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How would one calculate the intersection of a line and a plane in 3D ?

Given for example are 4 points which form a plane (x1,y1,z1)...(x4,y4,z4) and 2 different points which form a line (x5,y5,z5) and (x6,y6,z6). How is it possible to know where the line intersect with the plain when this info is given. I thought to calculate the equation of the plain and line. Then eq of the line = eq of the plane. to find the point where they intersect. But I don't know how the construct the equation of a line in 3D given the 2 points. And I'm not sure that if I equate the 2 equations that it will give the intersection point. If someone would please be so kind to fill the blanks in of my knowledge or suggest another solution. I would be very grateful.

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    $\begingroup$ You've seen this, haven't you? $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2011 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ thx, i searched for surface and line intersection which didn't give pleasing results (as i'm looking for a c++ algoritm to do this). Only when i asked this question it came to me that a better word would be plain instead of surface. So ty :) $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2011 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ In the first place, a plane is determined by three points (not on a line). Unless your points are given numerically and are not lying on a plane anyway, you may discard the point $(x_4,y_4,z_4)$. When the four points are given numerically there arises the question of the "optimal plane" corresponding to these points. $\endgroup$ Nov 20, 2011 at 20:36

2 Answers 2

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Your intuition of setting the two equations equal is correct and that is how you solve for the intersection. I'll provide a full explanation, with code examples.

A common way of representing a plane $\mathbf{P}$ is in point-normal form, $\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot (X-Y)=0$, where $\mathbf{\vec{n}}$ is the plane normal and both $X$ and $Y$ are points that lie in the plane. This can be rewritten into constant-normal form by distributing the dot product and rearranging terms to obtain: $\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot X = d$, where $d = \mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot Y$ which is equal to the distance from the origin when $\mathbf{\vec{n}}$ is unit-length. Below is a simple data structure that you might use to represent a plane, and the signature of a constructor that will compute the plane from three points in $\mathbb{R^3}$. Implementation is left as an exercise to the reader ;).

struct Plane {
    Vector3 n; // normal
    float d; // distance from origin

    Plane(); // default constructor
    Plane(Vector3 a, Vector3 b, Vector3 c); // plane from 3 points
    Vector3 intersectLine(Vector3 a, Vector3 b); // we'll get to this later
};

Given two points, $A$ and $B$, a line can be represented parametrically by adding to one point the vector formed by the two points, scaled by a parameter $t$. In symbols, $L(t) = A + t(B-A)$. Using your intuition, we insert this equation (whose output is a point), into $X$ in the constant-normal plane representation: $\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot [A + t(B-A)] = d$. We want to know how many copies of $(B-A)$ we need to add to $A$ to get to a point that lies within the plane, in other words we want to solve for $t$. Doing some fancy algebra, we obtain: $t = \frac{d-\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot A}{\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot (B-A)}$. We can (finally) stick this expression for $t$ back into the equation for our line to obtain: $I = A+\frac{d - (\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot A)}{\mathbf{\vec{n}} \cdot (B-A)}(B-A).$

Armed with this equation, we can now implement a nice function that will tell what we want to know:

Vector3 Plane::intersectLine(Vector3 a, Vector3 b) {
    Vector3 ba = b-a;
    float nDotA = Vector3::dotProduct(n, a);
    float nDotBA = Vector3::dotProduct(n, ba);

    return a + (((d - nDotA)/nDotBA) * ba);
}

Hopefully this works for you, and hopefully I didn't fudge any of the details! If you plan to be doing a lot of this sort of geometric computing it's worthwhile to pick up Christer Ericson's Real-time Collision Detection, which is an excellent reference source for this sort of thing. Alternatively, you could snag some already-constructed classes from something like OGRE3D, if you're not particularly interested in creating your own.

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For these, and many similar requests, go to

http://www.graphicsgems.org/

Also, look up its descendant, The Journal of Graphics Tools at

http://jgt.akpeters.com/

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