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Posted 3 May 2015
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Creating shapes using the Public Domain HTML 3D Library

, 10 Jan 2017
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Explains how to create 3D shapes using my HTML 3D Library for JavaScript


This tip explains how my HTML 3D Library supports 3D shapes and how to use the library to create shapes, both built-in and custom shapes.

Download the latest version of the HTML 3D Library at the library's Releases page. As of version 1.2.1, it includes the shapes.html and platonic.html demos mentioned in this page.

This page will discuss:

  • Using the Meshes methods to make built-in shapes
  • Making your own shapes with the H3DU.Mesh constructor
  • Building up your own shapes using the vertex methods
  • Binding meshes to shapes
  • Shape groups, or combinations of several shapes

NOTE: This page will largely discuss the 2.0.0-beta1 version of the HTML 3D library, which differs considerably from the current release (version 1.5.1) of the library. (See the library's change history for more information.)


Creating Shapes
  Built-In Shapes
  Custom Shapes
  The Mesh Constructor
  Vertex Methods
  Transforming the Mesh
  Texture Coordinates
    What Are Normals?
    Normals on Built-in Shapes
Binding Shapes
Shape Groups
Other Pages

Creating Shapes

The HTML 3D library contains several methods for creating 3D shapes such as cubes, cylinders, spheres, and custom shapes.

An assortment of shapes: a red box, a blue sphere, a bright green 2D ring, and an
orange partial ring on the first row; and a yellow 3D ring, a brown cylinder, a dark
green square, and a purple cone on the second row.


  • shapes.html - Demonstrates the built-in shapes.
  • platonic.html - A demo featuring the five platonic solids. Demonstrates how vertex and index arrays are built up to create geometric meshes.


See Examples of Creating Meshes on the Fly for examples of 3D models that can be created using the Mesh class and built-in shapes.

Built-In Shapes

The H3DU.Meshes class includes several handy methods for creating built-in shapes. All methods described below return a H3DU.Mesh object that describes the triangles they are composed of. See "Custom Shapes" below for more on meshes.

3D Figures:

2D Figures:

Custom Shapes

Also included is a H3DU.Mesh class for defining shapes not given among the built-in ones. Shapes can consist of triangles, lines, or points.

There are two ways for specifying shapes: through the Mesh constructor, or through methods that specify the mesh's data vertex by vertex.

The Mesh Constructor

The H3DU.Mesh constructor lets you define a shape from a predefined array of vertex data. Here's how.

  1. Create an array of numbers giving the X, Y, and Z coordinate for each vertex:

    <code>var vertices = [x1, y1, z1, x2, y2, z2, ... ];

    If you also specify normals, colors, or texture coordinates for each vertex, you must add them after each vertex position in this order: normals first, colors second, and texture coordinates last. If you don't specify normals, colors, and/or texture coordinates per vertex, you can omit them. The following are examples of this:

    <code>// An array of vertices each with a set of normals
    var vertices = [
     x1, y1, z1, nx1, ny1, nz1,
     x2, y2, z2, nx2, ny2, nz2,
    // An array of vertices each with a set of colors
    // and texture coordinates
    var vertices = [
     x1, y1, z1, cr1, cg1, cb1, u1, v1,
     x2, y2, z2, cr2, cg2, cb2, u2, v2,
  2. Create a second array of numbers giving the indices to vertices defined in the previous step:

    <code>var indices = [0, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, ... ];

    Each index refers to the (n+1)th vertex, no matter how many array elements each vertex consists of (a vertex with just coordinates will use 3 array elements).

    If you are defining a set of triangles, there should be 3 indices for each triangle, and if you are defining a set of line segments, there should be 2 indices for each line segment.

  3. Call the mesh constructor with the vertex and index arrays.

    <code>var bits = H3DU.Mesh.NORMALS_BIT; // Assumes we used the vertex array with normals
    var mesh = new H3DU.Mesh(vertices, indices, bits);

    Note that you must include a set of bits indicating what kind of data the vertex array contains. (If none of the bits apply, use 0 or omit the "bits" parameter.) The bits are:

    • H3DU.Mesh.NORMALS_BIT - if you included normals for each vertex (3 elements)
    • H3DU.Mesh.COLORS_BIT - if you included colors for each vertex (3 elements)
    • H3DU.Mesh.TEXCOORDS_BIT - if you included texture coordinates for each vertex (2 elements)
    • H3DU.Mesh.LINES_BIT - if the mesh defines a set of lines rather than triangles
    • H3DU.Mesh.POINTS_BIT - if the mesh defines a set of points (you can't set both LINES_BIT and POINTS_BIT).

    The bits may be combined as in the following example:

    <code>var bits = H3DU.Mesh.NORMALS_BIT | H3DU.Mesh.COLORS_BIT;

    Alternatively, you can call the H3DU.Mesh constructor with no arguments:

    <code>var mesh = new H3DU.Mesh();

    Doing so will create a mesh with no vertices.

Vertex Methods

Alternatively, or in addition, to the method described above, you can specify the mesh's shape by calling methods that give each vertex's position and parameters:

  1. Call the mode() method and choose a primitive mode, such as H3DU.Mesh.TRIANGLES or H3DU.Mesh.QUAD_STRIP:


    The mesh will build up the shape from the vertices you give it depending on the mesh's primitive mode. For example, QUAD_STRIP defines a strip of connecting quadrilaterals, and TRIANGLES defines a set of triangles that are not necessarily connected:

    • H3DU.Mesh.TRIANGLES - Set of triangles, 3 vertices each.
    • H3DU.Mesh.LINES - Set of line segments, 2 vertices each.
    • H3DU.Mesh.QUADS - Set of quadrilaterals, 4 vertices each.
    • H3DU.Mesh.TRIANGLE_STRIP - A triangle strip. The first 3 vertices make up the first triangle, and each additional triangle is made up of the last 2 vertices and 1 new vertex.
    • H3DU.Mesh.TRIANGLE_FAN - A triangle fan. The first 3 vertices make up the first triangle, and each additional triangle is made up of the last vertex, the first vertex of the first trangle, and 1 new vertex.
    • H3DU.Mesh.QUAD_STRIP - A strip of quadrilaterals (quads). The first 4 vertices make up the first quad, and each additional quad is made up of the last 2 vertices of the previous quad and 2 new vertices.
    • H3DU.Mesh.LINE_STRIP - A series of points making up a connected line segment path.
    • H3DU.Mesh.POINTS - A series of points.
  2. Call the normal3(), color3(), and texCoord2() methods, as needed, to set the next vertex's parameters. You don't need to do this for each vertex if multiple consecutive vertices will share the same normal, color, or texture coordinates.

    <code>mesh.normal3(2, 3, 4); // Set the x, y, and z of the normal.
    mesh.color3(0.1,0.6,1); // Set the red, green, and blue of the color.
    mesh.color3("red"); // Set a CSS color.
    mesh.color3("#123FE8"); // Set an HTML color.
    mesh.texCoord3(0.5,0.5); // Set the texture coordinates.
  3. Call the vertex3() method to add a new vertex and set its position. The vertex will have the last normal, color, and texture coordinates defined on the mesh, if any were given:

    <code>mesh.vertex3(x, y, z);

You can also call the mode() method any time to change the primitive mode, even to the same mode. What this does is reset the state of the primitive so that future vertices won't depend on previous vertices. For example, if you define a TRIANGLE_FAN, and you call mesh.mode(H3DU.Mesh.TRIANGLE_FAN), the newly defined TRIANGLE_FAN will be "disconnected" from the previous one as far as the mesh object is concerned. However, a single Mesh can contain only one kind of primitive (triangles, lines, or points) at a time.

Transforming the Mesh

Once you've created the mesh, you can use the transform() method to transform all the vertices in the mesh with a 4x4 matrix. The shapes.html demo uses this method to adjust some of the meshes to make them look better on the screen. Example:

<code>var matrix = H3DU.Math.mat4scaled(2,2,2);
// Use the transform to double the mesh's size
mesh = mesh.transform(matrix);

Texture Coordinates

If the mesh has a texture associated with it, you must specify texture coordinates for each vertex in the mesh. A texture coordinate is a set of two numbers, called U and V, that map to a specific point in the texture. Each texture coordinate ranges from 0 to 1. U coordinates start at the left of the texture (0) and increase to the right (1), and V coordinates start at the bottom of the texture (0) and increase to the top (1).

For example, texture coordinates (0, 1) indicate the top left corner of the texture, and texture coordinates (0.5, 0.5) indicate the center of the texture.


For lighting and shading to work correctly, you must specify normals for all the vertices in the mesh.

What Are Normals?

A normal is a set of 3 numbers describing a particular direction. Generally, a normal's direction is perpendicular to a surface's edges, and points away from the surface.

Normals are important in the lighting and shading model. When light hits an object's surface, how brightly the surface will be lit depends on how directly the light points to the surface. It will be lit the most brightly if the light is directly opposite to its normal, and not at all if the light is perpendicular to the normal or in the same direction as the normal.

Normals on Built-in Shapes

The Meshes class includes built-in methods that will automatically specify the proper normals.


You can use the recalcNormals() method to recalculate the mesh's normals, in order to give the shape a flat or smooth appearance or to shade the shape from the inside or the outside. This method takes two parameters:

  • The first parameter is true if the normals will be calculated such that the shape will have a flat appearance; otherwise, false (giving the shape a smooth appearance). This works by either giving each triangle the same normal (flat shading) or giving each unique vertex its own normal (smooth shading).
  • The second parameter is true if the normals will be calculated such that the shape is shaded from the inside; otherwise, false.

For normal calculation to properly affect shading, each triangle in the mesh must have its vertices ordered in the same winding (counterclockwise or clockwise) throughout. If the vertices have the wrong order, use the reverseWinding() method to change their order.

Note: For right-handed coordinate systems, as will be the case when using, for example, the Batch3D.perspectiveAspect() method, if the mesh describes a closed convex surface (such as a sphere or cube), each triangle's vertices (as they appear when the triangle's front side is seen) must be ordered counterclockwise for the shape to be shaded from the outside.


<code>// Use flat shading, and shape is shaded from the outside
mesh = mesh.recalcNormals(true, false);
// Both parameters can be omitted, setting both to false
mesh = mesh.recalcNormals();

Binding Shapes

Once you have a mesh of a 3D shape, you still need to attach it to a shape and a batch of shapes in order for the renderer to draw it. This is where the H3DU.Shape class comes into play; this class associates a 3D mesh with its location in the scene, as well as its color, its appearance, and how its vertices will be transformed. To attach a mesh to a 3D scene:

  1. Create a Shape object by passing the mesh to the H3DU.Shape constructor:

    <code>var shape = new H3DU.Shape(mesh);
  2. You may also set the Shape's color, appearance, and position, using the examples below:

    Examples for setting appearance:

    <code>shape.setColor("red"); // set the color to a CSS color
    shape.setColor("#338845"); // set the color to an HTML color
    shape.setColor(0.2,0.5,1); // set the color to its RGB values, each from 0 to 1
    // set material parameters: ambient, diffuse,
    // specular, shininess (NOTE: if the mesh defines its own colors they
    // will override diffuse reflection given below)
    shape.setMaterial(new H3DU.Material("blue","blue","white",30));
    // set material parameters: ambient, diffuse,
    // specular, shininess, emission
    shape.setMaterial(new H3DU.Material("lime","lime","white",30,[0.2,0.2,0.2]));
    // set a texture; this requires the mesh to have texture
    // coordinates assigned to each vertex

    Examples for setting position and transformation:

    <code>// move the shape 2 units along X axis, 4 units along Y axis,
    // and 5 units along Z axis
    // same, but passing an array
    // rotate the shape 40 units about X axis, 20 units about Y axis,
    // and 50 units about Z axis
    // rotate the shape 20 units about Y axis
    // scale the shape by 2x in all axes
    // same, but passing an array

    Note that setPosition, setQuaternion, and setScale don't change the vertices of the underlying mesh the shape uses, but rather set up a transformation matrix that adjusts each vertex in the shape "on the fly" when it comes time to draw it each frame.

    If setMatrix wasn't called, then when the shape is rendered, it will generate a transformation matrix that has the effect of scaling, then rotating, then translating (shifting) the shape in 3D space.

  3. Add the shape to a 3D batch (`H3DU.Batch3D):


    Now, the next time scene3d.render(batch) is called, the H3DU.Scene3D will render the given shape to the scene through the 3D batch.

Shape Groups

The H3DU.ShapeGroup class represents a shape that's a combination of multiple shapes. Usually, they form different pieces of a combined shape that can be positioned, rotated, and scaled at once. Here is an example of a clock made up of multiple shapes:


This clock is made up of a torus for the edge, disks for the front and back, capsules for the hands, and crude spheres for the center and top. These shapes are added to a single ShapeGroup which represents the whole clock:

  • Clock: ShapeGroup
    • Edge: Torus
    • Front face: Disk
    • Back face: Disk
    • Hour hand: Capsule
    • Minute hand: Capsule
    • Seconds hand: Capsule
    • 12 o'clock: Sphere
    • Center: Sphere

The demo for the clock is:

To create a shape group, call new H3DU.ShapeGroup(). To add a Shape object to the group, call new H3DU.Shape(shape). Note that you can only add shapes, not meshes, to a shape group, just as for a 3D batch (H3DU.Batch3D). A shape group, though, is perfectly allowed to contain other shape groups.

Other Pages

The following pages of mine on CodeProject also discuss this library:


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under A Public Domain dedication


About the Author

Peter Occil
United States United States
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