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About transparency

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Conider this: You want to render a semitransparent object. You enable alpha blending and make the standard calls to Drawprimitive. All set ? Of course not ! Problem 1: The object is not transparent onto itself You want to see the backfaces shining through. Ohh ! So you disable both z-buffering and culling. Now all faces of the object are semitransparent and you are very happy (?) Not as happy as you would like ! Problem 2: With z-buffering and culling disabled, you get to see all the objects faces, but they are rarely rendered in the correct order. How could this matter? My object are semitransparent, you say. Thruth is, it matters less the more transparent it is. But if you wanted full transparency in the first place, the easiest course of action would be not to render anything at all. So back to the drawing board ... Easy solution: You render your object in two stages. First pass is with culling reversed (that would normally be clockwise culling as opposed to counterclockwise culling, depending on your preferred vertex orientation). Second pass would then be with normal (counterclockwise) culling. Wow, it''s beautiful (?) Not quite .. Your brilliant method works well for simple shapes. In fact, there is a handy rule stating when this would be adequate and when it is not. Here it is, presented to you in two ways. The first is to please the mathematician. The second is for mortals like you and me to understand: definition 1: A simple shape makes a convex hull in 3D definition 2: If you can cover your object (try it out on the kitchen bench) with plastic without getting any air pockets, then your shape is simple. Some thinking quickly convinces you that all the standard shapes like cube, cylinder, sphere etc. are all simple. The teapot, for instance, is not. Concerning transparent rendering, it would not be very wrong to concider it simple though. Solution: You would of course want to break down all your complex objects into simple (or at least simpler) shapes. We are now extremely happy, as we can make our objects semitransparent at will (?) Ahem. We are really not halfway there yet. Problem 3: All our thinking so far has been about an objects transparency onto itself (eg. its backfaces). The real problem arises when ascertaining semitransparency onto other objects in the scene. If our semitransparent hero is drawn first for instance, then the object covered by it wouldn''t shine through. It would be violently masked out by the z-buffer! So all is hopeless after all? You need your z-buffer like Tarzan needed Jane. Well, one way would be to make sure your engine draws the transparent objects in the front of the scene last. This however isn''t allways trivial as it must imply your own logic determining z-ordering (e.g what objects are closest to the camera). No hurry. We will deal with such matters as the problem arises. The worst possible case would be when objects intersect. Imagine for instance your beloved ghost teapot (beautifully semitransparent on its quest for opaqueness) halfway through a semitransparent wall! Now half your teapot should be invisible (or partly invisible) indeed, but sad to say, it is of course not. Why ? Because you render semitransparent objects with z-buffering disabled to ensure its transparency onto itself, remember ? This scenario however, catches your interest, as its solution would be a superset of every problem, meaning it would inherently solve all problems. So you go ahead: When the objects intersect, you need to render them in multiple passes. The methods will not be trivial, but after contemplating with your spare armadillo, your heart is again strong and it all hits you like it did Marlon Brando (right in the middle of your forhead): 1. You make a copy of your z-buffer. This can be an expensive act in terms of performance, but you do not fear this, as you know you can later refine this method, say for instance, to encompass only calculated parts of it. 2. You render the wall with full transparency (invisible!) Why would you do such a thing? It would have no effect at all? Wrong! It would affect the z-buffer, and that is exactly what you want in your first pass. Confused? Read ahead. 3. Now you render the teapot with z-buffering reversed. You wagely remember a topic on this forum where a fellow wondered what could possibly be the practical use of reversed z-buffering. Well, here it is for you! The only part of the teapot now rendered will be the one covered (partly) by the (for the moment) invisible wall. Of course you use your technique of rendering this half teapot in two passes as earlier, to also ensure its transparency onto itself. 4. You now want your z-buffer back! Clean out this invisible wall. I shall make no more use of it! This you accomplish elegantly by restoring it to the backup you made in step 1. 5. You now render the wall with its intended transparency. This time you have set your z-buffering back to normal (not reversed). Done? No. We still need that other part of the pot. 6. So finally you repeat step 3, rendering the teapot again. This time the part of it that is not covered by the wall will be rendered, as this time your z-buffering method is restored to normal. Now you are making scenes with perfect semitransparency and are truly ready to impress the girl of your dreams (or man, if you happen yourself to be a girl or to have alternate preferances). If this turns out to be inadequate, you could use a Shakespeare sonnett instead, eg. "Oh know, sweet love, I allways write of you. For you and love shall allways be my argument." Voila! Alternately, you could do this much simpler by simply making all your objects semitransparent and render them all in a big goo, disabling all culling and z-buffering. But you try this, and are not at all satisfied, as it looks horrible. Now a fullfledged semitransparency expert, you still have to concider many z-ordering logics of your own as your scene grows complex, but having solved the superset problem, you are ready to cope ... ** the ideas and methods here thrown may not be original (in fact they cannot be), and the author would appreciate to learn of any methods, be they refined, improved or (as John Clease would state it) something completly different **

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