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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Voxelization in Unity

 A few words on Voxelization and SAT.

In this post we will create a script for voxelize any kind of mesh in unity. Voxelization could be useful in physical simulations, terrain representation and every situation where we need to manipulate the hollow inside of a mesh. A great post about Voxelization can be found here, on Wolfire blog. The post explains how the voxelization of a triangle mesh is done in Overgrowth, we will use the same method in unity.

The creation of a voxel model that reproduces the mesh is achived trough a 3d grid of cubes and an intersection test for each triangle against each cube.
The author states that he uses a AABB-AABB intersection test to check if a cube and a triangle are intersected. This is very fast and appropriate for most situations, but we want the general solution.
A slower but precise way to test the intersection is to use the Separating Axis Theorem. This paper explains the use of the SAT for Triangle-AABB intersection.
An implementation in C++ of this algorithm was written by Mike Vandelay and can be found on I rewrote the same code in unityscript.

Basically the SAT works like this:
  • Take 13 axes: 3 axes are the cube face normals, 1 axis is the triangle face normal, 9 are the dot product between the first 3 axes and the triangles edges.
  • Project the AABB and the triangle on each axis. If the projections intersects on an axis, then the AABB and the triangle are intersected, otherwise they aren't.
Here a much more detailed explanation of the SAT.

Now,  let's see how implement all this in unity.

Mesh Voxelization

A sphere and its voxel model in unity

The complete script for voxelization can be found here on my github.

We are going to use a grid for creating a voxel model. Each Grid is formed by cubes of the same size, these are the grid properties:
public class AABCGrid {

private var side : float;
private var width : short;
private var height : short;
private var depth : short;
private var origin : Vector3;
private var cubeSet : boolean[,,];
private var cubeNormalSum : short[,,];
private var debug = false;


AABC stands for Axis Aligned Bounding Cube.
For performance purpose, I didn't add a 3 dimension array of AABCs, otherwise each cube had to store the side length, the set value etc...
However an AABC class is defined, but only for external use, while inside the AABCGrid class everything is evaluated starting from the class properties.

e.g. to obtain the vertices of a cube is it possible to use the method
AABCGrid.GetAABCCorners(x : short, y : short, z : short) : Vector3[]
or the method AABC.GetCorners().
The AABC.GetCorners() is actually defined like this:

public function GetCorners(x : short, y : short, z : short) : Vector3[] {
    // grid is a reference to an AABCGrid
    return grid.GetAABCCorners(x, y, z);

All the public method call a CheckBound() function that check if the cube specified by the x, y, z variable is inside the grid, then the real implementation of the method is called.


public function IsAABCSet(x : short, y : short, z : short) : boolean {
   CheckBounds(x, y, z);
   return IsAABCSetUnchecked(x, y, z);

protected function IsAABCSetUnchecked(x : short, y : short, z : short) : boolean {
   return cubeSet[x, y, z];  

Off course, inside the AABCGrid class and in the possible inheritors, only the unchecked method should be called for faster code.

Creating the voxel shell

Once the grid is defined, we need to 'set' all the cubes that are intersected by a triangle of the mesh.
This is done in the AABCGrid.FillGridWithGameObjectMeshShell() method.

The result will be a voxel shell, an empty shape that reproduces the mesh.

Ignore the part relative to the normals of the triangles, I'm going to explain that later.
public function FillGridWithGameObjectMeshShell(gameObj : GameObject, storeNormalSum : boolean) {
    var gameObjMesh = gameObj.GetComponent(MeshFilter).mesh;
    var gameObjTransf = gameObj.transform;
    var triangle = new Vector3[3];  
    var startTime = Time.realtimeSinceStartup;
    var meshVertices = gameObjMesh.vertices;
    var meshTriangles = gameObjMesh.triangles;
    var meshTrianglesCount = meshTriangles.length / 3;
    var x : short;
    var y : short;
    var z : short;
    var ignoreNormalRange = 0;
    // In this method we can also evaluate stores the normals of the triangles 
    // that intersect the cube.
    if (storeNormalSum) {
        cubeNormalSum = new short [width, height, depth];
    if(debug) {
        Debug.Log("Time: " + startTime);
        Debug.Log("     Mesh Description: ");
        Debug.Log("Name: " +;
        Debug.Log("Triangles: " + meshTrianglesCount);
        Debug.Log("Local AABB size: " + gameObjMesh.bounds.size);
        Debug.Log("     AABCGrid Description:");
        Debug.Log("Size: " + width + ',' + height + ',' + depth);
    // For each triangle, perform SAT intersection check with the AABCs within the triangle AABB.
    for (var i = 0; i < meshTrianglesCount; ++i) {
        triangle[0] = gameObjTransf.TransformPoint(meshVertices[meshTriangles[i * 3]]);
        triangle[1] = gameObjTransf.TransformPoint(meshVertices[meshTriangles[i * 3 + 1]]);
        triangle[2] = gameObjTransf.TransformPoint(meshVertices[meshTriangles[i * 3 + 2]]);
        // Find the triangle AABB, select a sub grid.
        var startX = Mathf.Floor((Mathf.Min([triangle[0].x, triangle[1].x, triangle[2].x]) - origin.x) / side);
        var startY = Mathf.Floor((Mathf.Min([triangle[0].y, triangle[1].y, triangle[2].y]) - origin.y) / side);
        var startZ = Mathf.Floor((Mathf.Min([triangle[0].z, triangle[1].z, triangle[2].z]) - origin.z) / side);
        var endX = Mathf.Ceil((Mathf.Max([triangle[0].x, triangle[1].x, triangle[2].x]) - origin.x) / side);
        var endY = Mathf.Ceil((Mathf.Max([triangle[0].y, triangle[1].y, triangle[2].y]) - origin.y) / side);
        var endZ = Mathf.Ceil((Mathf.Max([triangle[0].z, triangle[1].z, triangle[2].z]) - origin.z) / side);
        if (storeNormalSum) {
            for (x = startX; x <= endX; ++x) {
                for (y = startY; y <= endY; ++y) {
                    for (z = startZ; z <= endZ; ++z) {
                        if (TriangleIntersectAABC(triangle, x, y, z)) {
                            var triangleNormal = GetTriangleNormal(triangle);
                            cubeSet[x, y, z] = true;
                            if (triangleNormal.z < 0 - ignoreNormalRange) {
                                cubeNormalSum[x, y, z]++;
                            } else if (triangleNormal.z > 0 + ignoreNormalRange){
                                cubeNormalSum[x, y, z]--;
        } else {
            for (x = startX; x < endX; ++x) {
                for (y = startY; y < endY; ++y) {
                    for (z = startZ; z < endZ; ++z) {
                        if (!IsAABCSet(x, y, z) && TriangleIntersectAABC(triangle, x, y, z)) {
                            cubeSet[x, y, z] = true;
    if(debug) {
        Debug.Log("Grid Evaluation Ended!");
        Debug.Log("Time spent: " + (Time.realtimeSinceStartup - startTime) + "s");
        Debug.Log("End: "); 

The code finds the AABB of each triangle (2), then performs the SAT intersection test on each cube intersected by AABB (3).

(1) the triangle in the grid.  (2) the triangle with its AABB and the AABCs intersected by the AABB. (3) the AABCs intersected by the triangle 

Filling the hollow inside

When this method is finished, we will have a voxel model that reproduce the mesh. But we have not finished yet, we may need also to know which voxel (AABC) is inside the mesh and which is out.
In order to do that we use the scan fill algorithm like the post on overgrowth blog explains, except for a little thing: we don't start to fill the cube when the normal of the last triangle faces to the left, instead we mark 'Begin' and 'End' cubes in FillGridWithGameObjectMeshShell().
If the z component of the triangle is positive, we decrease cubeNormalSum[x, y, z] by one, else we increase it. When all the triangles have been processed, a  positive cubeNormalSum means that the cube is a 'Begin' cube, if it is negative then the cube is an 'End' cube.

We can't just check the normal of the last triangle because we don't know the order of the triangles, we neither traverse the entire grid during the creation of the voxel shell.

The method FillGridWithGameObjectMesh() does the real scan lining once that FillGridWithGameObjectMeshShell() ends. It traverses all the grid, starting from the cube at 0, 0, 0.
If a 'Begin' cube is found, an 'End' cube is searched. If an 'End' cube is found, all the cubes between the last 'Begin' and 'End' are set.

public function FillGridWithGameObjectMesh(gameObj : GameObject) {
   FillGridWithGameObjectMeshShell(gameObj, true);
   for (var x = 0; x < width; ++x) {
      for (var y = 0; y < height; ++y) {
         var fill = false;
         var cubeToFill = 0;
         for (var z = 0; z < depth; ++z) {
            if (cubeSet[x, y, z]) {
               var normalSum = cubeNormalSum[x, y, z];
               if (normalSum) {
                  if (normalSum > 0) {
                     // 'Begin' cube
                     fill = true; 
                  } else {
                     // 'End' cube
                     fill = false;
                     while (cubeToFill > 1) {
                        cubeSet[x, y, z - cubeToFill] = true;
               cubeToFill = 0;
         if (fill) {
 cubeNormalSum = null;


Performance are mainly determined by the number of triangles in the mesh and the side length of the AABCs.

Here they are some of the tests made on my laptop:

Laptop specs:
HP g6-1359el
Intel Core i5-2450M - 2,5 GHz, 3 MB cache L3
AMD Radeon HD 7450M

First Test:

Mesh: construction_worker
Time spent: 0.4051636s
Triangles: 4020
Cube side: 0.05

Second Test

Mesh: construction_worker

Time spent: 1.088864s
Triangles: 4020
Cube side: 0.02

Third Test

Mesh: sphere

Time spent: 1.926165s
Cube side: 0.03

Memory could be saved storing  cubeSet   using a 3D bitarray class and cubeNormalSum using a 3D array of bytes

Try it yourself

For testing purpose there is also a VoxelizationTest.js script on my github. Attach it to an object with a mesh to try this voxelization script. Remember to enable Gizmos in the game window, otherwise the AABCs will not appear!

Off course you can write here all your advices or questions. 


  1. This is an awesome explanation. Thanks a lot for writing all this up and sharing it!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. So the booleans in VoxelizationTest allow me to draw only the shell without the fill, but doesn't work when draw shell is deselected and the fill is. I would like to get all of the fill voxels ONLY, so the entire voxel array is contained within the mesh. Any ideas?

  4. Nevermind - think I've got it by converting bools to bytes then setting to 2 instead of 1 for fill, then made a separate drawInside function that checks for value 2 instead of 1.

  5. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this code! It is fantastic. I have a question (might be a stupid one) concerning the AABC class. Am I correct to assume you have to "fill" the grid with AABC's to access AABC properties?
    In my case I want to access the center of an AABC located in the AABC grid (as you have done in the particles function). I seem to be getting lots of nullreferenceexceptions errors.

  6. Hi ! Thanks for this helpful introduction! Just one thing I am a bit confused:
    Take 13 axes: 3 axes are the cube face normals, 1 axis is the triangle face normal, 9 are the "dot" product between the first 3 axes and the triangles edges.

    I assume it's actually cross product not dot product, right?

  7. "9 are the dot product between the first 3 axes and the triangles edges" - Small typo. I believe you meant cross product instead of dot product.