, could not fit the instructions needed otherwise. But get rid of random walls from a texture-atlas and it will compile to model 2.0. But framerate is pretty smooth for this experiment and at least I got a playground where I can practice my forthcoming skills.


Download the building shader I put together in Unity. It would be nice to do a surface-shader instead to get real-time shadows, but once again i’m not a owner of a pro license, so that have to wait. If you like, check out the whole scene package. It’s my first Unity experiments, so please be honest and tell me what can be done better.

Now back to the drawingboard, I have an idea that involves physics, so thats my next stop on the Unity bus. Until then, thanks for reading.

Off-piste simulator: Part 3

Time for one more step in this snowy experiment. I can’t help feeling like I’m dropped of the wagon right now with all kick-ass 3D demos around for the upcoming flash 3D API molehill. Of course, it’s not just about the amount of triangles, but also the creativity and love put into those you got. Anyway, I hope that you will like this piece while we all waiting for the salvation. Just put a smooth-modifier in your mental stack.

To mention some of the additions to this version, I have added collada-animations, a background view, different camera-angles including the typical fish-eye lens seen in many snowboard-videos. But the main feature is that you now can control it and make nice bezier curves in the snow yourself. You have three different inputs to play with:

Steer with the arrow-keys. Press down-arrow to bend your knees and push the snow a little harder. With this input-method it’s simple to keep a continuous pace, but it feels a little static.

In my opinion a more dynamic way to get smoother turns and more control. Until you found your pace it can look a little funny, because the engine need a previous turn to calculate the leaning angle. Try to move the mouse back and fourth as an arc across the slope to get a balance of speed and pressure, simulating the g-force when surfing through the snow.

This is quite fun to play with. I like the idea of moving your own body to control the movement. The face-detection-algorithm steals some CPU, so it’s maybe not the best choice. Use the same technique as with the mouse. Y-axis controls the pressure. Calibrate yourself against the webcam preview image to find a good position.

Now, lets make some turns.

Alternative controls

I don’t have a multi-touch trackpad, otherwise that would have been cool to control each foot with a finger, like a finger board. Or a wacom-board, with different levels of pressure.

Would be even cooler to control the board in 3D. Or maybe connect a wii-control to it?


To get a natural and correct looking turn, the character have to lean the body through to whole turn, almost before the turn even starting. So how do we know which phase of the turn we’re in? We could “record” the position and interploate and adjust it afterwards, like a bezier-drawing application. But I do not want this delay as it’s affect the response and feeling of riding in real-time. I came up with a different approach. I have two markers, xMin and xMax. Each time a the turn reach it’s maximum or minimum position the values are updated. I then have an estimated range of the next turn (if I assume that the next turn will be the same length). The current x-position is then compared with the estimate range and I got a normalized value between 0-1. Now I can ease that value with a Sine.easeInOut-function. That eased value is then used for the leaning angle. If you do a shorter or longer turn than expected it will of course look different, or before you find your pace, but it is still looking ok.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Off-piste simulator: Part 2

I have some  improvements for you since last time!  New stuff in this version is terrain, a rider and some snow-particles. In this demo, try to combine different values to see how the rider and the snow is affected. All parameters is connected together, so you can get pretty cool results.

Launch demo

I mentioned that I could add effects to each layer in the heightmap/texture-comp. I now added perlin noise to the base-layer. The offset for each octave is the same as the track-layer-scroll so they are in sync with each other.  By resizing the y-scale of the noise the terrain got more stretched look, like ridges, or dunes, created by the wind. It’s a simple example of distortion and more parameters and effects will be added to create different slopes. I also read out the height-value at the snowboarders position. Notice how the rider floats on top of the terrain minus the snow-depth and depending on the current pressure.

The rider
The guy is a fully rigged model imported from 3d studio max. I have just begun to test the bone-support in Away3D, that is way he is looking like a rookie. For now I just control joint rotations, but later on I will try to add bones-animations and poses, especially if I add  jumps and tricks. I tried to move the joints up and down, but I could not sort that out with correct IK and without destroying the mesh. I’m sure that method would be pretty CPU-intensive as well with all the recursive translations going on in IK. I have to dig deeper into that later.

Just for the record, I’m in fact a skier, so maybe the movements are completely wrong since I never even tried a snowboard 🙂

I also added some snow-particles, or animated sprites to be more specific. The animation is dynamic depending on the speed and the pressure. If more pressure and the snow is deep, the particle will fly longer.

I guess next time I will try to make the rider controllable.

Off-piste simulator: Tracks

The winter is just around the corner. If you, as myself, enjoying alpine winter sports, this little toy will get you into the mood. Imagine that you have climbed all the way up the mountain, before the lifts starts feeding the mountain with people. You want to be sure that you get a ride on fresh untouched snow all the way down. You now standing on the top and watching the sun rise behind a nearby peak. Googles on. Gears on the back. It’s you and the mountain… I love that feeling!

This is the first part of this experiment of making a off-piste simulator/game in Away3D. The first step is to create the slope and generate tracks in the snow. Check it out the first test

I got inspired by @tonylukasavage and his morphing mesh experiments with HeightMapModifier in Away3D.

Some notes about the texture; I start of with a bitmap filled with the color-value 0x80000. That fill represents the center of the offset. I then draw the track to another BitmapData ranging from black to red. To make the scrolling effect I found a method that I’m never used before: BitmapData.scroll(x,y). The two layers is comped together to a single bitmap. One advantage of using layers is that I can add noise, shadows and other effects to each layer. The heightmap is then converted to a normalmap with NormalMapUtil and a texture with paletteMap. Now I got what I need to create a nice phong-shaded Pixelbender material. The grid has very few triangles (25×25 segments), I have to save some cpu for the character and the other stuff. I’m not doing any real-time triangulations either, so in some cases the vertices starts to jump around. I have to accept that for now.

I don’t really know the outcome of all the future parts yet, but next up is to add a character and some controls.


I realize all my posts so far has one thing in common. Perlin noise. So why make an exception this time. Remember the post about fire? Make the animation go in the opposite direction, change the colors and some parameters, put in on a texture and mix with blendmodes and filters and you got yourself another element of nature. Water.

When I play first-person-shooters like Just Cause, Far Cry or Uncharted 2 there is one thing that I always remember most. Water-effects. I forget about the story and just play around with it. I hope you will remember this one 😉

The cliff and water is simple models created in 3D Studio Max, then imported as a scene into Away3D with the Loader3D. The materials are converted to PhongMaterials. I tried to use a normal-map and a pixelbender-material on the cliff to get a wet look, but it was to CPU-intense together with the other effects, so that had to go.

The trick to make the water refract the light was to render the view twice. One with the waterfall alone and with just black and red colors. And another pass with the final result. Then the first pass is used to create a displacementMapFilter on the view. It’s quite slow, but I couldn’t resist to activate it by default when the visual result is much better. Try to switch it off to see the difference in quality and speed.

Update: I strongly recommend using Flash player 10.1 with this one, it’s a huge difference in speed! And how come Chrome is so damn faster than the rest? I added a slider for the texture resolution as well, so that performance can be adjusted. Lame, I know…

Open demo

I found the texture for the cliff over here.

Procedural eyes

Procedural graphics is surely my favorite. The concept of create visual things with just code. Really comes in handy when your a crappy designer and still want to do visual stuff. Here you can see the result of yet another experiment on this track. It’s a eye-shader for generating procedural eyes. The 3D-engine of choice is Away3d. I use a CompositeMaterial consisting a PhongMultiPassMaterial and a SphericEnvMapPBMaterial (for the environment reflections). The bitmap that is used in the material is generated by a haxe-swf that is loaded in runtime. Just as previous experiments. The same bitmap is used as a base for the spherical normalmap. That adds a nice displacement to the surface. The iris is quite simple and could have more layers and complexity to get a more realistic pattern. Anyway, the texture looks something like this.

When wrapping this on a sphere it will fit seamlessly . I know, the blood-vessels aren’t that great. Perhaps I should use lines with turbulence instead.

Design your own eye

Here is a tool where you can try the different settings and create a unique eye.
Open editor


This “mars-attacks”-demo follows the mouse. To get two eyes I duplicates the output from the view. Thats why he can’t look at his nose (if existed). Notice that he is reacting to light, sort of…

Click to open

Open demo


There have been a lot of things to deal with lately so I have kept a low profile online. But last night I finally did a little experiment. It’s a little toy to make models made of cubes in away3d. Or infact, there is just ordinary planes. I suspect that it should be much faster if I created the geometry inside i single object, but this was fast enough for this experiment.

The material of choice is a WhiteShadingBitmapMaterial. The shadows are baked into the bitmap depending on the surrounding nodes. To render the shadow I use fillRect-method on the BitmapData. To make the shadows more soft I use the diffuse-color, but with lower brightness. When all shadow-rectangles are drawn the bitmap is blurred with applyFilter. The shadows was added to get a kind of fake ambient occlusion. Each cube, or node, has it’s own position in a 3d-grid (multidimensional array). When a plane is clicked a new node and its corresponding planes is created, animated and evaluated. If there is any doublets or planes inside the structure, it’s removed.

Click on the some of the models for a closeup view. Or just try it out yourself: Extrude the cube, dude!


I have been a huge fan of voxels and voxel-engines lately. I know it’s pretty big and few voxels, but let me call this a micro-voxel-editor please 😉

Knocking on procedural wood

My next track on my journey through procedural domains goes through the woods. Not so revolutionary maybe, but I haven’t seen it in flash before and that’s enough challenge for me. And it’s a good way to learn the basics of textures. Here is the first tests:

For the sphere, I use the spherical mapping from the previous post. The cube has one texture for each side. One benefit if using a 3D procedural texture is that the wrapping is accurate and it looks like a block of massive wood. I can also use the optimized 3D Perlin noise as turbulence to make the grains look more natural.

Simple tree texture designer

I have added a few parameters to change, but several features could be added like: more object types, ring-types (tri,saw, sine), base texture blending.

Try it out here

Noise Editor

The images in the last post was created with this tool. I use the heightmap to create a normal map with a excellent class called SphericalDispToNormConverter. So since I now have a heightmap and a normal map, Away3D can do the rest. The material used in this example is the PhongMultiPassMaterial. When “displacement map” is disabled a simple BitmapMaterial is used. The @away3D -team has really done a great job with the pixelbender materials.

Among the settings you can choose between a regular perlin noise or a ridged one. You will notice that the difference is pretty big. Also, check out the different presets.

The resolution on the heightmap is 400×200, but scaled down in the UI. (By the way I can’t tell you enough how I love the minimalcomps by mr @bit101.)  The heightmap-generation is pretty heavy on the CPU, so choose browser with care and stay away from debug-players 😉

Sphere designer

What do you think? Time for a generative material-library for Away3D?

Spherical Perlin Noise

I’m not quite done experimenting with 3d perlin noise. Another cool feature that I haven’t seen in flash is to wrap the noise on a sphere seamlessly. Here is the result:

Click the spheres for a slightly larger version

To get the texture to wrap seamless without distortion, we can use the 3d nature of the noise in a interesting way. If we evaluating the 3d-position of each point on the surface of a sphere we can get the noise in that particular point. To convert the point from 3d-space to 2d-space some trigonometry is needed. My math-skills really suck, but my cut-n-paste skills are excellent. Once again, LibNoise showed me the way with 5 lines of code. First I only got chaotic noise with some sort of repeating pattern. It took some time to figure out that I had to convert the numbers to a positive range.

lat = py / height * 180- 90;
lon = px / width * 360-180;
r = Math.cos(DEG_TO_RAD *  lat);

//range between 0-1
_x = (r * Math.cos (DEG_TO_RAD * lon) +1)*.5
_y = (Math.sin (DEG_TO_RAD * lat)+1)*.5
_z = (r * Math.sin(DEG_TO_RAD * lon)+1)*.5

For the sphere and the material/lighting I use Away3d. In the next post I will show you more about that and the tool for creating the different materials. Oh, and it’s looks a lot better animated 🙂