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Due to a long plane flight, this week I started reading up on WebGL in earnest, going beyond the various tutorials on the web. The two books recommended to me that I’ve started on (and skimmed through in their entirety – I need to sit down with each in front of a computer):

WebGL: Up and Running, by Tony Parisi, O’Reilly Press, August 2012. More info about the book here, including a sample. I recall Tony from way back in the days of VRML, he had one of the first viewers for that file format, so he’s been working in this area of 3D graphics for the web for a long time. This looks to be a good book if your goal is indeed to get something on the screen fast. It’s readable, and I appreciate his use of URLs to WebGL demos and resources and (properly credited) Wikimedia images. The code samples for the book are here on github.

It uses the popular three.js library to insulate you from the OpenGL ES roots of WebGL and hide its raw API nature. The author of three.js, Mr.doob (I don’t make these names up), notes that his work is “a lightweight 3D library with a very low level of complexity — in other words, for dummies”. Which is a fine thing, and I think I’ll be using it myself to teach introductory computer graphics. However, if you want to gaze at the occult pulsing mutation spawned of JavaScript + OpenGL ES + DOM + JSON + HTML 5, I mean, unleash the full power of WebGL itself, you’ll want to read the next book instead.

WebGL Beginner’s Guide, by Diego Cantor and Brandon Jones, Packt Publishing, June 2012 (code here). This is a pretty impressive book overall. The authors deal with WebGL directly, adding only the glMatrix library on github to make matrix manipulation easier (this is about as minimal as you can get). This book walks through much of what WebGL does (essentially, the same as OpenGL, of course), giving lots of code examples and worthwhile illustrations. Some example programs are quite nice, with useful user interfaces allowing you to twiddle values and see the effect. The book deals with more advanced topics towards the end, such as how to render offscreen and sample the results (their example is for performing picking). There are a few minor problems with layout on my iPad (a few illustrations don’t fit and there’s an awkward scrolling interface that doesn’t quite work), and some occasional lapses in grammar, but overall the book is fine. Occasionally the authors will get distracted by side topics, like a full derivation of why you use the inverse transpose of the matrix for transforming normals, or explaining a shader that does simple ray tracing. In general, however, the book works through the key areas of the WebGL API and warns you of potential problems along the way. WebGL itself exposes you directly to vertex and fragment shaders, so if you are planning to do some serious work in this area, this book is perhaps a better choice that Parisi’s (that said, three.js itself gives you easy access to shaders).

Personally, these two WebGL books were cheap enough on Kindle that I bought them both. The Beginner’s Guide in particular is a much better deal on Kindle – a third the physical book’s price. They’re actually better on Kindle, in that they’re in color; the physical books are printed with grayscale images. There are other books on WebGL, but these were the two recommended to me and they are both reasonable choices, depending on your goals. I would not recommend either if your primary goal is learning the fundamentals of computer graphics (though there’s a bit of that type of material in each). For learning WebGL itself and the basics of what it offers, both books are fine, with the “WebGL Beginner’s Guide” being aimed at the more “to the metal” programmer.

JavaScript: The Good Parts, by Douglas Crockford, O’Reilly Press, May 2008. If you use WebGL, you’ll have to know at least a bit about JavaScript. Patrick Cozzi mentioned this as a reasonable guide, along with other writings by the author. I’ve only started it, but it’s pretty amusing. The book’s approach is to indeed teach only the good parts about the language and not let you know how to use the bad parts. The author recommends only one of the dozens of books on JavaScript, JavaScript: The Definitive Guide. He feels the rest are, to quote, “quite awful.”

Update: I finished this book and thought it got better as it went along. It starts out a bit language-wonkish, too much about grammar. Skip that chapter. The most useful parts were the appendices, where he explains the various parts of JavaScript clearly and succinctly, calls out the dangerous and evil parts of the language, and explains how to steer clear of them. The author came up with JSLint, which checks your code for badness, but to be honest it’s way too a strict schoolmarm for me, hitting me on the knuckles whenever I put a left brace “{” on the wrong line. I recommend JSHint instead.

Enough on WebGL and JavaScript, my current interests. I’ll mention just two more books that I’ve only just glanced at and so can jump to conclusions.

Real-Time Graphics Rendering Engine (Advanced Topics in Science and Technology in China), by Hujun Bao and Wei Hua, Springer Publishing. Shame on you, Springer, for shame. A 300 page book for $169 is bad enough, but this one has a slap-dash translation that could probably have been done better by Google Translate. I’m judging only from the “Look Inside” text I can access on the Amazon listing, but I see things like a section labelled “Rending Modle” on page 5. This might be a fine book in its native Chinese, the bits of material I tried to read seemed sound enough, but the translation is, well, judge for yourself. Here’s the end of chapter summary, a section I picked at random:

“Real-time rendering is always formed as a pipeline composed of consequential data processing and graphics calculations to generate final rasterized images. In order to achieve amazing rendering effects as well as real-time performance, GPU techniques, especially shader techniques, are introduced to utilize programmable pipelines and the parallel computing structure. Virtual geometric 3D models are transformed to be located in a virtual scene by geometrical transformation matrices. Material and/or other visual properties are then attached to those geometrical models to compute visually pleasant rendering results. As the performance of real-time rendering applications is highly emphasized, tailored shading techniques and BRDF models are employed to achieve real-time rendering results with balanced visual effects.”

I feel terrible for these authors whose work has been so shabbily thrown between two covers.

However, there is certainly a worse book out there, and I have to give the full-sized cover from its Amazon listing, since I expect it to disappear any day now and I want to keep it as a memento.


Suck it, bizzatches, I got me my own book on Amazon. Yes, the title is my name, it’s ostensibly a biography; I’m not the author. I ran across it yesterday morning, and it almost made me laugh. Almost, because I hate these “books”. It’s clearly by the same people who came up with all those other automated offerings, VDM Publishing.

I’ve posted about this so-called publisher before, here and here. VDM now has a new imprint, “Cel Publishing” (one of seventy-nine!), I expect because the Alphascript and Betascript Publisher books are fast disappearing from Amazon’s catalog as the complaints and returns roll in. The short version is that this firm has a program that grabs a random Wikipedia page and follow links from it. Once there’s enough material for a book-sized book, it spits out the contents. Some human – in this case allegedly one “Iustinus Tim Avery” (anagram server’s first hit is “Autism University”) – slaps a cover on it and it’s put in the catalog, to be published on demand.

The most creative part of the process used to be the cover choice. In the past they were sometimes pretty amusing, but it looks like Cel Publishing has removed that fun part of the job for the “editor” and instead just uses random abstract patterns. I personally think of myself as more of a splash of chartreuse paint, but so be it. Also, the book is clearly underpriced at $38 for 60 pages. What did make me laugh is that there’s now a review of the book (thanks, Matt!).

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Andrew Woo and Pierre Poulin will be signing their new book “Shadow Algorithms Data Miner” at the CRC Press/AK Peters booth, #929, at SIGGRAPH, Wednesday, 3-4 pm.

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In my previous blog post I mentioned the newly-released book OpenGL Insights. It’s worth a second mention, for a few reasons:

  • The editors and some contributors will be signing their book at SIGGRAPH at the CRC booth (#929) at Tuesday, 2 pm. This is a great chance to meet a bunch of OpenGL experts and chat.
  • Five free chapters, which can be found here. In particular, “Performance Tuning for Tile-Based Architectures” is of use to anyone doing 3D on mobile devices. Most of these devices are tile-based, so have a number of significant differences from normal PC GPUs. Reading this chapter and the (previously-mentioned) slideset Bringing AAA Graphics to Mobile Platforms (PDF version) should give you a good sense of the pitfalls and opportunities of mobile tile-based architectures.
  • The book’s website has an OpenGL pipeline map page (direct link to PDF here). Knowing what happens when can clarify some mysteries and solve some bugs.
  • The website also has a tips page, pointing out some of the subtleties of the API and the shading language.

While I’m at it, here are some other worthwhile OpenGL resource links I’ve been collecting:

  • ApiTrace: a simple set of wrapper DLLs that capture graphics API calls (also works for DirectX). You can replay and examine just about everything – think “PIX for OpenGL”, only better. For example, you can edit a shader in a captured run and immediately see the effect. Also, it’s open-source and as of this writing is actively being developed.
  • ANGLE: software to translate OpenGL ES 2.0 calls to DirectX 9 calls. This package is what both Chrome and Firefox use to run WebGL programs on Windows. Open source, of course. Actually, just assume everything here is open-source unless I say different (which I won’t).
    • Edit: Patrick Cozzi (one of the editors of OpenGL Insights) notes that there are several options for WebGL on IE. “Currently, I think the best option is to use Chrome Frame. It painlessly installs without admin rights, and also brings Chrome’s fast JavaScript engine to IE. We use it on http://cesium.agi.com and I actually demo it on IE (including installing Chrome Frame) by request quite frequently.”
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer won’t support WebGL, so someone else did as a plug-in.
  • Equalizer: a framework for coarse-parallel OpenGL rendering (think multi-display and multi-machine).
  • Oolong and dEngine: OpenGL ES rendering engines for the iPhone and iPad. Good for learning how things work. Oolong is 90% C++, dEngine is pure C. Each has its own features, e.g. dEngine supports bump mapping and shadow mapping.
  • A bit dated (OpenGL ES 1.1), but might be of interest: a readable rundown of the ancient Wolf3D engine and how it was ported to the iPhone.
  • gl2mark: benchmarking software for OpenGL ES 2.0
  • Matrix libraries: GLM is a full-blown matrix library based on OpenGL naming conventions, libmatrix is a template library for vector and matrix transformations for OpenGL, VMSL is a tiny library for providing modern OpenGL with the modelview/projection matrix functionality in OpenGL 1.0.
  • G3D: well, it’s more a user of OpenGL, but worth a mention. It’s a pretty nice C++ rendering engine that includes deferred shading, as well as ray tracing. I use it a lot for OBJ file display.
  • OpenGL works with cairo, a 2D vector-based drawing engine. Funky.

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Here we go:

  • Beautiful demo of various effects, the realtime hybrid raytracing demo RIGID GEMS. Do note there are controls. The foreground blurs for the depth-of-field are a little unconvincing, but the rest is lovely! (thanks to Steve Worley for the tip)
  • Books to check out at SIGGRAPH, or now (I’m sure there are more – let me know):  OpenGL Insights and Shadow Algorithms Data Miner. Five chapters of OpenGL Insights are free to read here. There are quite a few graphics books published since last SIGGRAPH, we have them listed here.
  • Scalable Ambient Obscurance looks worthwhile, and there’s even a demo and source.
  • I can’t say I grok it all yet, but Bringing AAA Graphics to Mobile Platforms (from GDC) has a lot of chewy information on what’s fast and slow on typical mobile hardware, as well as how it works. PDF version on the Unreal Engine site.
  • A somewhat older (a whole year or so old) article on changing resolution on the fly to maintain frame rate. (Thanks, Mauricio)
  • 3D printing opens up a wide range of legal issues, It Will Be Awesome if They Don’t Screw it Up gives an overview of some of these. There are a number of areas where the law hasn’t had to concern itself yet.
  • Echo chamber: stuff you should probably know about already, but just in case. 1) Ouya, a monster money-raiser Kickstarter project for an open console. Tim Lottes comments; my take is “Android games on a console? Weak.” but I’d love to see them succeed. 2) Source Filmmaker, a free film making system from Valve. People are getting busy with it.

To conclude, a photo that looks like a rendering bug; read about it here. If you like these sorts of things, see more at the “2 True 2B Good” collection.

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If you’re a member of ACM, you have access to about 1200 books online through Safari and Books24x7. Safari’s catalog is here, Books24x7 is here. Just login using your ACM ID & password. I can’t say the book selection is that exciting, some are half a decade old or older (bad for books about APIs), though there are few that might be of interest. If nothing else, there are some guides to popular packages and languages that might help you out.

Worth a reminder: if you’re an ACM SIGGRAPH member, you also get access to essentially all computer graphics papers in the ACM’s Digital Library. I took a peek today to see if the I3D 2012 papers were up yet (the conference runs this weekend) – no joy there, though 2011’s are available. At least, I’m pretty sure 2012’s are not up. Personally, I find their searcher kind of poor if you want to search through proceedings, but is otherwise serviceable for individual articles. As usual, Ke Sen Huang’s page is the place to go to get most of the latest articles (with no membership needed).

Oh, just to reel off some other free books that might be of interest: Autodesk’s “Imagine Design Create” book, a free PDF. More for designers but full of pretty pictures and there’s stuff on game graphic design, along with films and much else. If you’d rather have the coffee-table version, get it on Amazon.

Me, I just finished the crowd-sourced sci-fi “Machine of Death” compilation, which has nothing to do with computer graphics but was an interesting bedtime read. Free as an ebook or audiobook, or again in physical form from Amazon.

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A few new books

I’ve updated our books page a bit, adding the new books I know of at this point, adding links to authors sites and Google Books samples, etc. Please let me know what we’re missing.

A book I know nothing about, but from updating the books page I think I’ll get, is the OpenGL 4.0 Shading Language Cookbook. A reviewer on Gamasutra gives it strong praise, as do all the Amazon customer reviews.

One I’ve left off for now is Programming GPUs, which I expect is focused on computing with the GPU (no rendering), judging from the author’s background as a quant (his bio’s cute). I also left off a heckuva lot of books on using the Unity engine, to keep the list focused on direct programming vs. using higher-level SDKs.

Along the way I noticed a nice little blog called Video Game Math, by Fletcher Dunn and Ian Parberry, who recently released a second edition of their 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development. Which is pretty good, by the way. My mini-review/endorsement: “With solid theory and references, along with practical advice borne from decades of experience, all presented in an informal and demystifying style, Dunn & Parberry provide an accessible and useful approach to the key mathematical operations needed in 3D computer graphics.” There’s an extensive Google Books sample of much of the first few chapters.

In the “old but awesome and free” category this time is Light And Color – A Golden Guide. Check it out before there’s some takedown notice sent out. Yes, it’s small, it’s colorful, and some bits are dated, but there are some pretty good analogies and explanations in there. No kidding. Lots more Golden Guides here (including, incredibly, this one).

I did find that there’s a new edition of “Real Time Rendering out, which was a surprise. The subtitle is the best: “Aalib, Aces of ANSI Art”. It’s even sold by Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. Happily, I couldn’t find it on Amazon, so maybe they’re scaling back on carrying these so-called books. This particular book is a paperback, and more expensive than the real thing (I like to think our’s is real – it’s the dash between “Real” and “Time” that keeps it real for me). Or I should say it’s more expensive unless you buy ours from these “double your intelligence or no money back” sellers. I believe this phenomenon is from computers tracking competitors’ prices and each one jacking up prices in response.

In case you missed my posts on Betascript Publishing, go here – short version is that they use a computer program to find related articles on Wikipedia, put on a cover (usually the most creative part of the process), and sell it. I’d be interested to know which book is better, their computer-generated one or my own Wikipedia-derived followup, GGGG:RTRtR (Game GPU Graphics Gems: Real-Time Rendering the Redux), reviewed by me here. I really should read my own book some day, there look to be some interesting Wikipedia articles in there.

Finally, I like the concept of book autopsies:

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Like the title says, GPU Pro3, the next installment of the GPU Pro series, is now available for order. The publication date is realsoonnow (January 17th). The extended table of contents is a great way to get a sense of what it contains.

The GPU Pro series is essentially a continuation of the ShaderX series, just with a different publisher. I was given a look at the draft of this latest volume, and it appears in line with the others: some eminently practical and battle-tested approaches mixed with some pie-in-the-sky out-of-the-box done-with-the-metaphors ideas – having a mix keeps things lively. Articles such as the one covering the CryENGINE 3 is a fine combination of both, with solid algorithms alongside “this doesn’t always work but looks great when it does” concepts. Some of the material (including a fair bit of the CryENGINE 3 article) can be gleaned from presentations online from GDC and SIGGRAPH, but here it’s all polished and put in one place. Other articles are entirely fresh and new. Priced reasonably for a full-color book, it’s a volume that most graphics developers will find of interest.

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  • Fairly new book: Practical Rendering and Computation with Direct3D 11, by Jason Zink, Matt Pettineo, and Jack Hoxley, A.K.Peters/CRC Press, July 2011 (more info). It’s meant for people who already know DirectX 10 and want to learn just the new stuff. I found the first half pretty abstract; the second half was more useful, as it gives in-depth explanation of practical examples that show how the new functionality can be used.
  • Two nice little Moore’s Law-related articles appeared recently in The Economist. This one is about how the law looks to have legs for a number of more years, and presents a graph showing how various breakthroughs have kept the law going over the past decades. Moore himself thought the law might hold for ten years. This one talks about how computational energy efficiency is doubling every 18 months, which is great news for mobile devices.
  • I used to use MWSnap for screen captures, but it doesn’t work well with two monitors and it hangs at times. I finally found a replacement that does all the things I want, with a mostly-good UI: FastStone Capture. The downside is that it actually costs money ($19.95), but I’m happy to have purchased it.
  • Ray tracing vs. rasterization, part XIV: Gavan Woolery thinks RT is the future, DEADC0DE argues both will always have a place, and gives a deeper analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each (though the PITA that transparency causes rasterization is not called out) – I mostly agree with his stance. Both posts have lots of followup comments.
  • This shows exactly how far behind we are in blogging about SIGGRAPH: find the Beyond Programmable Shading course notes here – that’s just a mere two months overdue.
  • Tantalizing SIGGRAPH Talk demo: KinectFusion from Microsoft Research and many others. Watch around 3:11 on for the great reconstruction, and the last minute for fun stuff. Newer demo here.
  • OnLive – you should check it out, it’ll take ten minutes. Sign up for a free account and visit the Arena, if nothing else: it’s like being in a sci-fi movie, with a bunch of games being played by others before your eyes that you can scroll through and click on to watch the player. I admit to being skeptical of the whole cloud-gaming idea originally, but in trying it out, it’s surprisingly fast and the video quality is not bad. Not good enough to satisfy hardcore FPS players – I’ve seen my teenage boys pick out targets that cover like two pixels, which would be invisible with OnLive – but otherwise quite usable. The “no download, no GPU upgrade, just play immediately” aspect is brilliant and lends itself extremely well to game trials.

OnLive Arena

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OK, so I like the publisher A.K. Peters, for obvious reasons. They’re also kind/smart enough to send me review copies of upcoming graphics-related books. I’ve received two recently, with one of particular interest:

Practical Rendering and Computation with Direct3D 11, by Jason Zink, Matt Pettineo, and Jack Hoxley

This one’s very nicely produced (especially for the price): hardcover, color throughout, with paper a bit better than the GPU Gems volumes; basically, that level of quality. More important, it covers a topic that is not very well covered at all (from what I’ve seen), neither by Microsoft’s scattershot documentation nor other sources. Well, in fairness there’s Beginning DirectX 11 Game Programming, but that’s indeed for beginners. I don’t see anything about compute shaders, tessellation, or even stream output in the table of contents. These topics and many more are covered in the new book.

Skimming through it, it looks quite good, a book that I want to spend some serious time reading. You might recognize Zink and Hoxley’s names from the free book that never quite made it to publication, Programming Vertex, Geometry, and Pixel Shaders, coauthored by Wolfgang Engel (of ShaderX and GPU Pro fame), Ralf Kommann, and Niko Suni.

The other book I received was:

Visual Perception from a Computer Graphics Perspective, by William Thompson, Roland Fleming, Sarah Creem-Regehr, and Jeanine Kelly Stefanucci

This book is a survey of visual perception research and how it relates to computer graphics. If you’re a researcher and expect to delve into the field of visual perception, this looks like the place to start. With 68 pages of references, it clearly attempts to give you relevant research in a huge variety of areas. To be honest, I’m not all that interested in reading a whole book on the topic. I picked one topic, motion blur, as a quick test of the book’s usefulness to me. There’s just a brief mention of motion blur on one page, and the computer graphics papers referenced are from the 1980’s (fine papers, but ancient). I tried another: Fresnel – no index entry, half a page, no references. Depth of field: a page and a half, a fair number of references (newest being 2005), none about interactive graphics. So, it’s an extensive survey of the visual perception literature, but don’t expect much depth nor any serious coverage of the area of interactive computer graphics.

Two other books I expect to see at SIGGRAPH are Real-Time Shadows and 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, 2nd Edition. I got a peek at the latter and it looks to be quite in-depth (and still approachable and informal) – I’m not sure how it differs from the first edition at this point. A micro-review on this blog of the first edition is here, at the end.

There are a lot of other upcoming computer graphics books from A.K. Peters that sound intriguing, e.g. Shadow Algorithms Data Miner – two great tastes now together. Check out the list here or ask at the booth at SIGGRAPH.

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The call for participation for the “OpenGL Insights” book ends in a month. If you have a good tutorial or technique about OpenGL that you’d like to publish, please send on a proposal to them for consideration.

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