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2.10.10 Coordinate Systems for Three-Dimensional Graphics

Whenever Mathematica draws a three-dimensional object, it always effectively puts a cuboidal box around the object. With the default option setting Boxed -> True, Mathematica in fact draws the edges of this box explicitly. But in general, Mathematica automatically "clips" any parts of your object that extend outside of the cuboidal box.

The option PlotRange specifies the range of , and coordinates that Mathematica should include in the box. As in two dimensions the default setting is PlotRange -> Automatic, which makes Mathematica use an internal algorithm to try and include the "interesting parts" of a plot, but drop outlying parts. With PlotRange -> All, Mathematica will include all parts.

This loads a package defining various polyhedra.

In[1]:= <<Graphics`Polyhedra`

This creates a stellated icosahedron.

In[2]:= stel = Stellate[Icosahedron[ ]] ;

Here is the stellated icosahedron, drawn in a box.

In[3]:= Show[Graphics3D[stel], Axes -> True]


With this setting for PlotRange, many parts of the stellated icosahedron lie outside the box, and are clipped.

In[4]:= Show[%, PlotRange -> {-1, 1}]


Much as in two dimensions, you can use either "original" or "scaled" coordinates to specify the positions of elements in three-dimensional objects. Scaled coordinates, specified as Scaled[sx, sy, sz] are taken to run from 0 to 1 in each dimension. The coordinates are set up to define a right-handed coordinate system on the box.

Coordinate systems for three-dimensional objects.

This puts a cuboid in one corner of the box.

In[5]:= Show[Graphics3D[{stel,
Cuboid[Scaled[{0, 0, 0}],
Scaled[{0.2, 0.2, 0.2}]]}]]


Once you have specified where various graphical elements go inside a three-dimensional box, you must then tell Mathematica how to draw the box. The first step is to specify what shape the box should be. This is analogous to specifying the aspect ratio of a two-dimensional plot. In three dimensions, you can use the option BoxRatios to specify the ratio of side lengths for the box. For Graphics3D objects, the default is BoxRatios -> Automatic, specifying that the shape of the box should be determined from the ranges of actual coordinates for its contents.

Specifying the shape of the bounding box for three-dimensional objects.

This displays the stellated icosahedron in a tall box.

In[6]:= Show[Graphics3D[stel], BoxRatios -> {1, 1, 5}]


To produce an image of a three-dimensional object, you have to tell Mathematica from what view point you want to look at the object. You can do this using the option ViewPoint.

Some common settings for this option were given in Section 1.9.6. In general, however, you can tell Mathematica to use any view point, so long as it lies outside the box.

View points are specified in the form ViewPoint -> sx, sy, sz. The values si are given in a special coordinate system, in which the center of the box is {0, 0, 0}. The special coordinates are scaled so that the longest side of the box corresponds to one unit. The lengths of the other sides of the box in this coordinate system are determined by the setting for the BoxRatios option. For a cubical box, therefore, each of the special coordinates runs from to across the box. Note that the view point must always lie outside the box.

This generates a picture using the default view point {1.3, -2.4, 2}.

In[7]:= surf = Plot3D[(2 + Sin[x]) Cos[2 y],
{x, -2, 2}, {y, -3, 3},
AxesLabel -> {"x", "y", "z"}]


This is what you get with a view point close to one of the corners of the box.

In[8]:= Show[surf, ViewPoint -> {1.2, 1.2, 1.2}]


As you move away from the box, the perspective effect gets smaller.

In[9]:= Show[surf, ViewPoint -> {5, 5, 5}]


Specifying the position and orientation of three-dimensional objects.

In making a picture of a three-dimensional object you have to specify more than just where you want to look at the object from. You also have to specify how you want to "frame" the object in your final image. You can do this using the additional options ViewCenter and ViewVertical.

ViewCenter allows you to tell Mathematica what point in the object should appear at the center of your final image. The point is specified by giving its scaled coordinates, running from 0 to 1 in each direction across the box. With the setting ViewCenter -> {1/2, 1/2, 1/2}, the center of the box will therefore appear at the center of your final image. With many choices of view point, however, the box will not appear symmetrical, so this setting for ViewCenter will not center the whole box in the final image area. You can do this by setting ViewCenter -> Automatic.

ViewVertical specifies which way up the object should appear in your final image. The setting for ViewVertical gives the direction in scaled coordinates which ends up vertical in the final image. With the default setting ViewVertical -> {0, 0, 1}, the direction in your original coordinate system always ends up vertical in the final image.

With this setting for ViewCenter, a corner of the box appears in the center of your image.

In[10]:= Show[surf, ViewCenter -> {1, 1, 1}]


This setting for ViewVertical makes the axis of the box appear vertical in your image.

In[11]:= Show[surf, ViewVertical -> {1, 0, 0}]


When you set the options ViewPoint, ViewCenter and ViewVertical, you can think about it as specifying how you would look at a physical object. ViewPoint specifies where your head is relative to the object. ViewCenter specifies where you are looking (the center of your gaze). And ViewVertical specifies which way up your head is.

In terms of coordinate systems, settings for ViewPoint, ViewCenter and ViewVertical specify how coordinates in the three-dimensional box should be transformed into coordinates for your image in the final display area.

For some purposes, it is useful to think of the coordinates in the final display area as three dimensional. The and axes run horizontally and vertically, respectively, while the axis points out of the page. Positions specified in this "display coordinate system" remain fixed when you change ViewPoint and so on. The positions of light sources discussed in the next section are defined in this display coordinate system.

Coordinate systems for three-dimensional graphics.

Once you have obtained a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object, there are still some issues about how this image should be rendered. The issues however are identical to those that occur for two-dimensional graphics. Thus, for example, you can modify the final shape of your image by changing the AspectRatio option. And you specify what region of your whole display area your image should take up by setting the PlotRegion option.

This modifies the aspect ratio of the final image.

In[12]:= Show[surf, Axes -> False, AspectRatio -> 0.3]


Mathematica usually scales the images of three-dimensional objects to be as large as possible, given the display area you specify. Although in most cases this scaling is what you want, it does have the consequence that the size at which a particular three-dimensional object is drawn may vary with the orientation of the object. You can set the option SphericalRegion -> True to avoid such variation. With this option setting, Mathematica effectively puts a sphere around the three-dimensional bounding box, and scales the final image so that the whole of this sphere fits inside the display area you specify. The sphere has its center at the center of the bounding box, and is drawn so that the bounding box just fits inside it.

This draws a rather elongated version of the plot.

In[13]:= Show[surf, BoxRatios -> {1, 5, 1}]


With SphericalRegion -> True, the final image is scaled so that a sphere placed around the bounding box would fit in the display area.

In[14]:= Show[%, SphericalRegion -> True]


By setting SphericalRegion -> True, you can make the scaling of an object consistent for all orientations of the object. This is useful if you create animated sequences which show a particular object in several different orientations.

Changing the magnification of three-dimensional images.