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DirectXGraphics: Smooth Keyframe Animations
Author: Jack Hoxley
Written: 4th September 2001
Contact: [EMail]
Download: GR_SmoothAnim.Zip (1061kb)

Contents of this lesson
1. Introduction
2. About the function(s)
3. Application of the function

1. Introduction

Welcome to another extended tutorial for Direct3D8 programming in visual basic. For todays article we'll be covering smooth keyframe animation. This builds directly upon the code, and the technique learnt in the previous lesson in this series - number 10 (read it here). If you haven't read it, read it first - otherwise you'll be lost here!

2. About the function(s)

The functions that we're going to use are fairly standard maths algorithms, and they do look pretty ugly! but exactly how they work is really not at all important here (I have no idea how to derive such parametric equations), all you need to know is what they do, and how to use them.

I'm going to examine 3 types of function - there is a fourth, the Bezier curve, but whilst it's better known and looks slightly nicer it's absolutely useless for animation as the curve has a nice tendency to do absolutely different things to the animation!

Type 1: Standard Linear Equation
this is the standard equation that we've used before (in lesson 10). The maths equation looks like this:

a = Source point (x,y)
b = Destination point (x,y)
t = Interpolant between 0.0 and 1.0, at t=0.0 we get point a, and at t=1.0 we get point b, at t=0.5 we get a value 1/2 way between the two.

this produces a keyframe animation between 5 points that looks like this:

looks good enough, if the black dots are our keyframes then any frame between those will be somewhere on the red line. The big draw back here is the asphetic appearance of the whole thing - take the 2nd and 5th keyframes, they result in rather significant changes of direction, on screen this can look a little odd - your character may appear to jerk their legs/arms in a completely different direction...

Type 2: Hermite Spline Equation
So we solve the previous problem with a new function. This is where it gets more interesting, instead of suddenly changing direction at the keyframes it slowly (or quickly) blends between the new and old direction - producing a nice, rounded, smooth line going through all the keyframes...

The maths equation for this is complicated - and it looks ugly! Just check this one out:

Looks pretty dont it! And all those parameters mean:
t = interpolation amount, 0.0 to 1.0 - same as for linear function, 0.0=start and 1.0=end
P0 = Start point
P1 = End point
M0 = Tangent at start
M1 = Tangent at end

The second equation is used to calculate the tangents M0 and M1, and is fairly simple really.
a = tensile factor, 0.0 = Smooth curve, 1.0 = straight line, -1.0 = very bendy line!

Stick this all together and we get a curve looking like the one in the following diagram - using the same keypoints as the linear example, you can see how much smoother the result is.

Type 3: Catmull-Rom Splines
This is the last type we're going to look at, and to all intents and purposes it's a simpler version of the hermite spline formula - and for a=0.0 you tend to get an exactly identical result. It is also slightly faster to compute:

Still quite complicated, but really not that bad when it comes to using it.
t = Interpolant amount, again, on a 0.0 to 1.0 scale
P0 = First point
P1 = Second point
P2 = Third point
P3 = Fourth point

the equation actually only draws a curve between points P1 and P2, it uses P0 and P3 to guide the curve (so it know where the curve should go basically). The end result looks like this:

3. Application of the function(s)

All of the source code for this is included in the download, so you'll need to get that in order to see how it all fits together. It's essentially been built around the download for lesson #10 - the original keyframe tutorial. The only major difference being that there are some additional functions for interpolating using the different methods.

You should of already worked out that the two new functions are going to be slower than the basic linear equation, but thats the trade off between performance and presentation... to help combat this I've included my own custom C++ DLL to do some of the grunt work, and it does do it considerably quicker (200fps instead of 80fps), you can use this library if you really want to - or you can use straight VB code, your choice entirely.

Another possibility is the application to skeletal animation with this sample, you can use these functions to interpolate the bones more smoothly - if they are currently setup on a keyframe system.

I strongly suggest that you download the sample code and watch the animation run through a few times in each mode (tap SPACE to change), I found it very easy to tell between the spline and the linear functions - you can even notice the triangles changing shape with the linear function (not good). Also, many thanks to Dmitriy Safro ( for providing the 3D model.

You can download the source code from the top of the page, or from the downloads page. enjoy...

any feedback or improvements can be emailed to me - I'm always interested...

DirectX 4 VB 2000 Jack Hoxley. All rights reserved.
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