I'm trying to model a smooth path between several control points in three dimensions, the problem is that there doesn't appear to be an explanation on how to use splines to achieve this. Are splines a subset of other types of curves such as Bezier curve or the Hermite curve?

I have successfully found cubic splines in 2 dimensions, but I'm not sure how to extend it into 3 dimensions and why there is no explanation about this.

Is there a better and more documented type of curve I could use to achieve this? My goal is to move an object along the smooth curve going through the control points. Please help.

  • $\begingroup$ This article focuses on explaining the thought processes and concepts behind 2D splines, but can be extended to 3 dimensions $\endgroup$
    – Vessel
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 23:36

2 Answers 2


First, let's understand parametric splines.

Let's assume we already know how to find $y$ as a (spline) function of $x$. And suppose we have a sequence of 2D points $P_i = (x_i,y_i)$. First, we assign a parameter value $t_i$ to each point $P_i$. The usual way to do this is to use chord-lengths -- you choose the $t_i$ values such that $t_i - t_{i-1} = \|P_i - P_{i-1}\|$. Then you compute $x$ as a function of $t$. The calculation is the one you already know, but it's just $x=f(t)$ instead of $y=f(x)$. Now do the same thing with $y$ and $t$. So, now you have both $x$ and $y$ as functions of $t$. In other words, you have a 2D point $(x,y)$ as function of $t$, which means you have a 2D parametric curve.

Now, the extension to 3D is straightforward. We just make $z$ a function of $t$, also. So, now we have $(x,y,z)$ as a function of $t$, so we have a parametric space curve.

To do 3D spline interpolation using Matlab functions, see here.

A better reference is this web site.

Bezier curves are also easy to extend to 3D. As you probably know, the equation of a cubic Bezier curve is $$ \mathbf{C}(t) = (1-t)^3\mathbf{P}_0 + 3t(1-t)^2\mathbf{P}_1 + 3t^2(1-t)\mathbf{P}_2 + t^3\mathbf{P}_3 $$ In this equation it doesn't matter whether the control points $\mathbf{P}_0$, $\mathbf{P}_1$, $\mathbf{P}_2$, $\mathbf{P}_3$ are 2D or 3D.

  • $\begingroup$ I found cubic splines in 2D by finding y in terms of x and not t, which is why I'm now confused. I can't find any decent explanation to find splines in terms of a parameter t. $\endgroup$
    – Saras
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ The math is identical. See the additions to my answer. $\endgroup$
    – bubba
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Saras take a look at this very good pdf, except for an error in computed value of the b coefficient in the 14.1 paragraph, where "𝒃 = −𝟐. 𝟔7" and not "−2 ∙ (2 2⁄3)": people.cs.clemson.edu/~dhouse/courses/405/notes/splines.pdf $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 16:42

This seems relevant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicubic_interpolation

There is a MATLAB toolkit with this functionality (spline toolkit).

  • $\begingroup$ But isn't that used for images and surfaces? I only need a path. $\endgroup$
    – Saras
    Commented Nov 23, 2013 at 9:01
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see what you mean now. You want to parameterize your spline as in @bubba's solution. $\endgroup$
    – parsiad
    Commented Nov 25, 2013 at 18:59

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