It would not be to hard to implement some camera controls for a three.js project from scratch. It would involve some event handlers, and the use of a few Object3D methods like lookAt, and position.set. However there is some additional resources in the three.js project repository itself that can be used to quickly set this up in a flash. In this post I will be covering how to quickly set up some orbit controls for the camera, so you do not have to keep changing hard coded values, or spend a great deal of time working on your own solution to just look around a scene.
The Orbit Controls solution that can be found in the three.js examples folder in the github repo of the project can be used to quickly set up a solution for panning, zooming, and changing the orientation of a camera with the mouse, keyboard, and touch events.
Yes version numbers matter when working with three.js. When I first wrote this post I was working with r91, and as of this writing when I took a moment to edit this post last I was using r127. Sense then some code breaking changes have happened so be aware of what version of threejs you are using. The main change that I have noticed sense r91 is that it is now required to give a dom element reference as the second argument when calling the main orbit controls constructor function. I will still keep the old r91 examples in this post just for the hell of it as many of the features still seem to work more or less the same way when the few required changes are made.
In order to quickly add Orbit controls you need to add a *.js file that is in the three.js repository that can be found here. You will want to add this file to your project in a way so that it will append three.js, and add a constructor called THREE.OrbitControls.
If you all ready know how to create a basic scene in threejs, and you have a proper copy of the orbit controls added to the page along with the corresponding version of threejs, then adding orbit controls is not all that hard. The THREE.OrbitControls constructor just needs to be called passing a camera that the orbit controls will be controlling as the first argument. On top of the camera a dom element reference might also have to be added if you are using a later version of three.js ( at least r125 forward as of this writing )
When using the orbit controls constructor in r125 I now need to pass a camera as the first argument like before, but now I also need to pass a dom element reference as the second argument. Once you have an instance of the controls you just need to call the update method of the controls in a render or update loop.
When I first wrote this post I was using r91. With that version of threejs I just need to call the constructor passing the instance of the camera I want to to control which will give me an instance of THREE.OrbitControls. However in late versions of threejs this might cause an error.
I just need to call the THREE.OrbitControls constructor and pass a camera as the first argument, and then a dom element as the second argument. The dom element can be the dome element that is used in a renderer such as the built in web gl renderer.
So this new example is more or less the same as the old r91 example. It would seem that the only change is that I now have to give that dome element reference.
For a full working example of this I will of course want something to look at such as a cube, and of course I will want the usual scene, camera, and renderer. In my html not only will I want to load three.js like normal, I will want to see to it that the Orbit controls are added to three.js, as or r91 they are not part of three.js itself, so it must be added by some means.
If all goes well I should now be able to use the OrbitControls constructor just like any other constructor in three.js.
From here I have my basic example of how to go about using the orbit controls to quickly allow for the basic control of the camera that is typical of many games, and 3d modeling programs. From here it is just a question if you want to further tweak the behavior of the controls, there are plenty of additional properties to do that.
A common task with any three.js project is to have the camera rotate around a mesh or scene that you have made. With the orbit controls constructor there is an boolean that can be set true to start an automation rotation around a target position.
By default the target position is the origin, but you can use the vector3 to change it to another point. Speed can be set as well by giving a Number to the autoRotateSpeed property where 1 will mean it will take about a minute to make one rotation ad sixty frames per second.
There are also a bunch of other values that can be used to set limits on distance, and paining. The range of the values for the min, and max values for the angles range from -Math.PI to Math.PI
There is an option to set the panning mode for panning. By default the orbit controls use Screen Space Panning, but it can be set to Horizontal Panning if desired.
There is the Enable Damping Boolean value that can be set true to give the controls some inertia. If you enable this you may also want to play around with the damping factor value as well.
One thing about the Orbit Controls is that it ends up disabling right clicking on the page in which I am using it, in most cases this does not present a problem. If for some reason it does the reason why is because event.preventDefault() is used in an on context menu event handler in the Orbit Controls source file, disabling it would be as simple as just commenting it out or removing the code all together.
The code of interest looks like this
If you take a look at the other controls in the three.js examples folder it looks like there are some additional options for quickly adding some typical controls to a three.js project, including fly controls. I have not check out all of these options yet as there is a lot to get to when it comes to looking I to what there is to worth with in the official three.js repo, but I feel they might also come in handy at some point as well I am sure.
I have not covered everything that the Orbit controls has to offer. It looks like it has some methods for saving and loading camera save states among other things but you get the idea. If you are thinking about taking the time to make your own controls for something like this think again, chances are it has been done before, and there is so shame of just taking advantage of these things like this to save time. The focus on any three.js project, or any project for that matter should be whatever it is that sets your project apart from all others. Chances are that is not going to be the orbit controls is it? I didn’t think so, just use this stuff and move on.