Natural Selection

Once you have created a 3D scene you may want to interact with the objects within it. A first step is to select an object with the mouse. The Java 3D picking classes help you to do this, you can use them in the following way:

  1. Create a PickCanvas from the Canvas 3D and the BranchGroup you want to pick from.
    PickCanvas pickCanvas = new PickCanvas(canvas, group);
  2. Set the pickCanvas to use the bounds of the object for picking.
  3. Handle the mouse event by extending MouseAdapter and listening for mouse events on the Canvas3D using canvas.addMouseListener(this).
  4. Define the mouseClicked function so that the PickCanvas calls the PickClosest function to return the PickResult.
  5. Call getNode on PickResult to find out more about the object that has been picked.
Here is a complete example that displays two objects (a cube and a sphere). When you click the mouse it prints out the class name of the selected object.

import com.sun.j3d.utils.picking.*;

import com.sun.j3d.utils.universe.SimpleUniverse;

import com.sun.j3d.utils.geometry.*;


import javax.vecmath.*;

import java.awt.event.*;

import java.awt.*;

public class Pick extends MouseAdapter {

private PickCanvas pickCanvas;

public Pick()


    Frame frame = new Frame("Box and Sphere");

    GraphicsConfiguration config = SimpleUniverse.getPreferredConfiguration();

    Canvas3D canvas = new Canvas3D(config);

    canvas.setSize(400, 400);

    SimpleUniverse universe = new SimpleUniverse(canvas);

    BranchGroup group = new BranchGroup();

    // create a color cube

    Vector3f vector = new Vector3f(-0.3f, 0.0f, 0.0f);

    Transform3D transform = new Transform3D();


    TransformGroup transformGroup = new TransformGroup(transform);

    ColorCube cube = new ColorCube(0.3);



    //create a sphere

    Vector3f vector2 = new Vector3f(+0.3f, 0.0f, 0.0f);

    Transform3D transform2 = new Transform3D();


    TransformGroup transformGroup2 = new TransformGroup(transform2);

    Appearance appearance = new Appearance();


       new PolygonAttributes(PolygonAttributes.POLYGON_LINE,


    Sphere sphere = new Sphere(0.3f,appearance);





    frame.addWindowListener(new WindowAdapter() {

       public void windowClosing(WindowEvent winEvent) {





    pickCanvas = new PickCanvas(canvas, group);





public static void main( String[] args ) {

    System.setProperty("sun.awt.noerasebackground", "true");

    new Pick();


public void mouseClicked(MouseEvent e)



    PickResult result = pickCanvas.pickClosest();

    if (result == null) {

       System.out.println("Nothing picked");

    } else {

       Primitive p = (Primitive)result.getNode(PickResult.PRIMITIVE);

       Shape3D s = (Shape3D)result.getNode(PickResult.SHAPE3D);

       if (p != null) {


       } else if (s != null) {


       } else{





} // end of class Pick

More Accurate Picking

The previous example shows the most basic form of picking, based on the bounds of the object. If you try the example and click near the sphere you can see that it isn't very accurate. If you imagine a box around the sphere and click anywhere within that box, the program will report that you have picked the sphere. This is because the box and the sphere both have the same bounds.

If you need to be more accurate you need to use geometry picking. Change the line:




Unfortunately, this is not the whole story. For geometry picking to work you need to set various capabilities on the objects in your scene. These capabilities are set to off by default so that applications that do not use advanced picking are not slowed down unnecessarily. To turn them on, use:


PickTool.setCapabilities(node, PickTool.INTERSECT_FULL);

If you set the capabilities on all the objects you have added to the scene, you may find that detailed picking still does not work. This is because objects may be made up of other objects. For example instead of setting them once for a cube, you may need to set the capabilities six times, once for each face. The easiest way to make sure that all parts of each object are pickable is to call the following function on BranchGroup of your scene:

public void enablePicking(Node node) {



    try {

       Group group = (Group) node;

       for (Enumeration e = group.getAllChildren(); e.hasMoreElements();) {




    catch(ClassCastException e) {

        // if not a group node, there are no children so ignore exception


    try {

          Shape3D shape = (Shape3D) node;

          PickTool.setCapabilities(node, PickTool.INTERSECT_FULL);

          for (Enumeration e = shape.getAllGeometries(); e.hasMoreElements();) {

             Geometry g = (Geometry)e.nextElement();




    catch(ClassCastException e) {

       // not a Shape3D node ignore exception



After all the capabilities are set you can use System.out.println on your pick result to find the full range of information available. You can also use PickAllSorted instead of PickClosest to pick more than one object at the same time.

Pick Shapes

So far the examples have picked objects using the default shape: an imaginary ray going from the viewer's eye position through the mouse pointer into infinity. Instead of a thin ray you can change the shape used for picking. For example, you might use a cylinder instead of a narrow ray to make picking points easier. A cone shaped area is an easy way to pick anything that a viewer can see.

The setShape function on PickCanvas (and PickTool) can set the shape to a Cone, Cylinder, Point or Ray. Each of these shapes can either go on forever (a ray) or stop after a fixed distance (a segment), you can also pick based on a Bounds object.

As well as setting the shape you can set the tolerance for the picking operation. This is the distance (in pixels) that your PickShape can miss the target object by and still select the object.

Advanced Picking

Picking can be used for more than just mouse selection. The pick shapes can be located anywhere and can be moved around within your scene. They can be used for collision detection or avoidance. For example, you could use a pick shape in front of a person to detect potential obstacles and stop them from bumping into things. If you were writing a pool game you could use a PickRaySegment to represent the pool cue and you could pick with BoundingSphere to detecting collisions between the balls.

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