Using triangles for 3D effects

Flash Player 10 and later, Adobe AIR 1.5 and later

In ActionScript, you perform bitmap transformations using the Graphics.drawTriangles() method, because 3D models are represented by a collection of triangles in space. (However, Flash Player and AIR do not support a depth buffer, so display objects are still inherently flat, or 2D. This is described in Understanding 3D display objects in Flash Player and the AIR runtime .) The Graphics.drawTriangles() method is like the Graphics.drawPath() method, as it takes a set of coordinates to draw a triangle path.

To familiarize yourself with using Graphics.drawPath() , see Drawing Paths .

The Graphics.drawTriangles() method uses a Vector.<Number> to specify the point locations for the triangle path:

drawTriangles(vertices:Vector.<Number>, indices:Vector.<int> = null, uvtData:Vector.<Number> = null, culling:String = "none"):void

The first parameter of drawTriangles() is the only required parameter: the vertices parameter. This parameter is a vector of numbers defining the coordinates through which your triangles are drawn. Every three sets of coordinates (six numbers) represents a triangle path. Without the indices parameter, the length of the vector should always be a factor of six, since each triangle requires three coordinate pairs (three sets of two x/y values). For example:

        10,10,  100,10,  10,100, 
        110,10, 110,100, 20,100]));

Neither of these triangles share any points, but if they did, the second drawTriangles() parameter, indices , could be used to reuse values in the vertices vector for more than one triangle.

When using the indices parameter, be aware that the indices values are point indices, not indices that relate directly to the vertices array elements. In other words, an index in the vertices vector as defined by indices is actually the real index divided by 2. For the third point of a vertices vector, for example, use an indices value of 2, even though the first numeric value of that point starts at the vector index of 4.

For example, merge two triangles to share the diagonal edge using the indices parameter:

    Vector.<Number>([10,10, 100,10, 10,100, 100,100]), 
    Vector.<int>([0,1,2, 1,3,2]));

Notice that though a square has now been drawn using two triangles, only four points were specified in the vertices vector. Using indices , the two points shared by the two triangles are reused for each triangle. This reduces the overall vertices count from 6 (12 numbers) to 4 (8 numbers):

A square drawn with two triangles using the vertices parameter

This technique becomes useful with larger triangle meshes where most points are shared by multiple triangles.

All fills can be applied to triangles. The fills are applied to the resulting triangle mesh as they would to any other shape.

Transforming bitmaps

Bitmap transformations provide the illusion of perspective or "texture" on a three-dimensional object. Specifically, you can distort a bitmap toward a vanishing point so the image appears to shrink as it moves toward the vanishing point. Or, you can use a two-dimensional bitmap to create a surface for a three-dimensional object, providing the illusion of texture or “wrapping” on that three-dimensional object.

A two-dimensional surface using a vanishing point and a three-dimensional object wrapped with a bitmap.

UV mapping

Once you start working with textures, you'll want to make use of the uvtData parameter of drawTriangles() . This parameter allows you to set up UV mapping for bitmap fills.

UV mapping is a method for texturing objects. It relies on two values, a U horizontal (x) value and a V vertical (y) value. Rather than being based on pixel values, they are based on percentages. 0 U and 0 V is the upper-left of an image and 1 U and 1 V is the lower-right:

The UV 0 and 1 locations on a bitmap image

Vectors of a triangle can be given UV coordinates to associate themselves with the respective locations on an image:

The UV coordinates of a triangular area of a bitmap image

The UV values stay consistent with the points of the triangle:

The vertices of the triangle move and the bitmap distorts to keep the UV values for an individual point the same

As ActionScript 3D transformations are applied to the triangle associated with the bitmap, the bitmap image is applied to the triangle based on the UV values. So, instead of using matrix calculations, set or adjust the UV values to create a three-dimensional effect.

The Graphics.drawTriangles() method also accepts an optional piece of information for three-dimensional transformations: the T value. The T value in uvtData represents the 3D perspective, or more specifically, the scale factor of the associated vertex. UVT mapping adds perspective correction to UV mapping. For example, if an object is positioned in 3D space away from the viewpoint so that it appears to be 50% its “original” size, the T value of that object would be 0.5. Since triangles are drawn to represent objects in 3D space, their locations along the z-axis determine their T values. The equation that determines the T value is:

T = focalLength/(focalLength + z);
In this equation, focalLength represents a focal length or calculated "screen" location which dictates the amount of perspective provided in the view.
The focal length and z value


3D object

focalLength value

z value

The value of T is used to scale basic shapes to make them seem further in the distance. It is usually the value used to convert 3D points to 2D points. In the case of UVT data, it is also used to scale a bitmap between the points within a triangle with perspective.

When you define UVT values, the T value directly follows the UV values defined for a vertex. With the inclusion of T, every three values in the uvtData parameter (U, V, and T) match up with every two values in the vertices parameter (x, and y). With UV values alone, uvtData.length == vertices.length. With the inclusion of a T value, uvtData.length = 1.5*vertices.length.

The following example shows a plane being rotated in 3D space using UVT data. This example uses an image called ocean.jpg and a “helper” class, ImageLoader, to load the ocean.jpg image so it can be assigned to the BitmapData object.

Here is the ImageLoader class source (save this code into a file named

package { 
    import flash.display.* 
    public class ImageLoader extends Sprite { 
        public var url:String; 
        public var bitmap:Bitmap; 
    public function ImageLoader(loc:String = null) { 
        if (loc != null){ 
            url = loc; 
    public function loadImage():void{ 
        if (url != null){ 
            var loader:Loader = new Loader(); 
            loader.contentLoaderInfo.addEventListener(Event.COMPLETE, onComplete); 
            loader.contentLoaderInfo.addEventListener(IOErrorEvent.IO_ERROR, onIoError); 
                var req:URLRequest = new URLRequest(url); 
    private function onComplete(event:Event):void { 
            var loader:Loader = Loader(; 
            var info:LoaderInfo = LoaderInfo(loader.contentLoaderInfo); 
            this.bitmap = info.content as Bitmap; 
            this.dispatchEvent(new Event(Event.COMPLETE)); 
    private function onIoError(event:IOErrorEvent):void { 
            trace("onIoError: " + event); 

And here is the ActionScript that uses triangles, UV mapping, and T values to make the image appear as if it is shrinking toward a vanishing point and rotating. Save this code in a file named

package { 
    import flash.display.* 
    import flash.utils.getTimer; 
    public class Spinning3dOcean extends Sprite { 
        // plane vertex coordinates (and t values) 
        var x1:Number = -100,    y1:Number = -100,    z1:Number = 0,    t1:Number = 0; 
        var x2:Number = 100,    y2:Number = -100,    z2:Number = 0,    t2:Number = 0; 
        var x3:Number = 100,    y3:Number = 100,    z3:Number = 0,    t3:Number = 0; 
        var x4:Number = -100,    y4:Number = 100,    z4:Number = 0,    t4:Number = 0; 
        var focalLength:Number = 200;      
        // 2 triangles for 1 plane, indices will always be the same 
        var indices:Vector.<int>; 
        var container:Sprite; 
        var bitmapData:BitmapData; // texture 
        var imageLoader:ImageLoader; 
        public function Spinning3dOcean():void { 
            indices =  new Vector.<int>(); 
            indices.push(0,1,3, 1,2,3); 
            container = new Sprite(); // container to draw triangles in 
            container.x = 200; 
            container.y = 200; 
            imageLoader = new ImageLoader("ocean.jpg"); 
            imageLoader.addEventListener(Event.COMPLETE, onImageLoaded); 
        function onImageLoaded(event:Event):void { 
            bitmapData = imageLoader.bitmap.bitmapData; 
            // animate every frame 
            addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, rotatePlane); 
        function rotatePlane(event:Event):void { 
            // rotate vertices over time 
            var ticker = getTimer()/400; 
            z2 = z3 = -(z1 = z4 = 100*Math.sin(ticker)); 
            x2 = x3 = -(x1 = x4 = 100*Math.cos(ticker)); 
            // calculate t values 
            t1 = focalLength/(focalLength + z1); 
            t2 = focalLength/(focalLength + z2); 
            t3 = focalLength/(focalLength + z3); 
            t4 = focalLength/(focalLength + z4); 
            // determine triangle vertices based on t values 
            var vertices:Vector.<Number> = new Vector.<Number>(); 
            vertices.push(x1*t1,y1*t1, x2*t2,y2*t2, x3*t3,y3*t3, x4*t4,y4*t4); 
            // set T values allowing perspective to change 
            // as each vertex moves around in z space 
            var uvtData:Vector.<Number> = new Vector.<Number>(); 
            uvtData.push(0,0,t1, 1,0,t2, 1,1,t3, 0,1,t4); 
            // draw 
  , indices, uvtData); 

To test this example, save these two class files in the same directory as an image named “ocean.jpg”. You can see how the original bitmap is transformed to appear as if it is vanishing in the distance and rotating in 3D space.


Culling is the process that determines which surfaces of a three-dimensional object the renderer should not render because they are hidden from the current viewpoint. In 3D space, the surface on the “back” of a three-dimensional object is hidden from the viewpoint:
The back of a 3D object is hidden from the viewpoint.

3D object

the back of a three dimensional object

Inherently all triangles are always rendered no matter their size, shape, or position. Culling insures that Flash Player or AIR renders your 3D object correctly. In addition, to save on rendering cycles, sometimes you want some triangles to be skipped by the render. Consider a cube rotating in space. At any given time, you'll never see more than three sides of that cube since the sides not in view would be facing the other direction on the other side of the cube. Since those sides are not going to be seen, the renderer shouldn't draw them. Without culling, Flash Player or AIR renders both the front and back sides.

A cube has sides not visible from the current viewpoint

So, the Graphics.drawTriangles() method has a fourth parameter to establish a culling value:

public function drawTriangles(vertices:Vector.<Number>, indices:Vector.<int> = null, uvtData:Vector.<Number> = null, culling:String = "none"):void

The culling parameter is a value from the TriangleCulling enumeration class: TriangleCulling.NONE , TriangleCulling.POSITIVE , and TriangleCulling.NEGATIVE . These values are dependent upon the direction of the triangle path defining the surface of the object. The ActionScript API for determining the culling assumes that all out-facing triangles of a 3D shape are drawn with the same path direction. Once a triangle face is turned around, the path direction also changes. At that point, the triangle can be culled (removed from rendering).

So, a TriangleCulling value of POSITIVE removes triangles with positive path direction (clockwise). A TriangleCulling value of NEGATIVE removes triangles with a negative (counterclockwise) path direction. In the case of a cube, while the front facing surfaces have a positive path direction, the back facing surfaces have a negative path direction:

A cube “unwrapped” to show the path direction. When “wrapped”, the back side path direction is reversed.

To see how culling works, start with the earlier example from UV mapping , set the culling parameter of the drawTriangles() method to TriangleCulling.NEGATIVE :, indices, uvtData, TriangleCulling.NEGATIVE);

Notice the “back” side of the image is not rendered as the object rotates.

// Ethnio survey code removed