Computer-graphics recipes

This section describes how to perform some operations common for Computer Graphics (CG). Note that while the 3D Computer Graphics community is used to work almost exclusively with 4×4 matrices, nalgebra defines a wider number of transformation types that the user is strongly encouraged to use instead.


You are encouraged to look at the nalgebra-glm crate as well. This provides a simpler interface for manipulating vectors and matrices using homogeneous coordinates. It is inspired from the popular C++ GLM library. You will find more details on a dedicated page of this user guide.

Transformations using Matrix4#

In the field of CG, a 4×4 matrix usually has a specific interpretation: it is thought as a transformation matrix that mixes scaling (including shearing), rotation and translation. Though using 4x4 matrices is convenient because most 3D transformations (including projections) can be represented using those so-called homogeneous coordinates, they do not have provide strong guarantees regarding their properties. For example, a method that takes a Matrix4 in argument cannot have the guarantee that it is a pure rotation, an isometry, or even an arbitrary but invertible transformation! That's why all the transformation types are recommended instead of raw matrices.

However, it is sometimes convenient to work directly with 4x4 matrices. Especially for small applications where one wants to avoid the complexity of having to select the right transformation type for the task at hand. Therefore, nalgebra has a limited but useful support for transforming 3x3 matrices (for 2D transformations) and 4x4 matrices (for 3d transformations).

Homogeneous raw transformation matrix creation#

The following methods may be used on a Matrix4 to build a 4x4 homogeneous raw transformation matrix.

::new_scaling(s)An uniform scaling matrix with scaling factor s.
::new_nonuniform_scaling(vs)A non-uniform scaling matrix with scaling factors along each coordinate given by the coordinates of the vector vs.
::new_translation(t)A pure translation matrix specified by the displacement vector t.
::new_rotation_wrt_point(axang, pt)A composition of rotation and translation such that the point pt is left invariant. The rotational part is specified as a rotation axis multiplied by the rotation angle.
::from_scaled_axis(axang)A pure rotation matrix specified by a rotation axis multiplied by the rotation angle.
::from_euler_angle(r, p, y)A pure rotation matrix from Euler angles applied in order: roll - pitch - yaw.
::new_orthographic(...)An orthographic projection matrix.
::new_perspective(...)A perspective projection matrix.
::new_observer_frame(eye, target, up)A composition of rotation and translation corresponding to the local frame of a viewer standing at the point eye and looking toward target. The up direction is the vertical direction.
::look_at_rh(...)A right-handed look-at view matrix.
::look_at_lh(...)A left-handed look-at view matrix.

Note that a few of those functions are also defined for Matrix3 which can hold the homogeneous coordinates of 2D transformations.

Homogeneous raw transformation matrix modification#

Once created, a Matrix4 (or Matrix3 for 2D transformations) can be modified by appending or prepending transformations. The function signature follow the same pattern as the transformation matrix creation functions listed above. In-place appending and prepending are supported and have a name with a _mut suffix, e.g., .append_scaling_mut(...) instead of .append_scaling(...).

.append_scaling(s)Appends to self a uniform scaling with scaling factor s.
.prepend_scaling(s)Prepends to self a uniform scaling with scaling factor s.
.append_nonuniform_scaling(vs)Appends to self a non-uniform scaling with scaling factors along each coordinate given by the coordinates of vs.
.prepend_nonuniform_scaling(vs)Prepends to self a non-uniform scaling with scaling factors along each coordinate given by the coordinates of vs.
.append_translation(t)Appends to self a translation specified by the vector t.
.prepend_translation(t)Prepends to self a translation specified by the vector t.

Note that there isn't any method to append or prepend a rotation. That is because a specific method does not provide any performance benefit. Instead, you may explicitly construct an homogeneous rotation matrix using, e.g., ::from_scaled_axis, and then multiply the result with the matrix you want it appended or prepended to.

// Create a uniform scaling matrix with scaling factor 2.
let mut m = Matrix4::new_scaling(2.0);
assert_eq!(m.transform_vector(&Vector3::x()), Vector3::x() * 2.0);
assert_eq!(m.transform_vector(&Vector3::y()), Vector3::y() * 2.0);
assert_eq!(m.transform_vector(&Vector3::z()), Vector3::z() * 2.0);
// Append a nonuniform scaling in-place.
m.append_nonuniform_scaling_mut(&Vector3::new(1.0, 2.0, 3.0));
assert_eq!(m.transform_vector(&Vector3::x()), Vector3::x() * 2.0);
assert_eq!(m.transform_vector(&Vector3::y()), Vector3::y() * 4.0);
assert_eq!(m.transform_vector(&Vector3::z()), Vector3::z() * 6.0);
// Append a translation out-of-place.
let m2 = m.append_translation(&Vector3::new(42.0, 0.0, 0.0));
assert_eq!(m2.transform_point(&Point3::new(1.0, 1.0, 1.0)), Point3::new(42.0 + 2.0, 4.0, 6.0));
// Create rotation.
let rot = Matrix4::from_scaled_axis(&Vector3::x() * 3.14);
let rot_then_m = m * rot; // Right-multiplication is equivalent to prepending `rot` to `m`.
let m_then_rot = rot * m; // Left-multiplication is equivalent to appending `rot` to `m`.
let pt = Point3::new(1.0, 2.0, 3.0);
assert_relative_eq!(m.transform_point(&rot.transform_point(&pt)), rot_then_m.transform_point(&pt));
assert_relative_eq!(rot.transform_point(&m.transform_point(&pt)), m_then_rot.transform_point(&pt));

Using raw transformation matrices on points and vectors#

Homogeneous raw transformation matrix do not have a compatible dimensions for multiplication with a vector of a point. For example a 3D transformation represented by a Matrix4 cannot multiply a 3D vector represented by a Vector3 (because the matrix has 4 columns while the vector has only 3 rows). There are two main ways to deal with this issue:

  1. Use the .transform_vector(...) and .transform_point(...) methods that directly take a Vector3 and Point3 as argument.
  2. Use homogeneous coordinates for vectors and points as well. In that case, a 3D vector Vector3::new(x, y, z) should be given given a fourth coordinate set to zero, i.e. Vector4::new(x, y, z, 0.0) while a 3D point Point3::new(x, y, z) should be represented as a vector with its fourth coordinate equal to one, i.e., Vector4::new(x, y, z, 1.0). Then the Matrix4 can multiply the augmented vector directly.
let mut m = Matrix4::new_rotation_wrt_point(Vector3::x() * 1.57, Point3::new(1.0, 2.0, 1.0));
let point1 = Point3::new(2.0, 3.0, 4.0);
let homogeneous_point2 = Vector4::new(2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 1.0);
// First option: use the dedicated `.transform_point(...)` method.
let transformed_point1 = m.transform_point(&point1);
// Second option: use the homogeneous coordinates of the point.
let transformed_homogeneous_point2 = m * homogeneous_point2;
// Recover the 3D point from its 4D homogeneous coordinates.
let transformed_point2 = Point3::from_homogeneous(transformed_homogeneous_point2);
// Check that transforming the 3D point with the `.transform_point` method is
// indeed equivalent to multiplying its 4D homogeneous coordinates by the 4x4
// matrix.
assert_eq!(transformed_point1, transformed_point2.unwrap());

Build a MVP matrix#

The Model-View-Projection matrix is the common denomination of the composition of three transformations:

  1. The model transformation gives its orientation and position to an object in the 3D scene. It is different for every object.
  2. The view transformation that moves any point of the scene into the local coordinate of the camera. It is the same for every object on the scene, but different for every camera.
  3. The projection that translates and stretches the displayable part of the scene so that it fits into the double unit cube (aka. Normalized Device Coordinates). We already discussed it there. There is usually only one projection per display.

Note that it is also common to construct only a View-Projection matrix and let the graphics card combine it with the model transformation in shaders. For completeness, our example will deal with the model transformation as well.

The model and view transformations are direct isometries. Thus, we can simply use the dedicated Isometry3 type. The projection is not an isometry and requires the use of a raw Matrix4 or a dedicated projection type like Perspective3.

// Our object is translated along the x axis.
let model = Isometry3::new(Vector3::x(), na::zero());
// Our camera looks toward the point (1.0, 0.0, 0.0).
// It is located at (0.0, 0.0, 1.0).
let eye = Point3::new(0.0, 0.0, 1.0);
let target = Point3::new(1.0, 0.0, 0.0);
let view = Isometry3::look_at_rh(&eye, &target, &Vector3::y());
// A perspective projection.
let projection = Perspective3::new(16.0 / 9.0, 3.14 / 2.0, 1.0, 1000.0);
// The combination of the model with the view is still an isometry.
let model_view = view * model;
// Convert everything to a `Matrix4` so that they can be combined.
let mat_model_view = model_view.to_homogeneous();
// Combine everything.
let model_view_projection = projection.as_matrix() * mat_model_view;

Of course, the last four let will usually be written in a single line:

let eye = Point3::new(0.0, 0.0, 1.0);
let target = Point3::new(1.0, 0.0, 0.0);
let view = Isometry3::look_at_rh(&eye, &target, &Vector3::y());
let model = Isometry3::new(Vector3::x(), na::zero());
let projection = Perspective3::new(16.0 / 9.0, 3.14 / 2.0, 1.0, 1000.0);
let model_view_projection = projection.unwrap() * (view * model).to_homogeneous();

Screen-space to view-space#

It is the projection matrix task to stretch and translate the displayable 3D objects into the double unit cube, i.e., it transforms points from view-coordinates (the camera local coordinate system) to Normalized Device Coordinates (aka. clip-space). Then, the screen itself will contain everything that can be seen from the cube's face located on the plane z=1z = -1. Therefore, a whole line (in clip-space) parallel to the z\mathbf{z} axis will be mapped to a single point on screen-space (the display device's 2D coordinate system). The following shows one such line L\mathcal{L} in view space, normalized device coordinates, and screen-space. More details about the different coordinate systems use in compute graphics can be found there.

3D-space to screen-space

Now observe that there is a bijective relationship between each point in screen-space and each line parallel to the z\mathbf{z} axis in clip-space. Moreover, both the perspective and orthographic projections are bijective and map lines to lines. It is thus possible to perform a so-called unprojection, i.e., from a 2D point in screen-space compute the corresponding 3D line in view-space. Typically, this line can then be used for picking using ray casting. The next example takes a point on a screen of size 800×600800 \times 600 and retrieves the corresponding line in view-space. It follows three steps:

  1. Convert the point from screen-space to two points in clip-space. One will lie on the near-plane with z=1z = -1 and the other on the far-plane with z=1z = 1.
  2. Apply the inverse projection both points.
  3. Compute the parameters of the line that passes through those two points.
let projection = Perspective3::new(800.0 / 600.0, 3.14 / 2.0, 1.0, 1000.0);
let screen_point = Point2::new(10.0f32, 20.0);
// Compute two points in clip-space.
// "ndc" = normalized device coordinates.
let near_ndc_point = Point3::new(screen_point.x / 800.0, screen_point.y / 600.0, -1.0);
let far_ndc_point = Point3::new(screen_point.x / 800.0, screen_point.y / 600.0, 1.0);
// Unproject them to view-space.
let near_view_point = projection.unproject_point(&near_ndc_point);
let far_view_point = projection.unproject_point(&far_ndc_point);
// Compute the view-space line parameters.
let line_location = near_view_point;
let line_direction = Unit::new_normalize(far_view_point - near_view_point);

The resulting 3D line will be in the local space of the camera. Thus, it might be useful to multiply its location an direction by the inverse view matrix in order to obtain coordinates in world-space. The same procedure will work with any other straight line preserving projection as well, e.g., with the orthographic projection.

Conversions for shaders#

Shaders don't understand the high-level types defined by nalgebra. Therefore, you will usually need to convert your data into pointers to a contiguous array of floating point numbers with components arranged in a specific way in-memory. Using the .as_slice() method of raw matrices and vectors, one can retrieve a reference to a contiguous array containing all components in column-major order. Note that this method will not exist for matrices that do not own their data, e.g. matrix slices.

let v = Vector3::new(1.0f32, 0.0, 1.0);
let p = Point3::new(1.0f32, 0.0, 1.0);
let m = na::one::<Matrix3<f32>>();
// Convert to arrays.
let v_array = v.as_slice();
let p_array = p.coords.as_slice();
let m_array = m.as_slice();
// Get data pointers.
let v_pointer = v_array.as_ptr();
let p_pointer = p_array.as_ptr();
let m_pointer = m_array.as_ptr();
/* Then pass the raw pointers to some graphics API. */

Higher-level types of transformations like Rotation3, Similarity3 cannot be converted into arrays directly so you will have to convert them to raw matrices first. The underlying 3×3 or 4×4 matrix of RotationMatrix3 and RotationMatrix2 can be directly retrieved by the .matrix() method. All the other transformations must first be converted into their homogeneous coordinates representation using the method .to_homogeneous(). This will return a Matrix2 or a Matrix3 that may then be reinterpreted as arrays.

let iso = Isometry3::new(na::zero(), Vector3::new(1.0f32, 0.0, 1.0));
// Compute the homogeneous coordinates first.
let iso_matrix = iso.to_homogeneous();
let iso_array = iso_matrix.as_slice();
let iso_pointer = iso_array.as_ptr();
/* Then pass the raw pointer to some graphics API. */