Intro to 3D Graphics Programming: Volume IV
by Chris Hargrove


Hi again! :-)

Well, it looks like we're done with the beginning 3D info, so it's time to take a break for a few weeks and change gears to something that people seem to be very interested in. You know 'em, you love 'em, and you love to hate 'em....

Polygon fillers.

Or perhaps I should call them "shading algorithms"... well, not all of them are shading (f.ex. texture mapping), so "polygon fillers" is probably the better term. Anyway, the fillers I'm going to cover over time are ones we seem to see quite a bit of these days...

  • Flat/Lambert Shading (today's article! Yippee! :)
  • Gouraud Shading
  • Phong and Interpolated Phong Shading
  • Affine Texture Mapping
  • Perspective Texture Mapping
  • Environment Mapping (better called Reflection Mapping)

There will be other articles in between all of these; for example, I've decided to move up the discussion of BSP trees to the NEXT ARTICLE, #5, up from what would have been #10 or so. This is because you can't do solid objects without some kind of face ordering, and the three generic options seem to be sorting (painter's algorithm), Z-buffering, and BSP trees.

Since I hate sorting... I mean REALLY hate sorting, and Z-buffering is just a pain in the neck, BSP trees seem to be a pretty important thing to discuss early on. So I'm doing them for the next article. After that, we'll be going up through Phong before I do some other stuff before texture mapping. This week's article is going to cover Flat Shading (shading an entire poly with one color), and Lambert Shading (same as flat shading, but that the one color is chosen by a lightsource).

Hope you're prepared. :-)

Before we begin, I've got to point out two things...

One, the example source for article #3, (i.e. what would be DN3D_3.ZIP). After thinking about it, sample source just to demonstrate normals without reason is pretty asinine. It would make more sense to actually have a USE for those normals. As such, I'm going to concentrate the example source for both article #3 and this one, #4, into a single supplement, DN3D_3&4. This will allow me to actually have a purpose for the normals I explained last time, using them for solid objects.

Flat Filling - What's Involved?

Just like everything else, there are many ways to do flat filling. The two methods I see most commonly seem to be...

  1. Dual Edge Fill - Start at the top of your polygon and work downward simultaneously along both the left and right edges, changing lines when vertices are hit on either side, and stop when both traces hit the final vertex. Fill as you go.
  2. Single Edge Buffered Fill - Draw lines along each edge, not plotting the pixels but saving their offsets. Fill in an edge buffer appropriately. After all the sides are processed, use the edge buffer for the fill.

Note that I just made up the names; if there are actual names for these methods then substitute those in there instead. :)

So which one of these two methods is better? Well it depends. I've heard from people that the first method is faster (debatable), but that's IF you get it to work. The problem with the first method is that there are so many conditions (like when vertices are hit along the edge, trying to update correctly without loosing track of which side is where, and problems with straight horizontal edges), that it becomes a big problem for debugging.

I recall trying that first method when I first wanted to make a poly filler. It failed miserably, even after weeks of trying to debug it. Nonetheless, if you get it to work, it's reportedly quite fast. I can't confirm this myself, as I abandoned the algorithm.

The second method, on the other hand, is quite easy to implement, and still quite fast from my point of view. It also has the advantage of working for any-number-of-sided polygons, just by pasting in a few more edge traces for the new edges; the algo stays the same. The versatility and ease of coding are big advantages for it, and fortunately there are no special conditions to worry about, which helps in speed quite a bit...

As you can probably tell, I'll be covering the second method in this article. ;-)

Overview of the Edge Buffered Fill

The fill basically has two very distinct parts. The first is the edge buffering, and the second is the filler itself.

You need to set up a memory buffer that has room for two offsets for each Y line on the screen (in whatever resolution you use). The two offsets total either 4 bytes for real mode, or 8 bytes for protected mode. Multiply that amount by your Y resolution, and that's your buffer size.

All we need to do is fill in this buffer with the left and right sides of the polygon for each scanline, and then the filler will just start at the left and fill to the right for each. No biggie.

So how do we fill in this buffer? Well what we need is a special routine that "traces" a given edge and fills in the buffer as it goes along, checking each line to see where's it's at to know if the buffer needs to be updated. If the current offset is less than the leftmost offset at the current scanline, it replaces the left offset with itself. The same goes for the right offset.... if the current one is greater, it replaces the right offset with itself. This goes on until the edge trace is done. If you do this for all the edges of the polygon (3 for triangle, 4 for quadrilateral, etc.), you'll have your final buffer for the filler to use.

Well now we need to make this special edge tracer. Well where do we begin? It turns out we don't need to start from scratch, that much is for sure... because most likely you've already made a lot of it. If you think about the fact that edges are straight lines, and they follow in a set path moving offset by offset, you'll see that the edge tracer is just a small modification to...

A generic line routine. :-)

I'm assuming you've all made a line routine by this point. Whether it's a fixed point line or a DDA line (the one that uses an errorterm) doesn't matter. The point is you've got one. If not, there are other places you can get information from; a good algorithm to look up is Bresenham's line algorithm. I can't really cover that in detail here; that would be an article in itself, and I'm guessing that very very few of you need that info at this point. :)

So anyway, you've got a line routine. Well all we need to do is use that exact same routine, with a few modifications...

  • Replace the part (or line of code) where the pixel is drawn to a section that checks the current offset against the left/right offsets of the current Y line and updates if necessary.
  • When the Y changes (in the major for Y-biased lines (abs(slope) > 1) and in the minor for X-biased lines (abs(slope) < 1) ), update the current Y line in the buffer so you know which left/right offsets to check against. The first Y will be the Y value from the first point, at the start of the line.

That's all it is! :) If you do this for all of your edges of your polygon, you'll have a buffer that's ready for filling.

But wait! What about when we first start the edge tracing? What do we do if there are no offsets to check against? Are there any "initial" values that we need?

Yup, sure are. Before each poly fill, you need to refill the buffer with initial values. You can either refill the entire buffer, or as an optimization you can just refill the buffer just for the Y lines that the previous poly changed. Either way, you want to guarantee that when a trace is the first one to hit a given Y line, it is absolutely certain it WILL be the rightmost and WILL be the leftmost offset. What values to use then? Simple... use your maximum value (either FFFFh or FFFFFFFFh) for the leftmost offset, and minimum value (0) for the rightmost. There's not a single line that will go down that won't replace those. :)

Anyway, now you've got this nice filled buffer for your polygon. Now we just gotta fill between the edges. Simple enough. For each line that the edge traces have filled in, you just start at the left offset, and fill (rightoffset-leftoffset) pixels in. In assembly, this is a simple thing to do in a linear screen layout, like Mode 13h (or a blitted linear virtual screen)...

mov edi, leftoffset
mov ecx, rightoffset
sub ecx, edi
mov al, color
rep stosb

You could also divide the length by 4 and use stosd, then fill in the remaining bytes after, like so...

mov edi, leftoffset
mov ecx, rightoffset
sub ecx, edi
mov ebx, ecx
shr ecx, 2
mov eax, color  ; assuming color is already prepared to be in all 4 bytes.
rep stosd
mov ecx, ebx
and ecx, 3
rep stosb

Something like that. There are variations and optimizations all over the place, and I'll leave those to you to figure out. :-)

The only thing left that the filler needs to know is exactly WHICH scanlines are the ones that need to be filled, i.e., where's the top and bottom of the fill process? Well you've got several options. One would be to sort your vertices by Y before the fill process begins, and fill from the Y of the top one to the Y of the bottom one (this is very very easy for polys with low numbers of sides, like triangles). You can also do a tremendously slow method that checks the offset buffer each line for the values and ignores the line if both the left is the maximum value and the right is the minimum value, like the initialization gave it. That's another option. It's very inefficient unless you have polys with really high numbers of sides, but that's extremely rare (and in my opinion kinda dumb :) But nonetheless, it's an option.... there are lots of ways to accomplish each step.

And that's it! Our flat filler is done... pretty simple, eh? This is one of those routines that people seem to think is a lot harder than it actually is, until you just get right down to it and code the sucker (note that that's with this method... I still believe that first method is damn difficult in all honesty... I doubt I'll ever break down and code it that way :-)

Okay, so we can do flat filling. Well what if we want to lightsource that color? That's when our normals come into play...

Turning Your Flat-filler Into A Lambert-filler

The whole idea behind lightsourcing a color is pretty simple... find the angle between the surface and the lightsource (assumed to be a point somewhere), and shade appropriately. The narrower the angle (closest to zero), the more the surface points towards the light and the brighter it gets. The greater the angle (approaching 90 degrees), the more the surface gets darker and darker. Finally, between 90 and 180 degrees, the surface is pointing AWAY from the direction of the light and gets a "shadow" color, which is either the ambient light color (the minimum) or pure black if there's no ambient light (which can create some pretty cool effects actually).

So all we have to figure out is, how do we find the angle between the direction of the surface and the lightsource? Here come our normals...

We already know from last time that our normal is the direction the surface is "pointing" towards. Well we can find the angle "between" two vectors, using that thing we ignored the last time, the Dot Product... recall that the Dot Product

A.B = (Ax * Bx) + (Ay * By) + (Az * Bz)

Well the cosine of the angle Theta between the two vectors A and B is

Cos(Theta) = ---------

where |A| and |B| are the lengths of vectors A and B, respectively.

Now we know that vector A is going to be our normal, so what's vector B? We need some kind of location for the lightsource, and that's what B is for. Our normal A is a vector from the origin, so if we make a second vector from the origin to the light by "moving" the position of the lightsource appropriately to preserve the same angle with the polygon, we'll get the B vector that we need.

Well there's a problem here... in order to move (translate) the lightsource to be relative to the origin, we need to know where our relative origin is, i.e. what point on the polygon is our theoretical "new" origin?

The point you use for the relative origin will determine exactly where the lightsource vector comes from, and will directly affect the final color. Now if you just use one of the vertices, you'll get a major accuracy problem. Take a cube for example... if one of the faces of the cube is pointed directly at the lightsource, you still won't get the brightest possible color if you use a vertex for checking, because even though the FACE is pointed right at the light, the normal AT THAT VERTEX is certainly not. It's parallel to the direction of the plane, but at a different place, which will give a different angle to the light.

So what point should we use? Well if we think about it, we want the light to be judged by the most average point on the polygon, since that will give the best representation of what the color SHOULD be. What's the most average point on the polygon? Why the center, of course. :) Just average the coordinates of all the vertices on the poly (for each component), and the final coordinate should be right in the dead center of your surface. This is a new vertex which otherwise is meaningless as far as the model goes, but it's perfect to use for lightsourcing. :)

Note, if this whole lightsourcing section has confused you to death (quite likely with the way I talk :) then don't fret... I'll put a PCX diagram in the supplement to clarify what I'm talking about in here.

Now what about that "length" deal? We need to take the Dot Product of A and B, but then we need to divide by the length A * length B in order to get our angle cosine. The thing is, divides aren't cool.

You might be realizing now why we set our normals to length 1 back in the last article. This is why. :) If we have both A and B as length 1, we can eliminate BOTH the divide AND a multiply and only use the dot product to find our cosine! :-) Now if you look at it, B is still not length 1.... we don't have a clue where the lightsource is until we translate, so it's probably not going to be length 1. This means we'd have to do a square root calculation and the divide anyway, to get the correct angle.

It's at this point that you ask, what do I want to do with my lightsource? If you plan on keeping it in the same place all the time, then you can fudge the lighting a bit by not using surface centers but the object center (like the center of a cube)... that way, you could have only one point checked for distance against the lightsource, and that can be precalculated to give the light a vector length of 1 from that point (for vector B). After all, all we really care about in a case like that is the light's angle, not its distance. Then, B would be length 1, and we're all happy. :)

On the other hand, if you'd like moving lightsources, accuracy, and shading intensity determined NOT just by angle, but also by how far away the light is, then you'll have to put up with the length calculation (one square root, three multiplies, one divide). Now the three multiplies can be avoided as they're just square calculations (X^2, Y^2, and Z^2), so if you have the memory and know what your maximum ranges are between the lightsource and your faces, you can pregenerate a "squares" table for those amounts. If the possible range is too high, you'll take a speed hit of 3 muls (not too bad in actuality). The divide is a pain, but there's not much we can do about it in this case. The REAL speed thief here is the square root...

People have been discussing for ages how to do a fast square root. It's one of those things that people are perpetually trying to improve. I haven't kept completely up to date on the newest methods (there was one I recently read in a C/C++ magazine on algorithms, but I can't remember the method offhand). So I am only familiar with two ways personally... either make a lookup table (unacceptable unless you have a very limited number of values, really)... or a certain fixed point square root routine.

I don't have the room here in the article for DemoNews to explain the algorithm for the fixed point square root that I use, but I'll explain it in the supplement. In the meantime, you can still experiment with the same principles using conventional floating point (it's slow, but it'll get the concepts down), or if you already know a fixed point sqrt(), go ahead and use it. But check the supplement when I release it for an explanation of one algorithm. :)

Okay, so we now have all the components we need, which will give us the cosine of the angle between the lightsource wherever it is and the face we're trying to shade. Now you can either do one of two things... you can judge the lighting by the cosine ITSELF (1 is brightest, going down towards 0 gets darker, 0 is the threshold, and 0 to -1 is shadow), or you can make an arccos() table and use the angle itself. The only disadvantage of using the cosine alone is shading "falloff", since the cosine decreases more and more rapidly as you approach zero. Personally though, from the results that I see just using the cosine itself, it's not such bad falloff that it's worth doing an arccos() calculation for (granted, if you think it's bad, then feel free to put that last part in). :)

Once you have your value, if you have a color gradient going from light to dark or vise-versa, you can directly match your cosine (or the angle itself) to the color, and voila you're done! Just drop that color into your new flat filler, and take 'er away. :-)

Well I've run WAY over my space limit for this article, so I'm going to have to stop here... check out the supplement when I finish it (it will be DN3D_3&4.ZIP under for source demonstrating the normals, flat filler, and lightsource calculations. I'll also cover that fixed point square root that I couldn't fit in here. :)

Next time, we'll take an in-depth look at BSP trees, since I think they're far too cool to put off until later. And for those of you who already know BSP trees, DON'T ignore that article! I'll be covering a different kind of tree generator that I think is more efficient than the typical recursive method. :-)

Until next time...

Kiwidog / Hornet , Terraformer

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Date this article was posted to 10/19/1999
(Note that this date does not necessarily correspond to the date the article was written)

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