Babylon Utilities - Showroom Camera

Related links: source, demo, NPM listing, PrivJs listing.

High Level Overview

Once upon a time, I was looking at the usage of 3D in e-commerce websites when I began to notice a pattern: while the 3D models being rendered were often diverse and exciting, the camera movements in these experiences tended to be very, very simplistic. Wondering about this, I speculated that the reason for the simplicity (with each experience usually either having only arc-rotate or still camera behavior) is because writing camera control code is something of a niche specialization, and not every 3D e-commerce site has the resources to invest in it. This got me wondering whether there was some common basis of behaviors that could be encapsulated in a Babylon Utility that many e-commerce sites could use to make their 3D cameras more exciting. After deciding that there was such a subset, I finally reached the biggest question: how would I develop a Babylon Utility so that it could be distributed, and perhaps even sold, for use by other people in their own projects?

How do I distribute Babylon Utilities?

Commercial 3D engines tend to provide commercial solutions to this problem; the Unity Asset Store, for example, is Unity's solution. As a fully free and open-source engine, Babylon.js doesn't have that kind of infrastructure. However, I soon found that, by leveraging other existing open-source infrastructure (particularly built around NPM), I could achieve exactly the same goal whereby I could give, and even sell, the ability for other developers to quickly and easily add my Babylon Utility into their own projects.

  1. First, I created my new repository, leveraging the Template Repository Workflow to make it easy to redistribute later.
  2. I next implemented the new utility camera itself.
  3. To give away the ability for others to use my new Babylon Utility, I uploaded it as an NPM package to the main public NPM registry.
  4. To sell the ability for others to use my new Babylon Utility, I uploaded it as an NPM package to PrivJs, a commercial NPM registry that makes it easy to buy and sell access to NPM packages hosted there.

With NPM and PrivJs!

And that's how I created the Showroom Camera, a Babylon Utility that adds a specialized camera to serve needs specific to e-commerce scenarios, and made it available for other developers to use from free and/or commercial NPM registries. The actual usage of such a Utility is as simple as taking an NPM dependency; the Vaporwear company illustrates that in another Dev Story. This Dev Story is about creating the Showroom Camera Babylon Utility, so on that topic let's circle back to the beginning and proceed with...

A More Step-by-Step Journey Through the Process

Creating the Repository

Setting up a repository to develop a Babylon Utility was very similar to the process described in the Fruit Fallin' Dev Story, but with a few key differences worth elaborating on.

  1. To start, I created and cloned down a new NPM package template repo following the first six steps from the first section of the Fruit Fallin Dev Story.

    New repo

    After that point, I deviated from that Dev Story since I wasn't porting over code that was originally in the Playground.

  2. As is typically the case when bootstrapping an NPM Package Template repository, my first priority was to get rid of the playground.ts and establish the intended "shape" for the app_package. However, since this time I was creating a Babylon Utility instead of a standalone experience, instead of creating an entry point I created a class that would contain a demo/test scene.

    Showroom Camera Demo

  3. Into this scene, I moved all the code and infrastructure from playground.ts and playgroundRunner.ts (doing some light refactoring as I went), again with the goal of being able to delete those files since they were not a part of my Babylon Utility.

    Move Playground-like functionaility to demo scene

  4. To finish this process, I changed the exports in index.ts...

    index.ts changes

  5. ...and modified the test_package to invoke my demo scene instead of the deleted playgroundRunner.ts entry point.

    test_package changes

  6. Finally, I ran the test app (npm run dev) and checked to make sure my refactoring hadn't changed any behavior.

    Make sure everything looks good

Again, this setup was simply to get my repo ready to develop a Babylon Utility rather than a standalone experience or a Playground port. With the infrastructure now clean and established, I was ready to add showroomCamera.ts and begin implementing the class I intended to export as a utility: the ShowroomCamera itself.

Implementing the ShowroomCamera

Dev Stories are not coding tutorials, and a detailed overview of the ShowroomCamera's implementation is out of scope for this narrative. Details of the functionality are described in the Showroom Camera's README, and specifics of the implementation are perhaps best described in the code itself. (Of course, any and all questions are always welcome on the forum!) This section, then, will be limited to just a few high-level glimpses of some of the more significant pieces of the implementation.

  1. The ShowroomCamera has two behaviors: it can act like an ArcRotateCamera, or it can act like a "matchmoving" on-rails camera that follows a predetermined path (for example, orbiting a 3D model to show it off from all sides). Because the goal in the "arc-rotate" state is to act like an ArcRotateCamera (which is a favorite camera of the Babylon.js Community), I decided the best thing to do in that mode would be to just have the ShowroomCamera be an ArcRotateCamera. More precisely, the ShowroomCamera contains an ArcRotateCamera. That way, when the ShowroomCamera enters an "arc-rotate" state, all it has to do is correctly position the ArcRotateCamera, then enable it.
  2. "Matchmoving," the second behavior of the ShowroomCamera, is achieved by simply using a second camera which follows a user-provided TransformNode. Three aspects of this are noteworthy.
    1. The matchmoving is done using a second camera (as opposed to just moving the ArcRotateCamera) so that the ArcRotateCamera can remain free to position itself. ArcRotateCameras come pre-packaged with a lot of very custom behaviors, so rather than try to predict what those behaviors will do in a given circumstance (and risk taking a hard dependency on implementation details of Babylon.js), we simply use an ArcRotateCamera when we want that behavior and a separate camera when we don't.
    2. The choice to have the second camera follow a TransformNode was made in the interest of flexibility. The ShowroomCamera doesn't care how the TransformNode is moved; all it does is use that TransformNode as a definition of the path it's supposed to be matchmoving, then follow along. This allows the user to move the TransformNode any way they want to: the demo features procedural animations made with coroutines while another Dev Story makes heavy use of the ability to control ShowroomCamera matchmoving using animations crafted by a 3D artist.
    3. Note that the second camera follows the provided TransformNode; it actually copies its position and orientation from the TransformNode frame-by-frame instead of, for example, setting that TransformNode to be its parent. This was partly done to avoid muddling the hierarchy -- the ShowroomCamera may be matchmoving many different TransformNodes at various times in the same scene -- but it was also done to resolve difficulties with handedness. For example, when using a TransformNode actuated by an animation and imported from a glTF made with Blender, the TransformNode the camera should be following may be in a different handedness from the scene around it, which can cause strange behaviors for cameras that are a part of that direct hierarchy. To avoid this, the ShowroomCamera simply follows the absolute position and orientation of the TransformNode in world space.
  3. The final key feature of the ShowroomCamera is the ability to seamlessly transition between "arc-rotate" and "matchmoving" behavior using procedural animations. These procedural animations use coroutines to spread interpolation over many frames as they gradually move the camera from one state to the next. This is, by far, the most complex part of the ShowroomCamera code and was the primary motivation for turning it into a Babylon Utility.
  4. The ShowroomCameraDemo.Run(...) function added in the prior section serves two roles. During development, this function is essentially used as a test harness where uses can be added and changed to test out the new functionality and APIs. After development, this function lives on as a demo illustrating what the ShowroomCamera can do and how to use it. For larger projects with more sophisticated testing/ demo needs, a formal test battery could serve the same purposes.

Uploading to Share on

After I'd gotten the features and APIs I wanted in the ShowroomCamera, publishing it to be shared through NPM was as easy as it was in the first Dev Story that showed this. However, there are a few noteworthy differences between the Showroom Camera and Fruit Fallin' arising from the fact that the latter, as a Babylon Utility, is intended for consumption by other developers, not just my own shipping vehicles.

  1. I added a README.

    Add a README

    Note that this isn't the README in the root directory of NPM Package Template repository; that README won't be published because only the app_package folder gets published. Thus, the important README for NPM publication is in app_package, not the root.

  2. I updated the package.json file (again, the one in app_package), making sure to set name, description, repository, and publishConfig. I also modified the syntax of the dependency on @babylonjs/core to make it easier for projects depending on ShowroomCamera, which will presumably already have their own dependencies on @babylonjs/core, to resolve versions.

    Update package.json

  3. javascript
    npm publish

    Publish to NPM

Uploading to Sell on

Babylon Utilities bear a lot of inherent similarities to the kinds of products bought and sold in places like the Unity Asset Store. Selling access isn't really what the default NPM registry is for; however, there are several alternatives on the market that allow developers to buy and sell access to NPM packages. I personally decided to try PrivJs, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the process very easy.

  1. After signing up for a PrivJs account, I took a look at the instructions they provided for publishing an NPM package on their registry.

    PrivJs instructions

    Seems simple enough.

  2. I did the same things to publish on PrivJs that I did to publish on, with the exception that I changed the publishConfig a bit.

    Update package.json for PrivJs

    As a side-note, I also had to update my version because I had already published on and PrivJs, which is aware of, won't accept packages with conflicting versions.

  3. javascript
    npm login --registry

    PrivJs login

  4. javascript
    npm publish
  5. Once your package is published on PrivJs, you can log in to configure your options as a seller. Personally, I'm pretty bad at setting prices, so it's unclear whether I'm ever going to make a profit on this.

    PrivJs listing

Boom! Soup.

Bear in mind that NPM package marketplaces like PrivJs are much newer than the FOSS registries like, so the infrastructure for commercially distributing Babylon Utilities won't be quite as mature as the infrastructure for free distribution. However, the options are there, and they're very easy to take advantage of; so whether you want to sell your Babylon Utilities or give them away for free, hopefully the process is as straightforward for you as it was for me!

And as for consuming these Babylon Utilities, that should also be just as simple as consuming any other NPM package from the registry in question. In fact, I know some people who have already done this -- some imaginary people working for an imaginary company -- but that is a topic for another Dev Story.