About Nonuniform Rational B-Splines - NURBS

a summary by Markus Altmann

NURBS are industry standard tools for the representation and design of
geometry [ROGERS]. Some reasons for the use of NURBS are, that they:

   * offer one common mathematical form for both, standard analytical
     shapes (e.g. conics) and free form shapes;

   * provide the flexibility to design a large variety of shapes;

   * can be evaluated reasonably fast by numerically stable and accurate

   * are invariant under affine as well as perspective transformations;

   * are generalizations of non-rational B-splines and non-rational and
     rational Bezier curves and surfaces.

However, one of the drawbacks NURBS have, is the need for extra storage to
define traditional shapes (e.g. circles). This results from parameters in
addition to the control points, but finally allow the desired flexibility
for defining parametric shapes. NURBS-shapes are not only defined by
control points; weights, associated with each control point are also
necessary. A NURBS curve C(u), for examples, which is a vector-valued
piecewise rational polynomial function, is defined as: [PIEGL]

                sum(i = 0, n){w_i * P_i * N_i,k(u)}
        C(u) = -------------------------------------,    (1)
                  sum(i = 0, n){w_i * N_i,k(u)}


        w_i : weights
        P_i : control points (vector)
        N_i,k : normalized B-spline basis functions of degree k

These B-splines are defined recursively as:

                u - t_i
   N_i,k(u) = ----------- * N_i,k-1(u) +
              t_i+k - t_i

                t_i+k+1 - u
              ---------------  * N_i+1,k-1(u)   (2)
              t_i+k+1 - t_i+1


                    / 1, if t_i <= u < t_i+1
        N_i,0(u) = <
                    \ 0, else

where t_i are the knots forming a knot vector

        U = { t_0, t_1, ... , t_m }.

The Knot Vector

The knot vector uniquely determines the B-splines as it is obvious from
(2). The relation between the number of knots (m+1), the degree (k) of
N_i,k and the number of control points (n+1) is given by m = n + k + 1

The sequence of knots in the knot vector U is assumed to be nondecreasing,
i.e. t_i <= t_i+1. Each successive pair of knots represents an interval
[t_i, t_i+1) for the parameter values to calculate a segment of a shape

For NURBS, the relative parametric intervals (knot spans) need not be the
same for all shape segments, i.e. the knot spacing is nonuniform, leading
to a non-periodic knot vector of the form

   U = { a, ... , a, t_k+1, ... , t_m-k-1, b, ... , b },   (3)

where a and b are repeated with multiplicity of k+1 [ROGERS][PIEGL]. The
multiplicity of a knot affects the parametric continuity at this knot
[FOLEY]. Non-periodic B-splines, like NURBS, are infinitely continuously
differentiable in the interior of a knot span and k-M-1 times continuously
differentiable at a knot, where M is the multiplicity of the knot [ROGERS].
(In contrast, a periodic knot vector U = { 0, 1, ... , n } is everywhere
k-1 times continuously differentiable.) Considering the knot vector for
NURBS, the end knot points (t_k, t_n+1) with multiplicity k+1 coincide with
the end control points P_0, P_n.

Since the knot spacing could be nonuniform, the B-splines are no longer the
same for each interval [t_i, t_i+1) and the degree of the B-Spline can vary
[WATT][FOLEY]. Considering the whole range of parameter values represented
by the knot vector, the different B-splines build up continuous
(overlapping) blending functions N_i,k(u), as defined in (2), over this
range (Fig. 1) [WATT]. These blending functions have the following
properties: [WATT][ROGERS]

  1. N_i,k(u) >= 0, for all i, k, u;

  2. N_i,k(u) = 0, if u not in [t_i, t_i+k+1), meaning local support of k+1
     knot spans, where N_i,k(u) is nonzero;

  3. if u in [t_i, t_i+1), the non-vanishing blending functions are
     N_i-k,k(u), ..., N_i,k(u)

  4. sum(j=i-k, i){N_j,k(u)} = sum(i=0, n){N_i,k(u)} = 1, (partition of

  5. in case of multiple knots, 0/0 is deemed to be zero.

1. and 4. together result into the convex hull, the control points build up
for a shape defined by NURBS [WATT]. 2. and 3. show, that k+1 successive
control points define a shape segment, and a control point is involved in
k+1 neighboring shape segments. Therefore, changing a control point or
weight influences just k+1 shape segments, defined over the interval given
in 2.

Curve/Surface Definition

The previous definition of a NURBS-curve (1) can be rewritten using
rational basis functions [PEIGL][ROGERS][WATT]

                          w_i * N_i,k(u)
        R_i,k(u) = ----------------------------
                   sum(j = 0, n){w_j * N_j,k(u)}


        C(u) = sum(i = 0, n){P_i * R_i,k(u)}.

Fig. 1: Cubic NURBS curve with associated blending functions.

A NURBS-surface is define in a similar way:

    S(u, v) = sum(i = 0, n)sum(j = 0, m) P_i,j * R_i,k, j,l(u, v) ,


                                 w_i,j * N_i,k(u) * N_j,l(v)
R_i,k,j,l(u, v) = ---------------------------------------------------------
                  sum(r = 0, n){sum(s = 0, m){w_r,s * N_r,k(u) * N_s,l(u)}}

The rational basis functions have the same properties as the blending
functions [PEIGL][ROGERS]. One point to emphasize, is their invariance
under affine and (even) perspective transformations. Therefore, only the
control points have to be transformed to get the appropriate transformation
of the NURBS shape.

Computational Algorithm

NURBS can be evaluated effectively by using homogeneous coordinates
[PEIGL][ROGERS]. The following steps perform the evaluation:

  1. add one dimension to the control points (e.g. P = (x, y) -> P'(x, y,
     1)) and multiply them by their corresponding weights, i.e. in 2D:
     P_i(x_i, y_i) -> P_i'(w_i * x_i, w_i * y_i, w_i)

  2. calculate NURBS in homogeneous coordinates:

        C'(u) = sum(i = 0, n){P_i'(u) * N_i,k(u)}

  3. map "homogeneous" NURBS back to original coordinate system with:

                             / ( X1/W, X2/W, ... , Xn/W ), if W not = 0
 map( X1, X2, ... ,Xn, W) = <
                             \ ( X1, X2, ... , Xn ), if W = 0

                         sum(i = 0, n){w_i * P_i * N_i,k(u)}
   C(u) = map( C'(u) ) = -----------------------------------
                            sum(i = 0, n){w_i * N_i,k(u)}

For u in [t_i, t_i+1), the only existing blending functions to consider in
evaluation of the curve at u are N_i-k,k(u), ..., N_i,k(u). An effective
algorithm for the computation of the non-vanishing blending functions
exists in [deBOOR pp. 132 - 135].

The Weights

As mentioned above, changing the weight w_i of a control point P_i affects
only the range [t_i, t_i+k+1) (in case of a curve). The geometric meaning
of the weights is shown as follows (Fig. 2) [PEIGL][ROGERS].

Defining the points:

                B = C(u; w_i = 0)
                N = C(u; w_i = 1)
                B_i = C(u; w_i not = {0, 1})

Fig. 2: Geometric meaning of weights (w_3).

N and B_i can also be expressed as:

                N = (1 - a) * B + a * P_i
                B_i = (1 - b) * B + b * P_i ,


                a = R_i,k(u; w_i = 1)
                b = R_i,k(u).

The following identity is obtained from the expression of a and b:

        (1 - a)/a : (1 - b)/b = P_iN/BN : P_iB_i/BB_i = w_i ,

which is called the cross- or double ratio of the four points P_i, B, N,
B_i. From these expressions, the effect of shape modification can be

   * B_i sweeps out on a straight line segment

   * if w_i = 0 then P_i has no effect on shape

   * if w_i increases, so b and the curve is pulled toward P_i and pushed
     away from P_j, for j not= i

   * if w_i decreases, so b and the curve is pushed away from P_i and
     pulled toward P_j, for j not= i

   * if w_i -> infinity then b -> 1 and B_i -> P_i, if u in [t_i, t_i+k+1)


     C. deBoor,
     "A Practical Guide to Splines",
     1978, New York, Springer-Verlag

     James D. Foley et al.,
     "Introduction to Computer Graphics",
     1994, Addision-Wesley

     Les Piegl
     "On NURBS: A Survey",
     Jan 01, 1991, IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, Vol. 11, No. 1,
     pp. 55 - 71

     David F. Rogers, Rae A. Earnshaw (editors),
     "State of the Art in Computer Graphics - Visualization and Modeling",
     1991, New York, Springer-Verlag, pp. 225 - 269

     Alan Watt, Mark Watt,
     "Advanced Animation and Rendering Techniques",
     1992, New York, AMC press, Addision-Wesley

      [CS563]   Go to the CS563 Home Page

     Markus Altmann / madwpi@cs.wpi.edu

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Date this article was posted to GameDev.net: 7/16/1999
(Note that this date does not necessarily correspond to the date the article was written)

See Also:
NURBS, Splines and Patches

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