Bezier curves prefer tea

My maths professor was hammering on the fact that Citroen used Bezier curves to make sure their cars have aesthetically pleasing curves. Again. (This is not a sponsored post from the automaker).

While I appreciate his effort in trying to make what I’m learning relevant to the real world, I kinda got the idea that Citroen used Bezier curves in their design process. Right about the 3rd tutorial lesson.

My professor then went on to give us homework. “Us” meaning 5 of us. It was an honours degree course. It wasn’t like there was a stampede to take post-graduate advanced maths lessons, you know.

Oh yes, homework. My professor, with wisdom acquired over years of teaching, gave a blend of theoretical and calculation-based questions. Any question that had the words “prove”, “justify”, “show” are probably theoretical questions. Calculation-based questions are like “What is 1 + 1?”. Everyone, at least theoretically (haha!), should be able to do the calculation-based questions. The theoretical questions would require more thinking (“Prove that such and such Bezier curve is actually equal to such and such.”).

My friend, who took the course with me, loved calculation-based questions. She’d sit patiently and hammer at the numbers and the calculator. I can’t say I love them. My professor once gave a question that amounted to solving a system of 5 linear equations with 5 unknowns, which amounted to solving a 5 by 5 matrix. By hand. (It involves 15 divisions, 50 multiplications and 50 subtractions. There’s a reason why linear algebra and numerical methods were pre-requisites) I wanted to scream in frustration, throw my foolscap paper at him, and strangle him. Not necessarily in that order.

This coming from someone who is fine with writing a C program doing memory allocations (using the malloc function. And then manually freeing the pointer with the memory allocation. We didn’t have garbage collection, ok?) to simulate an N-sized matrix, and then perform Gauss-Jordan elimination on the matrix. I used that program to solve a 100 by 100 matrix. But I dreaded solving a 5 by 5 matrix by hand.

It probably explains why I remember Bezier curves so much.

Anyway, a while ago, someone sent me a question (through Facebook, of all channels). He asked, for a given “y” value of a Bezier curve, how do you find the “x” value?

That is a question without a simple answer. The answer is, there’s no guarantee there’s only one “x” value. A cubic Bezier curve has a possibility of having 1, 2 or 3 “x” values (given a “y”). Here’s the “worst” case scenario:

Multi x values

So you can have at most 3 “x” values. In the case of the person who asked the question, this is not just wrong, but actually dangerous. The person was an engineer, working on software that cuts metal (or wood). The software had a Bezier curve in it, which it used to calculate (x,y) coordinate values to direct the laser beam (or whatever cutting tool) to the next point (and thus cut the material).

If a “y” value has multiple “x” values, the software won’t know which “x” value you want. And thus cut the material wrongly.

The only way a Bezier curve has only 1 value, is if it’s monotonically increasing/decreasing. That means for all values of x and y such that x <= y [or x >= y], that f(x) <= f(y) [or f(x) >= f(y)].

Bezier curves don’t work well in the Cartesian plane. They work fine after you’ve used them to calculate values, and then transfer onto the Cartesian plane. Bezier curves prefer to work with values of t.