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Model

Model-Loading/Model

Now it is time to get our hands dirty with Assimp and start creating the actual loading and translation code. The goal of this chapter is to create another class that represents a model in its entirety, that is, a model that contains multiple meshes, possibly with multiple textures. A house, that contains a wooden balcony, a tower, and perhaps a swimming pool, could still be loaded as a single model. We'll load the model via Assimp and translate it to multiple Mesh objects we've created in the previous chapter.

Without further ado, I present you the class structure of the Model class:


class Model 
{
    public:
        Model(char *path)
        {
            loadModel(path);
        }
        void Draw(Shader &shader);	
    private:
        // model data
        vector<Mesh> meshes;
        string directory;

        void loadModel(string path);
        void processNode(aiNode *node, const aiScene *scene);
        Mesh processMesh(aiMesh *mesh, const aiScene *scene);
        vector<Texture> loadMaterialTextures(aiMaterial *mat, aiTextureType type, 
                                             string typeName);
};

The Model class contains a vector of Mesh objects and requires us to give it a file location in its constructor. It then loads the file right away via the loadModel function that is called in the constructor. The private functions are all designed to process a part of Assimp's import routine and we'll cover them shortly. We also store the directory of the file path that we'll later need when loading textures.

The Draw function is nothing special and basically loops over each of the meshes to call their respective Draw function:


void Draw(Shader &shader)
{
    for(unsigned int i = 0; i < meshes.size(); i++)
        meshes[i].Draw(shader);
}  

Importing a 3D model into OpenGL

To import a model and translate it to our own structure, we first need to include the appropriate headers of Assimp:


#include <assimp/Importer.hpp>
#include <assimp/scene.h>
#include <assimp/postprocess.h>

The first function we're calling is loadModel, that's directly called from the constructor. Within loadModel, we use Assimp to load the model into a data structure of Assimp called a scene object. You may remember from the first chapter of the model loading series that this is the root object of Assimp's data interface. Once we have the scene object, we can access all the data we need from the loaded model.

The great thing about Assimp is that it neatly abstracts from all the technical details of loading all the different file formats and does all this with a single one-liner:


Assimp::Importer importer;
const aiScene *scene = importer.ReadFile(path, aiProcess_Triangulate | aiProcess_FlipUVs); 

We first declare an Importer object from Assimp's namespace and then call its ReadFile function. The function expects a file path and several post-processing options as its second argument. Assimp allows us to specify several options that forces Assimp to do extra calculations/operations on the imported data. By setting aiProcess_Triangulate we tell Assimp that if the model does not (entirely) consist of triangles, it should transform all the model's primitive shapes to triangles first. The aiProcess_FlipUVs flips the texture coordinates on the y-axis where necessary during processing (you may remember from the Textures chapter that most images in OpenGL were reversed around the y-axis; this little postprocessing option fixes that for us). A few other useful options are:

  • aiProcess_GenNormals: creates normal vectors for each vertex if the model doesn't contain normal vectors.
  • aiProcess_SplitLargeMeshes: splits large meshes into smaller sub-meshes which is useful if your rendering has a maximum number of vertices allowed and can only process smaller meshes.
  • aiProcess_OptimizeMeshes: does the reverse by trying to join several meshes into one larger mesh, reducing drawing calls for optimization.
Assimp provides a great set of postprocessing options and you can find all of them here. Loading a model via Assimp is (as you can see) surprisingly easy. The hard work is in using the returned scene object to translate the loaded data to an array of Mesh objects.

The complete loadModel function is listed here:


void loadModel(string path)
{
    Assimp::Importer import;
    const aiScene *scene = import.ReadFile(path, aiProcess_Triangulate | aiProcess_FlipUVs);	
	
    if(!scene || scene->mFlags & AI_SCENE_FLAGS_INCOMPLETE || !scene->mRootNode) 
    {
        cout << "ERROR::ASSIMP::" << import.GetErrorString() << endl;
        return;
    }
    directory = path.substr(0, path.find_last_of('/'));

    processNode(scene->mRootNode, scene);
}  

After we load the model, we check if the scene and the root node of the scene are not null and check one of its flags to see if the returned data is incomplete. If any of these error conditions are met, we report the error retrieved from the importer's GetErrorString function and return. We also retrieve the directory path of the given file path.

If nothing went wrong, we want to process all of the scene's nodes. We pass the first node (root node) to the recursive processNode function. Because each node (possibly) contains a set of children we want to first process the node in question, and then continue processing all the node's children and so on. This fits a recursive structure, so we'll be defining a recursive function. A recursive function is a function that does some processing and recursively calls the same function with different parameters until a certain condition is met. In our case the exit condition is met when all nodes have been processed.

As you may remember from Assimp's structure, each node contains a set of mesh indices where each index points to a specific mesh located in the scene object. We thus want to retrieve these mesh indices, retrieve each mesh, process each mesh, and then do this all again for each of the node's children nodes. The content of the processNode function is shown below:


void processNode(aiNode *node, const aiScene *scene)
{
    // process all the node's meshes (if any)
    for(unsigned int i = 0; i < node->mNumMeshes; i++)
    {
        aiMesh *mesh = scene->mMeshes[node->mMeshes[i]]; 
        meshes.push_back(processMesh(mesh, scene));			
    }
    // then do the same for each of its children
    for(unsigned int i = 0; i < node->mNumChildren; i++)
    {
        processNode(node->mChildren[i], scene);
    }
}  

We first check each of the node's mesh indices and retrieve the corresponding mesh by indexing the scene's mMeshes array. The returned mesh is then passed to the processMesh function that returns a Mesh object that we can store in the meshes list/vector.

Once all the meshes have been processed, we iterate through all of the node's children and call the same processNode function for each its children. Once a node no longer has any children, the recursion stops.

A careful reader may have noticed that we could forget about processing any of the nodes and simply loop through all of the scene's meshes directly, without doing all this complicated stuff with indices. The reason we're doing this is that the initial idea for using nodes like this is that it defines a parent-child relation between meshes. By recursively iterating through these relations, we can define certain meshes to be parents of other meshes.
An example use case for such a system is when you want to translate a car mesh and make sure that all its children (like an engine mesh, a steering wheel mesh, and its tire meshes) translate as well; such a system is easily created using parent-child relations.

Right now however we're not using such a system, but it is generally recommended to stick with this approach for whenever you want extra control over your mesh data. These node-like relations are after all defined by the artists who created the models.

The next step is to process Assimp's data into the Mesh class from the previous chapter.

Assimp to Mesh

Translating an aiMesh object to a mesh object of our own is not too difficult. All we need to do, is access each of the mesh's relevant properties and store them in our own object. The general structure of the processMesh function then becomes:


Mesh processMesh(aiMesh *mesh, const aiScene *scene)
{
    vector<Vertex> vertices;
    vector<unsigned int> indices;
    vector<Texture> textures;

    for(unsigned int i = 0; i < mesh->mNumVertices; i++)
    {
        Vertex vertex;
        // process vertex positions, normals and texture coordinates
        [...]
        vertices.push_back(vertex);
    }
    // process indices
    [...]
    // process material
    if(mesh->mMaterialIndex >= 0)
    {
        [...]
    }

    return Mesh(vertices, indices, textures);
}  

Processing a mesh is a 3-part process: retrieve all the vertex data, retrieve the mesh's indices, and finally retrieve the relevant material data. The processed data is stored in one of the 3 vectors and from those a Mesh is created and returned to the function's caller.

Retrieving the vertex data is pretty simple: we define a Vertex struct that we add to the vertices array after each loop iteration. We loop for as much vertices there exist within the mesh (retrieved via mesh->mNumVertices). Within the iteration we want to fill this struct with all the relevant data. For vertex positions this is done as follows:


glm::vec3 vector; 
vector.x = mesh->mVertices[i].x;
vector.y = mesh->mVertices[i].y;
vector.z = mesh->mVertices[i].z; 
vertex.Position = vector;

Note that we define a temporary vec3 for transferring Assimp's data to. This is necessary as Assimp maintains its own data types for vector, matrices, strings etc. and they don't convert that well to glm's data types.

Assimp calls their vertex position array mVertices which isn't the most intuitive name.

The procedure for normals should come as no surprise now:


vector.x = mesh->mNormals[i].x;
vector.y = mesh->mNormals[i].y;
vector.z = mesh->mNormals[i].z;
vertex.Normal = vector;  

Texture coordinates are roughly the same, but Assimp allows a model to have up to 8 different texture coordinates per vertex. We're not going to use 8, we only care about the first set of texture coordinates. We'll also want to check if the mesh actually contains texture coordinates (which may not be always the case):


if(mesh->mTextureCoords[0]) // does the mesh contain texture coordinates?
{
    glm::vec2 vec;
    vec.x = mesh->mTextureCoords[0][i].x; 
    vec.y = mesh->mTextureCoords[0][i].y;
    vertex.TexCoords = vec;
}
else
    vertex.TexCoords = glm::vec2(0.0f, 0.0f);  

The vertex struct is now completely filled with the required vertex attributes and we can push it to the back of the vertices vector at the end of the iteration. This process is repeated for each of the mesh's vertices.

Indices

Assimp's interface defines each mesh as having an array of faces, where each face represents a single primitive, which in our case (due to the aiProcess_Triangulate option) are always triangles. A face contains the indices of the vertices we need to draw in what order for its primitive. So if we iterate over all the faces and store all the face's indices in the indices vector we're all set:


for(unsigned int i = 0; i < mesh->mNumFaces; i++)
{
    aiFace face = mesh->mFaces[i];
    for(unsigned int j = 0; j < face.mNumIndices; j++)
        indices.push_back(face.mIndices[j]);
}  

After the outer loop has finished, we now have a complete set of vertices and index data for drawing the mesh via glDrawElements. However, to finish the discussion and to add some detail to the mesh, we want to process the mesh's material as well.

Material

Similar to nodes, a mesh only contains an index to a material object. To retrieve the material of a mesh, we need to index the scene's mMaterials array. The mesh's material index is set in its mMaterialIndex property, which we can also query to check if the mesh contains a material or not:


if(mesh->mMaterialIndex >= 0)
{
    aiMaterial *material = scene->mMaterials[mesh->mMaterialIndex];
    vector<Texture> diffuseMaps = loadMaterialTextures(material, 
                                        aiTextureType_DIFFUSE, "texture_diffuse");
    textures.insert(textures.end(), diffuseMaps.begin(), diffuseMaps.end());
    vector<Texture> specularMaps = loadMaterialTextures(material, 
                                        aiTextureType_SPECULAR, "texture_specular");
    textures.insert(textures.end(), specularMaps.begin(), specularMaps.end());
}  

We first retrieve the aiMaterial object from the scene's mMaterials array. Then we want to load the mesh's diffuse and/or specular textures. A material object internally stores an array of texture locations for each texture type. The different texture types are all prefixed with aiTextureType_. We use a helper function called loadMaterialTextures to retrieve, load, and initialize the textures from the material. The function returns a vector of Texture structs that we store at the end of the model's textures vector.

The loadMaterialTextures function iterates over all the texture locations of the given texture type, retrieves the texture's file location and then loads and generates the texture and stores the information in a Vertex struct. It looks like this:


vector<Texture> loadMaterialTextures(aiMaterial *mat, aiTextureType type, string typeName)
{
    vector<Texture> textures;
    for(unsigned int i = 0; i < mat->GetTextureCount(type); i++)
    {
        aiString str;
        mat->GetTexture(type, i, &str);
        Texture texture;
        texture.id = TextureFromFile(str.C_Str(), directory);
        texture.type = typeName;
        texture.path = str;
        textures.push_back(texture);
    }
    return textures;
}  

We first check the amount of textures stored in the material via its GetTextureCount function that expects one of the texture types we've given. We retrieve each of the texture's file locations via the GetTexture function that stores the result in an aiString. We then use another helper function called TextureFromFile that loads a texture (with stb_image.h) for us and returns the texture's ID. You can check the complete code listing at the end for its content if you're not sure how such a function is written.

Note that we make the assumption that texture file paths in model files are local to the actual model object e.g. in the same directory as the location of the model itself. We can then simply concatenate the texture location string and the directory string we retrieved earlier (in the loadModel function) to get the complete texture path (that's why the GetTexture function also needs the directory string).

Some models found over the internet use absolute paths for their texture locations, which won't work on each machine. In that case you probably want to manually edit the file to use local paths for the textures (if possible).

And that is all there is to importing a model with Assimp.

An optimization

We're not completely done yet, since there is still a large (but not completely necessary) optimization we want to make. Most scenes re-use several of their textures onto several meshes; think of a house again that has a granite texture for its walls. This texture could also be applied to the floor, its ceilings, the staircase, perhaps a table, and maybe even a small well close by. Loading textures is not a cheap operation and in our current implementation a new texture is loaded and generated for each mesh, even though the exact same texture could have been loaded several times before. This quickly becomes the bottleneck of your model loading implementation.

So we're going to add one small tweak to the model code by storing all of the loaded textures globally. Wherever we want to load a texture, we first check if it hasn't been loaded already. If so, we take that texture and skip the entire loading routine, saving us a lot of processing power. To be able to compare textures we need to store their path as well:


struct Texture {
    unsigned int id;
    string type;
    string path;  // we store the path of the texture to compare with other textures
};

Then we store all the loaded textures in another vector declared at the top of the model's class file as a private variable:


vector<Texture> textures_loaded; 

In the loadMaterialTextures function, we want to compare the texture path with all the textures in the textures_loaded vector to see if the current texture path equals any of those. If so, we skip the texture loading/generation part and simply use the located texture struct as the mesh's texture. The (updated) function is shown below:


vector<Texture> loadMaterialTextures(aiMaterial *mat, aiTextureType type, string typeName)
{
    vector<Texture> textures;
    for(unsigned int i = 0; i < mat->GetTextureCount(type); i++)
    {
        aiString str;
        mat->GetTexture(type, i, &str);
        bool skip = false;
        for(unsigned int j = 0; j < textures_loaded.size(); j++)
        {
            if(std::strcmp(textures_loaded[j].path.data(), str.C_Str()) == 0)
            {
                textures.push_back(textures_loaded[j]);
                skip = true; 
                break;
            }
        }
        if(!skip)
        {   // if texture hasn't been loaded already, load it
            Texture texture;
            texture.id = TextureFromFile(str.C_Str(), directory);
            texture.type = typeName;
            texture.path = str.C_Str();
            textures.push_back(texture);
            textures_loaded.push_back(texture); // add to loaded textures
        }
    }
    return textures;
}  
Some versions of Assimp tend to load models quite slow when using the debug version and/or the debug mode of your IDE, so be sure to test it out with release versions as well if you run into slow loading times.

You can find the complete source code of the Model class here.

No more containers!

So let's give our implementation a spin by actually importing a model created by genuine artists, not something done by the creative genius that I am. Because I don't want to give myself too much credit, I'll occasionally allow some other artists to join the ranks and this time we're going to load this amazing Survival Guitar Backpack by Berk Gedik. I've modified the material and paths a bit so it works directly with the way we've set up the model loading. The model is exported as a .obj file together with a .mtl file that links to the model's diffuse, specular, and normal maps (we'll get to those later). You can download the adjusted model for this chapter here. Note that there's a few extra texture types we won't be using yet, and that all the textures and the model file(s) should be located in the same directory for the textures to load.

The modified version of the backpack uses local relative texture paths, and renamed the albedo and metallic textures to diffuse and specular respectively.

Now, declare a Model object and pass in the model's file location. The model should then automatically load and (if there were no errors) render the object in the render loop using its Draw function and that is it. No more buffer allocations, attribute pointers, and render commands, just a simple one-liner. If you create a simple set of shaders where the fragment shader only outputs the object's diffuse texture, the result looks a bit like this:

You can find the complete source code here. Note that we tell stb_image.h to flip textures vertically, if you haven't done so already, before we load the model. Otherwise the textures will look all messed up.

We can also get more creative and introduce point lights to the render equation as we learned from the Lighting chapters and together with specular maps get amazing results:

Even I have to admit that this is maybe a bit more fancy than the containers we've used so far. Using Assimp you can load tons of models found over the internet. There are quite a few resource websites that offer free 3D models for you to download in several file formats. Do note that some models still won't load properly, have texture paths that won't work, or are simply exported in a format even Assimp can't read.

Further reading

  • How-To Texture Wavefront (.obj) Models for OpenGL: great video guide by Matthew Early on how to set up 3D models in Blender so they directly work with the current model loader (as the texture setup we've chosen doesn't always work out of the box).
HI