HOWTO composite objects

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This article is known to contain outdated information. If you know of correct information, please edit this article! Thank you.

Copy-dump from old wiki! Is it still up-to-date (notably the GeomTransform parts) ?


ODE allows you to have composite objects. These are more complex objects build from several others. For instance a table could be built by combining four leg boxes with a table-top box.

The ODE documentation tells you which functions to call, and there's a "box stack" demo which includes composite objects. It can be a little tricky to get to grips with, so here's a page on the subject.


A body can contain multiple geoms. However to build a useful composite object you're likely going to need to separate the geoms in space. To do this you need to wrap the collision geoms in "GeomTransforms". A GeomTransform is a geom which has no collision, it just wraps another geom and allows it to be translated/rotated. So the hierarchy for a simple table would look like this:

dBody              // Table composite object
    dGeomTransform // Transform for offsetting table-top
        dGeomBox   // Table-top collision geom
    dGeomTransform // Transform for offsetting leg
        dGeomBox   // Leg 1 collision geom
    dGeomTransform // Transform for offsetting leg
        dGeomBox   // Leg 2 collision geom
    dGeomTransform // Transform for offsetting leg
        dGeomBox   // Leg 3 collision geom
    dGeomTransform // Transform for offsetting leg
        dGeomBox   // Leg 4 collision geom

Building a Composite Object

The following code has been copied from the "box stack" sample, cleaned, and commented. The code has also been simplified in that it only uses boxes for the sub objects.

 const int NUM_BOXES = 3;
 dGeomID odeGeomTransformList[NUM_BOXES]; /* Geometry transforms which contain single sub objects */
 dGeomID tempOdeBoxGeomList[NUM_BOXES]; /* Temp array for holding onto the boxes in the transforms. 
                                         * This doesn't need to be kept, as dGeomTransformSetCleanup
                                         * will take care of it. */
 dReal boxOffset[NUM_BOXES][3]; /* delta-positions for encapsulated geometries */
 /* Start accumulating masses for the encapsulated geometries */
 dMass compositeMass, componentMass;
 dMassSetZero (&compositeMass);
 /* Pick random positions geoms will be placed at */
 for (j=0; j<NUM_BOXES; j++)
     /* Loop through XYZ */
     for (k=0; k<3; k++) 
         boxOffset[j][k] = dRandReal()*0.3-0.15;
 for (k=0; k<NUM_BOXES; k++)
     odeGeomTransformList[k] = dCreateGeomTransform (space); /* Create geom transform that sub 
                                                              * objects are added to */
     dGeomTransformSetCleanup (odeGeomTransformList[k],1);/* If '1' deleting odeGeomTransformList[k]
                                                           * will delete the geom added to it */
     tempOdeBoxGeomList[k] = dCreateBox (0, sides[0], /* Create box sub-object */
     dMassSetBox (&componentMass, /* Create normal mass for a box */
     dGeomTransformSetGeom (odeGeomTransformList[k], /* Attach box to the geom transform */ 
     /* Move and rotate the box within the compound object, including the mass */
     dGeomSetPosition (tempOdeBoxGeomList[k], 
     dMassTranslate (&componentMass, 
     dMatrix3 rotation;
     dRFromAxisAndAngle (rotation, 
     dGeomSetRotation (tempOdeBoxGeomList[k], rotation);
     dMassRotate (&componentMass, rotation);
     /* Add sub object mass to the total mass */
     dMassAdd (&compositeMass,&componentMass);
 // We've finished adding object. The center of mass is not going to be centered at the moment.
 // Move all encapsulated objects so that the center of mass is (0,0,0)
 for (k=0; k<NUM_BOXES; k++) 
     dGeomSetPosition (tempOdeBoxGeomList[k],
 dMassTranslate (&compositeMass,
 /* Tell all the geom transforms that they belong to the parent body */
 for (k=0; k < NUM_BOXES; k++) 
     if (odeGeomTransformList?[k])
         dGeomSetBody (odeGeomTransformList[k], parentBody );
 /* Set the parent body mass to be the one we've calculated. */
 dBodySetMass (parentBody, &compositeMass );

Getting the position of a composite object component

If you get the position of a composite object component, ODE will return the relative/local position within the body. The code that follows is for converting this to a real world position. Again the code originates from the 'box stack' sample. Apologies that it's not in straight C calls, but it's quick to change to whatever you're using.

 // Get the geomID of the component from the geom transform
 dGeomID geomID = dGeomTransformGetGeom( geomTransformID? );
 // Get world position/orientation of parent body
 const Real* pBodyPos = parentBody->getPosition();
 const Real* pBodyRotMat = parentBody->getRotation();
 // Get local position/orientation of component within geom transform
 const Real* pLocalPos = dGeomGetPosition (geomID);
 const Real* pLocalRotMat = dGeomGetRotation (geomID);
 // Calculate world space position of component by using the body position/orientation
 dVector3 worldPos;
 dMatrix3 worldRotMat;
 dMULTIPLY0_331( worldPos, pBodyRotMat, pLocalPos );
 worldPos[0] += pBodyPos[0];
 worldPos[1] += pBodyPos[1];
 worldPos[2] += pBodyPos[2];
 dMULTIPLY0_333( worldRotMat, pBodyRotMat, pLocalRotMat );
 // And if you want a quaternion instead of a matrix...
 dQuaternion worldQuat;
 dQfromR(worldQuat, worldRotMat);