Help stamp out GL_PROJECTION abuse.
By Steve Baker
One of the most common OpenGL programming errors is misuse of
the GL_PROJECTION matrix stack. This matrix stack is often
perceived as being the correct place to put the position
and orientation of the 'camera' - but this is not in fact
Unfortunately, when someone does go and put
their camera transform into the GL_PROJECTION matrix (instead
of into GL_MODELVIEW where it belongs) - the consequences are
So, it's easy to see how someone could have a program
that pretty much works correctly - that would appear
to fail when the programmer first tries to play with
Fog - or first notices a peculiar lighting anomaly.
Perhaps one might not notice until switching to a new
OpenGL implementation causes the behaviour to break.
- Lighting: OpenGL has to transform vertex normals
into world coordinate space - that is to say WITHOUT
the effects of perspective - but WITH the
effects of the camera position. Hence, only the GL_MODELVIEW
matrix is applied to the normals for lighting. If you put the
camera transform into the GL_PROJECTION matrix then your
lighting will be wrong. However, some people do their own
lighting - and in any case, it can be a subtle error that
you might not have noticed previously.
- Fog: OpenGL has to figure out how far each vertex is
from the camera. Once again, perspective effects are not
relevent to this calculation - so the GL_PROJECTION matrix
is not used. If you put the camera transform into the
GL_PROJECTION matrix then your fogging will be wrong.
Since few people use fog, many people have the error and
don't know it.
- TexGen: Since OpenGL uses the eyepoint to figure out
some of the TexGen'ed texture coordinates, if the camera
position is all mixed up with the projection information
then you'll end up with some pretty strange texture
coordinates. (Thanks to Brian Sharp at 3Dfx for pointing
this one out)
- Z-buffer: I believe (but have no proof) that a screwed up
GL_PROJECTION matrix could cause your Z values to be
computed strangely. This would likely only manifest itself
as a lack of Z precision under some circumstances - so
you might not notice - and it might not matter.
Hence, most people are very disbelieving when their problems
are diagnosed as projection abuse.
The Golden Rule.
The rule is:
The only functions that should be called when the glMatrixMode
is set to GL_PROJECTION are:
- glLoadIdentity - to initialise the stack.
- gluPerspective/glFrustum/glOrtho/gluOrtho2 - to set the
appropriate projection onto the stack.
- You *could* use glLoadMatrix to set up your own
projection matrix (if you understand the restrictions
and consequences) - but I'm told that this can cause
problems for some OpenGL implementations which rely on
data passed to glFrustum, etc to determine the near
and far clip planes.
It is actually possible to store the camera position
in the GL_PROJECTION matrix under certain VERY specific
circumstances - and if you are VERY familiar with OpenGL
and attempting to use it only for rasterization. However,
it is pretty much always the case that if you are asking the
question then you don't understand enough to deal with the
answer. If you don't already know what I mean then don't
OK, So how DO I set up the Camera?
Well, you need to push the inverse of the camera
position/orientation transform onto the GL_MODELVIEW
stack before you start drawing polygons. If you use
gluLookAt to do this, it's fairly painless - but
using glRotate/glTranslate is likely to cause
problems for all but the simplest camera motion
since you want the INVERSE of the camera location.
What I do is to compose the camera matrix by hand,
and then invert it before doing a glLoadMatrix.
However, that does require a certain confidence with
matrix operations that many people seem to lack.