10 Clipping, Culling, and Visibility Testing
10.010 How do I tell if a vertex has been
clipped or not?
You can use the OpenGL Feedback feature to
determine if a vertex will be clipped or not. After you're in
Feedback mode, simply send the vertex in question as a GL_POINTS
primitive. Then switch back to GL_RENDER mode and check the
size of the Feedback buffer. A size of zero indicates a
Typically, OpenGL implementations don't
provide a fast feedback mechanism. It might be faster to
perform the clip test manually. To do so, construct six plane
equations corresponding to the clip-coordinate view volume
and transform them into object space by the current ModelView
matrix. A point is clipped if it violates any of the six
Here's a GLUT example that shows
how to calculate the object-space view-volume planes and clip
test bounding boxes against them.
10.020 How do I perform occlusion or visibility
OpenGL provides no direct support for
determining whether a given primitive will be visible in a
scene for a given viewpoint. At worst, an application will
need to perform these tests manually. The previous question contains
information on how to do this.
Higher-level APIs, such as Fahernheit Large
Model, may provide this feature.
HP OpenGL platforms support an Occlusion
Culling extension. To use this extension, enable the
occlusion test, render some bounding geometry, and call
glGetBooleanv() to obtain the visibility status of the
10.030 How do I render to a nonrectangular
OpenGL's stencil buffer can be used to mask
the area outside of a non-rectangular viewport. With stencil
enabled and stencil test appropriately set, rendering can
then occur in the unmasked area. Typically an application
will write the stencil mask once, and then render repeated
frames into the unmasked area.
As with the depth buffer, an application
must ask for a stencil buffer when the window and context are
An application will perform such a
rendering as follows:
/* Enable stencil test and leave it enabled throughout */
/* Prepare to write a single bit into the stencil buffer in the area outside the viewport */
glStencilFunc (GL_ALWAYS, 0x1, 0x1);
/* Render a set of geometry corresponding to the area outside the viewport here */
/* The stencil buffer now has a single bit painted in the area outside the viewport */
/* Prepare to render the scene in the viewport */
glStencilFunc (GL_EQUAL, 0x0, 0x1);
/* Render the scene inside the viewport here */
/* …render the scene again as needed for animation purposes */
After a single bit is painted in the area
outside the viewport, an application may render geometry to
either the area inside or outside the viewport. To render to
the inside area, use glStencilFunc(GL_EQUAL,0x0,0x1), as the
code above shows. To render to the area outside the viewport,
You can obtain similar results using only
the depth test. After rendering a 3D scene to a rectangular
viewport, an app can clear the depth buffer and render the
10.040 When an OpenGL primitive moves placing
one vertex outside the window, suddenly the color or texture
mapping is incorrect. What's going on?
There are two potential causes for this.
When a primitive lies partially outside the
window, it often crosses the view volume boundary. OpenGL
must clip any primitive that crosses the view volume boundary.
To clip a primitive, OpenGL must interpolate the color values,
so they're correct at the new clip vertex. This interpolation
is perspective correct. However, when a primitive is
rasterized, the color values are often generated using linear
interpolation in window space, which isn't perspective
correct. The difference in generated color values means that
for any given barycentric coordinate location on a filled
primitive, the color values may be different depending on
whether the primitive is clipped. If the color values
generated during rasterization were perspective correct, this
problem wouldn't exist.
For some OpenGL implementations, texture
coordinates generated during rasterization aren't perspective
correct. However, you can usually make them perspective
correct by calling glHint(GL_PERSPECTIVE_CORRECTION_HINT,GL_NICEST);.
Colors generated at the rasterization stage aren't
perspective correct in almost every OpenGL implementation,
and can't be made so. For this reason, you're more likely to
encounter this problem with colors than texture coordinates.
A second reason the color or texture
mapping might be incorrect for a clipped primitive is because
the color values or texture coordinates are nonplanar. Color
values are nonplanar when the three color components at each
vertex don't lie in a plane in 3D color space. 2D texture
coordinates are always planar. However, in this context, the
term nonplanar is used for texture coordinates that look up a
texel area that isn't congruent in shape to the primitive
Nonplanar colors or texture coordinates
aren't a problem for triangular primitives, but the problem
may occur with GL_QUADS, GL_QUAD_STRIP and GL_POLYGON
primitives. When using nonplanar color values or texture
coordinates, there isn't a correct way to generate new values
associated with clipped vertices. Even perspective-correct
interpolation can create differences between clipped and
nonclipped primitives. The solution to this problem is to not
use nonplanar color values and texture coordinates.
10.050 I know my geometry is inside the view
volume. How can I turn off OpenGL's view-volume clipping to
Standard OpenGL doesn't provide a mechanism
to disable the view-volume clipping test; thus, it will occur
for every primitive you send.
Some implementations of OpenGL support the
GL_EXT_clip_volume_hint extension. If the extension is
available, a call to glHint(GL_CLIP_VOLUME_CLIPPING_HINT_EXT,GL_FASTEST)
will inform OpenGL that the geometry is entirely within the
view volume and that view-volume clipping is unnecessary.
Normal clipping can be resumed by setting this hint to GL_DONT_CARE.
When clipping is disabled with this hint, results are
undefined if geometry actually falls outside the view volume.
10.060 When I move the viewpoint close to an
object, it starts to disappear. How can I disable OpenGL's zNear
You can't. If you think about it, it makes
sense: What if the viewpoint is in the middle of a scene?
Certainly some geometry is behind the viewer and needs to be
clipped. Rendering it will produce undesirable results.
For correct perspective and depth buffer
calculations to occur, setting the zNear clipping
plane to 0.0 is also not an option. The zNear clipping
plane must be set at a positive (nonzero) distance in front
of the eye.
To avoid the clipping artifacts that can
otherwise occur, an application must track the viewpoint
location within the scene, and ensure it doesn't get too
close to any geometry. You can usually do this with a simple
form of collision detection. This FAQ contains more information
on collision detection with OpenGL.
If you're certain that your geometry doesn't
intersect any of the view-volume planes, you might be able to
use an extension to disable clipping. See the previous question for more information.
10.070 How do I draw glBitmap() or glDrawPixels()
primitives that have an initial glRasterPos() outside the window's
left or bottom edge?
When the raster position is set outside the
window, it's often outside the view volume and subsequently
marked as invalid. Rendering the glBitmap and glDrawPixels
primitives won't occur with an invalid raster position.
Because glBitmap/glDrawPixels produce pixels up and to the
right of the raster position, it appears impossible to render
this type of primitive clipped by the left and/or bottom
edges of the window.
However, here's an often-used trick: Set
the raster position to a valid value inside the view volume.
Then make the following call:
glBitmap (0, 0, 0, 0, xMove, yMove, NULL);
This tells OpenGL to render a no-op bitmap,
but move the current raster position by (xMove,yMove).
Your application will supply (xMove,yMove)
values that place the raster position outside the view volume.
Follow this call with the glBitmap() or glDrawPixels() to do
the rendering you desire.
10.080 Why doesn't glClear() work for areas
outside the scissor rectangle?
The OpenGL Specification states that
glClear() only clears the scissor rectangle when the scissor
test is enabled. If you want to clear the entire window, use
10.090 How does face culling work? Why doesn't
it use the surface normal?
OpenGL face culling calculates the signed
area of the filled primitive in window coordinate space. The
signed area is positive when the window coordinates are in a
counter-clockwise order and negative when clockwise. An app
can use glFrontFace() to specify the ordering, counter-clockwise
or clockwise, to be interpreted as a front-facing or back-facing
primitive. An application can specify culling either front or
back faces by calling glCullFace(). Finally, face culling
must be enabled with a call to glEnable(GL_CULL_FACE); .
OpenGL uses your primitive's window space
projection to determine face culling for two reasons. To
create interesting lighting effects, it's often desirable to
specify normals that aren't orthogonal to the surface being
approximated. If these normals were used for face culling, it
might cause some primitives to be culled erroneously. Also, a
dot-product culling scheme could require a matrix inversion,
which isn't always possible (i.e., in the case where the
matrix is singular), whereas the signed area in DC space is
However, some OpenGL implementations
support the GL_EXT_ cull_vertex extension. If this extension
is present, an application may specify a homogeneous eye
position in object space. Vertices are flagged as culled,
based on the dot product of the current normal with a vector
from the vertex to the eye. If all vertices of a primitive
are culled, the primitive isn't rendered. In many
circumstances, using this extension results in faster
rendering, because it culls faces at an earlier stage of the