Building a 360° Image Gallery

Note: This documentation is for the old 0.5.0 version of A-Frame. Check out the documentation for the current 0.7.0 version

Remix the 360° Image Gallery on Glitch. Or Fork the 360° Image Gallery Boilerplate on GitHub.

360° Image Viewer

Let’s build an interactive gaze-based 360° image gallery. There will be three panels which the user can click on. Once clicked, the background will fade and swap the 360° images.

This guide will practice three concepts related to entity-component:

  1. Using the standard components that come with A-Frame.
  2. Using community components from the ecosystem.
  3. Writing custom components to accomplish whatever we want.

Skeleton

This is the starting point for our scene:

<a-scene>
<a-assets>
<audio id="click-sound" src="audio/click.ogg"></audio>
<!-- Images. -->
<img id="city" src="https://cdn.aframe.io/360-image-gallery-boilerplate/img/city.jpg">
<img id="city-thumb" src="https://cdn.aframe.io/360-image-gallery-boilerplate/img/thumb-city.jpg">
<img id="cubes" src="https://cdn.aframe.io/360-image-gallery-boilerplate/img/cubes.jpg">
<img id="cubes-thumb" src="https://cdn.aframe.io/360-image-gallery-boilerplate/img/thumb-cubes.jpg">
<img id="sechelt" src="https://cdn.aframe.io/360-image-gallery-boilerplate/img/sechelt.jpg">
<img id="sechelt-thumb" src="https://cdn.aframe.io/360-image-gallery-boilerplate/img/thumb-sechelt.jpg">
</a-assets>
<!-- 360-degree image. -->
<a-sky id="image-360" radius="10" src="#city"></a-sky>
<!-- Link we will build. -->
<a-entity class="link"></a-entity>
<!-- Camera + Cursor. -->
<a-camera>
<a-cursor id="cursor">
<a-animation begin="click" easing="ease-in" attribute="scale"
fill="backwards" from="0.1 0.1 0.1" to="1 1 1" dur="150"></a-animation>
<a-animation begin="cursor-fusing" easing="ease-in" attribute="scale"
from="1 1 1" to="0.1 0.1 0.1" dur="1500"></a-animation>
</a-cursor>
</a-camera>
</a-scene>

We have predefined:

Using Standard Components

Standard components are components that ship with A-Frame, like any standard library. We’ll go over how to attach these components to entities and configure them from HTML.

We want to build a textured plane to act as a link that when clicked, will change the 360° image. We start with an empty entity. Without any components, any empty entity does nothing and renders nothing:

<a-entity class="link"></a-entity>

To give our entity shape, we can attach the geometry component, configured to a plane shape. We specify the component data using a syntax that resembles that of inline CSS styles:

<a-entity class="link"
geometry="primitive: plane; height: 1; width: 1"></a-entity>

Then to give our entity appearance, we can attach the material component. We set shader to flat so the image isn’t affected negatively by lighting. And we set src to #cubes-thumb, a selector to one of the images defined in the Asset Management System.

<a-entity class="link"
geometry="primitive: plane; height: 1; width: 1"
material="shader: flat; src: #cubes-thumb"></a-entity>

We can continue adding features to our entity by plugging in more components. Let’s attach one more standard component, the sound component. We want to make it such that when we click (via gazing) on the link, it plays a click sound. The syntax is the same as before, but instead we are now using the sound component’s properties. We set on to click so the sound is played on click. And we set src to #click-sound, a selector to our <audio> element.

<a-entity class="link"
geometry="primitive: plane; height: 1; width: 1"
material="shader: flat; src: #cubes-thumb"
sound="on: click; src: #click-sound"></a-entity>

Now we have a textured plane that plays a click sound when clicked.

Using Community Components

A-Frame comes with a small core of standard components, but the magic is in the large number of open source community components in the A-Frame ecosystem. We can find community components from places such as the A-Frame Registry or the awesome-aframe repo. We can drop them into our scene and use them straight in our HTML. Components can do anything. By using components that other people have developed, we gain power without needing to write our own code.

We’ll go through using three community components:

Community components are generally available through both GitHub and published on npm. An easy way to include components is to use the unpkg.com CDN, which lets us include components hosted on npm as a script tag, even with support for specifying fuzzy versions. We usually just need to know the component’s npm package name and the path:

<html>
<head>
<title>360° Image Browser</title>
<script src="https://aframe.io/releases/0.5.0/aframe.min.js"></script>
<script src="https://unpkg.com/[email protected]/dist/aframe-template-component.min.js"></script>
<script src="https://unpkg.com/[email protected]/dist/aframe-layout-component.min.js"></script>
<script src="https://unpkg.com/[email protected]3.x.x/dist/aframe-event-set-component.min.js"></script>
</head>
<body>
<a-scene>
<!-- ... -->
</a-scene>
</body>
</html>

Community components are curated to the A-Frame Registry. If a component is on the Registry, there is a way to include it without having to know which version of the component is compatible with your A-Frame version and without having to know the path. angle is a command-line tool for A-Frame that has a command to install components straight to our HTML files.

npm install -g angle
angle install layout
angle install template
angle install event-set

Template Component

Currently, we have one link. We want to create three of them, one for each of our 360° images.

The template component integrates templating engines into A-Frame. This lets us do things such as encapsulate groups of entities, passing data to generate entities, or iteration. Since we want to turn one link into three, without copy-and-pasting HTML, we can use the template component.

If we read the template component’s documentation, we see one way to define a template is via a script tag in <a-assets>. Let’s make our link a template and give it a name using an id:

<a-assets>
<!-- ... -->
<script id="plane" type="text/html">
<a-entity class="link"
geometry="primitive: plane; height: 1; width: 1"
material="shader: flat; src: #cubes-thumb"
sound="on: click; src: #click-sound"></a-entity>
</script>
</a-assets>

Then we can use the template to create multiple planes without much work:

<a-entity template="src: #plane"></a-entity>
<a-entity template="src: #plane"></a-entity>
<a-entity template="src: #plane"></a-entity>

But then they’ll all be displaying the same image texture and look the same. Here is where we’ll need a template engine with variable substitution. The template component comes with simple ES6 string interpolation (i.e., ${var} format). Though the template component supports many popular templating engines such as Nunjucks, Jade, Handlebars, or Mustache.

To allow each instance of the template to be customizable, we define a ${thumb} variable in the template, which we can pass using data attributes:

<a-assets>
<!-- ... -->
<script id="plane" type="text/html">
<a-entity class="link"
geometry="primitive: plane; height: 1; width: 1"
material="shader: flat; src: ${thumb}"
sound="on: click; src: #click-sound"></a-entity>
</script>
</a-assets>
<!-- ... -->
<!-- Pass image sources to the template. -->
<a-entity template="src: #plane" data-thumb="#city-thumb"></a-entity>
<a-entity template="src: #plane" data-thumb="#cubes-thumb"></a-entity>
<a-entity template="src: #plane" data-thumb="#sechelt-thumb"></a-entity>

The template component has allowed us to not have to repeat a lot of HTML, keeping our scene very readable.

Layout Component

Because the default position of an entity is 0 0 0, the entities will overlap. While we could manually position each link, we could instead use the layout component to do it for us. The layout component will automatically position its children to the specified layout.

We create a wrapper entity around our links and attach the layout component using the line layout:

<a-entity id="links" layout="layout: line; margin: 1.5" position="-3 -1 -4">
<a-entity template="src: #plane" data-thumb="#city-thumb"></a-entity>
<a-entity template="src: #plane" data-thumb="#cubes-thumb"></a-entity>
<a-entity template="src: #plane" data-thumb="#sechelt-thumb"></a-entity>
</a-entity>

Now our links are no longer overlapping without us having to calculate and fiddle with positions. The layout component supports other layouts including grid, circle, and dodecahedron.

Event-Set Component

Lastly, we’ll add some visual feedback to our links. We want them to scale up and scale back when they are hovered or clicked. This involves writing an event listener to do setAttributes on the scale component in response to cursor events. This is a fairly common pattern so there is an event-set component that does setAttribute in response to events.

Let’s attach event listeners on our links to scale them up when they are gazed over, scale them down as they are being clicked, and scale them back when they are no longer gazed upon. We are mimicking CSS :hover states. We can specify event names with _event properties, and the rest of the properties define the setAttribute calls. Notice that the event-set component can have multiple instances:

<a-assets>
<!-- ... -->
<script id="link" type="text/html">
<a-entity class="link"
geometry="primitive: plane; height: 1; width: 1"
material="shader: flat; src: ${thumb}"
sound="on: click; src: #click-sound"
event-set__1="_event: mousedown; scale: 1 1 1"
event-set__2="_event: mouseup; scale: 1.2 1.2 1"
event-set__3="_event: mouseenter; scale: 1.2 1.2 1"
event-set__4="_event: mouseleave; scale: 1 1 1"></a-entity>
</script>
</a-assets>

Wielding components, we were able to do a lot with surprisingly little HTML. Though the ecosystem has a lot to offer, non-trivial VR applications will require us to write application-specific components.

Writing an Application-Specific Component

View the full set-image component on GitHub.

We want to write the component that fades the sky into a new 360° image once one of the links are clicked. We’ll call it set-image. The [component API documentation][components] provides a detailed reference for writing a component. A basic component skeleton might look like:

Here is the skeleton for our set-image component.

AFRAME.registerComponent('set-image', {
schema: {
// ...
},
init: function () {
// ...
}
});

Now we decide what the API for our image-setting component will be. We need:

  • An event name to listen to.
  • Which entity to change the texture of.
  • The image texture.
  • An animation fade duration.

So we translate those properties to the schema:

AFRAME.registerComponent('set-image', {
schema: {
on: {type: 'string'},
target: {type: 'selector'},
src: {type: 'string'},
dur: {type: 'number', default: 300}
},
init: function () {
// ...
},
setupFadeAnimation: function () {
// Appends an <a-animation> that fades to black.
}
});

Now we set up the event listener to change the image while the texture has faded to black. Whenever the event is emitted (in our case, a click), then the component will trigger the animation (which is listening for set-image-fade), wait the appropriate amount of time, and swap the image:

//...
init: function () {
var data = this.data;
var el = this.el;
this.setupFadeAnimation();
el.addEventListener(data.on, function () {
// Fade out image.
data.target.emit('set-image-fade');
// Wait for fade to complete.
setTimeout(function () {
// Set image.
data.target.setAttribute('material', 'src', data.src);
}, data.dur);
});
}
//...

And that concludes our 360° image gallery.

Try it out!