Yesterday I wrote a post on the position attribute of a buffer geometry in threejs, and today I thought I would continue the trend by writing another post on an attribute of buffer geometry this time the normal attribute. The values in this attribute are used to set an addtional direction for each point that is indepednadt of the direction of the coresponding point in the position attribute. This addtional direction is then used in the process of shading.
These values are also used when it comes to rendering for various materials such as with the normal material, and they are also involve in effects with other materials such as with light and how it effects materials like the standard material.
For a while I got it stuck in my head that normals are also used to set what side of a trinagle is the ‘front side’ of the triangle. However I have found that this is not the case and it is in fact the order of the points of the triangle in the position attribute that are used to set this.
So then the position attribute is for setting the location of points for each triangle of a geometry, and that is of course a good starting point when it comes to making a custom geometry. However if there is no normal attribute for it, or if the normal values are mess up, then lighting is not going to work at all, or as expected. So creating a normal attribute might be considered the next thing that must be worked out after the position attribute when it comes to making a geometry.
Be sure to read up more on the subject of buffer geometry in general before getting into learning a thing or two about the normal attribute. When it comes to learning how to make a custom geometry the first step might be to create the position attribute first, so there is looking into how to go about doing that before getting into the normal attribute. Also there is a wide range of key features that have to do with the buffer geometry class that you should know about before hand.
In order to create a normal attribute from raw data I will need to call THREE.BufferAttribute, and pass a typed array and an item count when calling it. Speaking of THREE.BufferAttribite you might want to check out my main blog post on this subject as well. There are a lot of core features of the class that will come into play when making a normal attribute that I might not get into detail with here.
The normal attribute has to do with direction and not so much position which is what the position attribute is about. So then there is learning how to use the arrow helper as a way to see what the position of each vertex normal is currently. The use of arrow helpers is a great tool for debugging any problems with a geometry that may be related to the normals attribute.
The version of threejs that I was using when I worked out these source code examples was threejs r127, and the last time I came around to edit a little I was using r146. If you have used threejs long enough you show be aware that code breaking changes are made to the library often, so always check what version you are using. Also I think that it is a good idea to always get into the happen of mentioning what version of threejs I am using when writing and updating my posts on threejs.
First off I think I should start out with a very basic example of the normal attribute that involves just playing around with the normal attribute that will be set up to begin with when using one of the built in geometry constructors such as the box geometry constructor. I have found that the best way to learn abut these attributes is to just study the results of a geometry that has all ready been made and then mutate the values of them to see what the effect is.
So in this basic example I just create a scene object, and then I intend to create and add a Mesh object to the scene that uses a geometry created with the THREE.BoxGeometry constructor, and uses the THREE.MeshNormalMaterial as a way to go about skinning the geometry. The only thing that I am going to do out of the usual here is to create an instance of THREE.ArrowHelper and then use the values in the normal and position attributes to set the position and direction of the arrow helper for the first vertex of the first triangle of the geometry.
So then this shows be the direction of the first normal of the box geometry, but what about the rest of the normals of the first triangle, and what happens when I change the direction of them? With that said sets move on to some additional examples of the normal attribute that involve mutation and animation.
So now that I have the very basics out of the way when it comes to mutating the values of a normal attribute in a buffer geometry maybe now the next step is to work out a slightly more advanced example that involves the use of an animation loop that will show what happens as the direction of one or more normals changes when using the THREE.MeshNormalMatreial.
In this example I now have some helper methods that I worked out. One of which is the set normal helper for setting the direction of a given normal by way passing the geometry, followed by the normal index the corresponding with the vertex index, and then the new direction in the form of a Vector3 instance or position object that will be used to set the new direction of the normal. The other helper method that I made is for updating an arrow helper to use the current values of a given normal index value. So the intention is that I will be using these methods to mutate three normal values for the first triangle and then update arrow helpers that will show the new direction of each normal.
When this code example is up and running the result is that the colors for the triangle to which I am changing the direction of the normals used will as one might expect change. The typical situation when using the Mesh Normal material with a cube is that the color range will include purple, blue, and cyan, but never green or any other colors beyond these three. This is because the normals with the Box Geometry constrictor are set up to begin with and they are all pointing outward from the inside of the cube. When the direction is changed away from this default setting that results in other colors showing up, and this is generally an indication that something is wrong with the normal values of the geometry, unless for some reason I want them facing other ways.
That will be it for now when it comes to the normal attribute when it comes to earning more about the buffer geometry used in late versions of threejs. The general thing here is that the normals array is a way to set the direction of each point of each triangle that is used in the geometry. So there is the position attribute that is the collection of positions for each point of each triangle and this normal attribute is a way to declare which direction each point is facing. These values are then used along with other attributes such as the uvs attribute to render textures for various materials. So then understating the nature of the normal attribute along with the position and uvs attributes is all part of the process when it comes to learning how to create a custom geometry from the ground up.