Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flash 9 offers the beginGradientFill() method for drawing N-color 1D linear and radial gradients. However, I couldn't find a way to draw 3-color 2D gradients as seen in OpenGL.

I could compute the gradient myself and just set pixel values in a BitmapData, and then render those pixels to make my triangle. But that's no fun. It turns out BitmapData objects support lots of interesting operations like add, multiply, subtract, and even a limited form of lookup.

By incredible coincidence, triangles have three vertices and colors have three components. So you can use colors to store information about vertices. (Note that in the 3D DirectX/OpenGL shader world we do something similar by storing normal maps in color channels.) Here's what I came up with:

  1. Make a triangle bitmap where the red, green, and blue components of the color correspond to the barycentric coordinates of that point in the triangle, scaled to 0–255 instead of 0–1. I only have to do this once.
  2. Make a gradient array for the three colors I want at the vertices. The gradient array is 256 elements and it's merely the red, green, and blue values scaled down. At position i I'll store the color scaled to i/255 brightness.
  3. Use BitmapData.paletteMap() to map the red, green, and blue components to the scaled colors in my three gradient arrays. The paletteMap() function adds the color values in those arrays to produce the final color.

This is what the triangle bitmap looks like. The red, green, and blue channels represent the barycentric coordinates:

The way this technique works is that paletteMap() calculates the output color at each pixel to be array1[red] + array2[green] + array3[blue], where the indices are the color components from the input array. In the input array, red+blue+green equals 255, and the three arrays have the color scaled up to 255. So this gives me interpolation between any three colors. For example, if red is 20, green is 80, and blue is 155, then the final color is array1[20] + array2[80] + array3[155] = (20/255*color1) + (80/255*color2) + (155/255*color3), which is the interpolation we want. Here's an example of what happens when we apply this to a triangle with green, purple, and yellow vertices:

I should also note that paletteMap() can take four arrays instead of three; the fourth is alpha. I tried building an Alpha+RGB quad bitmap for mapping, and then using four colors with that. Unfortunately I couldn't get it to work. I think paletteMap() uses alpha both for the map and for the blending (this is undocumented). Or maybe it's doing something else I don't understand. In any case I gave up on it.

The big downside of this technique is that you have to fill those arrays each time. In general, this could get expensive. If the triangles are small, it'd be faster to directly compute the interpolation per pixel (the "not fun" technique I mentioned at the top). However, in some situations you only need a few colors, and can precompute those gradient arrays. A friend of mine wants to use this for lighting calculations, and for white lights you can precompute all 255 light levels. I was hoping to use gradients to render a map (like the one in the spaceship editor demo), and if my maps contain only a few terrain types (grass, sand, etc.), I can precompute all my gradient arrays. I can use this technique to compute a color gradient bitmap, and then mix with those with my terrain textures using the standard blend operations.

Eventually I'll be using Flash 10, and that'll open up new techniques, especially with shaders. But for now, I'm using Flash 9 for my site, and I'll try to push BitmapData to do some things it probably wasn't meant to do.



Amit wrote at June 28, 2009 3:43 PM

If you're using Flash 10 and want to compute gradients, check out this example in Adobe's documentation.

makc wrote at October 16, 2009 10:44 AM

I must say I totally do not understand this, but I love it :)

makc wrote at October 16, 2009 11:24 AM

oh yeah, I read it again, and now I see...