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Introduction Part 1: Matrix Transformation Tutorial

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Math Prerequisites

  3. Importance of Correct Transformations
  4. What a Matrix Represents
  5. Matrix Multiplication
  6. Transforming a Vector by a Matrix
  7. Object Space Transformations
  8. Camera Transformations
  9. Inverse Transformations
  10. Hierarchical Transformations

  11. Precision
  12. Conclusion


It has been entirely too long since I wrote my last doc, I just had to make another one :) This is a topic which I have spent a great deal of time teaching lately, so I decided to make a doc that would expedite the process for me.

If you are looking for advice from a certified expert, you will not find it in this doc. I am merely an individual who has spent the past year studying realtime rendering, and who is willing to share what he has learned. However, you should rest assured that I do not write docs about things I have never implemented in working code, and I never code anything I don't fully understand. In other words, I think I know what I am talking about here :)

All of the techniques in this file can be implemented regardless of the programming language you use, from assembler to C to Visual Basic. I will, however, be giving any pseudocode examples in C, because it seems to be the universal language of coders right now. For the sake of simplicity, all code examples will use floating point math. Floating point is the wave of the future, as a matter of fact its faster than fixed point integer math on the newest RISC machines (PowerPC, DEC Alpha). Unfortunately, Intel users have been given hideously slow floating point processors in the past and are less than confident in the ability of their machines; but things will get better very shortly.

Math Prerequisites

Sadly, matrix math is something that is all but ignored in most high school curricula in the United States. But hey, the best stuff is skipped in high school, everybody knows that :) You should not be afraid of matrix math just because your high school math teacher does not teach it. Now that I think about it, matrix math is probably skipped in high school simply because there is nothing taught in high school that applies its principles.

The only matrix math I was taught in high school was for solving systems of equations. Basically, we were taught that a matrix is a simple and powerful way to represent a complex system of equations. This is a great explanation, although extremely simplistic. Keep this in mind throughout the course of this doc.

The math of matrices is very simple. Nothing higher than first year algebra is used, although an understanding of trigenometry will make your life much easier when it comes to understanding the meaning of all those numbers in a matrix. If you have had a course in Linear Algebra at a university, this doc will probably be old news to you.

Importance of Correct Transformations

When I first began coding vector graphics, I had a great understanding of trigenometry and anything but fond memories of matrix math as it was presented in my high school courses. To me, matrix math seemed to be an unneccessarily complex way to solve a simple algebraic problem, like trying to swat a fly with an elephant gun. Indeed, many algebraic problems can be solved without the use of matrix math.

However, vector graphics pose a system of equations that are anything but simple to solve algebraically. Consider the following: in a typical vector world, there are many objects. Each of these objects moves in its own space (object space), relative to its own set of coordinate axes. There are several cameras, each of which moves in its own space (camera space or eyespace) according to its own set of coordinate axes. At some point, the objects must be transformed from object space to eyespace so they can be displayed as the eye sees them. Apart from this, there is the issue of object hierarchies. In a realistic vector environment, object hierarchies must be handled correctly. These issues present formidable challenges without the use of matrix math. However, by using matrix math we can deal with all of these issues in a simple and speedy manner.

Granted, I am assuming that everyone wants to make simulation quality vector code. This type of code requires correct transformations. Speaking from a demo scene point of view, very few demos implement correct transformations simply because they are not required for the application. The stereotypical vector scene in a demo is a childish attempt to display speed and pretty rendering on a single object. Most demo coders do not care if their objects are moving correctly, they just want them to move around a bit. This attitude is fine, assuming you never want to do anything with your code besides show a spinning cube or toroid.

Any impressive vector application (game, simulator, etc.) requires correct transformations. Consider the following example. An airplane is oriented such that its nose is pointing in the positive z direction, its right wing is pointing in the positive x direction, its cockpit is pointing in the positive y direction. The airplane's local x, y, and z axes are aligned with the world x, y, and z axes. If this airplane were rotated 90 degrees about its y axis, its nose would be pointing toward the world -x axis, its right wing pointing toward the world +z, and its cockpit remaining in the world +y direction. Most transformations, whether correct or incorrect, would accomplish this. Here is the 'acid test' to see whether your transformations are correct. From this new position, rotate the airplane about its z axis. If your transformations are correct, the airplane will rotate about its own z axis (it will roll). If your transformation is incorrect, the airplane will rotate about the world z axis (its nose will pitch up or down).

This rather silly example poses quite a serious question. If your transformations are not correct, how will you control object movement in a vector world? How will you guarantee your airplane will roll when you tell it to instead of pitching? The same problem arises with incorrect camera rotation. The consequences of such incorrectness in a flight simulator or game would make the game unplayable.

The solution to this problem is simple; the use of 4x4 matrix transformations.

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