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Catmull-Rom Splines


#include <boost/math/interpolators/catmull_rom.hpp>

namespace boost{ namespace math{

    template<class Point, class RandomAccessContainer = std::vector<Point> >
    class catmull_rom

        catmull_rom(RandomAccessContainer&& points, bool closed = false, Real alpha = (Real) 1/ (Real) 2)

        catmull_rom(std::initializer_list<Point> l, bool closed = false, typename Point::value_type alpha = (typename Point::value_type) 1/ (typename Point::value_type) 2);

        Real operator()(Real s) const;

        Real max_parameter() const;

        Real parameter_at_point(size_t i) const;

        Point prime(Real s) const;



Catmull-Rom splines are a family of interpolating curves which are commonly used in computer graphics and animation. Catmull-Rom splines enjoy the following properties:

The catmull_rom class provided by Boost.Math creates a cubic Catmull-Rom spline from an array of points in any dimension. Since there are numerous ways to represent a point in n-dimensional space, the class attempts to be flexible by templating on the point type. The requirements on the point type are discussing in more detail below, but roughly, it must have a dereference operator defined (e.g., p[0] is not a syntax error), it must be able to be dereferenced up to dimension -1, and p[i] is of type Real, define value_type, and the free function size(). These requirements are met by std::vector and std::array. The basic usage is shown here:

std::vector<std::array<Real, 3>> points(4);
points[0] = {0,0,0};
points[1] = {1,0,0};
points[2] = {0,1,0};
points[3] = {0,0,1};
catmull_rom<std::array<Real, 3>> cr(std::move(points));
// Interpolate at s = 0.1:
auto point = cr(0.1);

Here, s varies between 0 and cr.max_parameter(). The latter's value depends on the choice of alpha. In order to interpolate the curve between /points[i]/ and /points[i+1], /s should go from cr.parameter_at_point(i) and cr.parameter_at_point(i+1).

The spline can be either open or closed, closed meaning that there is some s > 0 such that P(s) = P(0). The default is open, but this can be easily changed:

// closed = true
catmull_rom<std::array<Real, 3>> cr(std::move(points), true);

In either case, evaluating the interpolator at s=0 returns the first point in the list.

If the curve is open, then the first and last segments may have strange behavior. The traditional solution is to prepend a carefully selected control point to the data so that the first data segment (second interpolator segment) has reasonable tangent vectors, and simply ignore the first interpolator segment. A control point is appended to the data using similar criteria. However, we recommend not going through this effort until it proves to be necessary: For most use-cases, the curve is good enough without prepending and appending control points, and responsible selection of non-data control points is difficult.

Inside catmull_rom, the curve is represented as closed. This is because an open Catmull-Rom curve is implicitly closed, but the closing point is the zero vector. There is no reason to suppose that the zero vector is a better closing point than the endpoint (or any other point, for that matter), so traditionally Catmull-Rom splines leave the segment between the first and second point undefined, as well as the segment between the second-to-last and last point. We find this property of the traditional implementation of Catmull-Rom splines annoying and confusing to the user. Hence internally, we close the curve so that the first and last segments are defined. Of course, this causes the tangent vectors to the first and last points to be bizarre. This is a "pick your poison" design decision-either the curve cannot interpolate in its first and last segments, or the tangents along the first and last segments are meaningless. In the vast majority of cases, this will be no problem to the user. However, if it becomes a problem, then the user should add one extra point in a position they believe is reasonable and close the curve.

Since the routine internally represents the curve as closed, a question arises: Why does the user have to specify if the curve is open or closed? The answer is that the parameterization is chosen by the routine, so it is of interest to the user to understand the values where a meaningful result is returned.

Real max_s = cr.max_parameter();

If you attempt to interpolate for s > max_s, an exception is thrown. If the curve is closed, then cr(max_s) = p0, where p0 is the first point on the curve. If the curve is open, then cr(max_s) = pf, where pf is the final point on the curve.

The Catmull-Rom curve admits an infinite number of parameterizations. The default parameterization of the catmull_rom class is the so-called centripedal parameterization. This parameterization has been shown to be the only parameterization that does not form cusps or self-intersections within segments. However, for advanced users, other parameterizations can be chosen using the alpha parameter:

// alpha = 1 is the "chordal" parameterization.
catmull_rom<std::array<double, 3>> cr(std::move(points), false, 1.0);

The alpha parameter must always be in the range [0,1].

Finally, the tangent vector to any point of the curve can be computed via

double s = 0.1;
Point tangent =;

Since the magnitude of the tangent vector is dependent on the parameterization, it is not meaningful (unless the user chooses the chordal parameterization alpha = 1 which parameterizes by Euclidean distance between points.) However, its direction is meaningful no matter the parameterization, so the user may wish to normalize this result.



The following performance numbers were generated for a call to the Catmull-Rom interpolation method. The number that follows the slash is the number of points passed to the interpolant. We see that evaluation of the interpolant is 𝑶(log(N)).

Run on 2700 MHz CPU
CPU Caches:
  L1 Data 32K (x2)
  L1 Instruction 32K (x2)
  L2 Unified 262K (x2)
  L3 Unified 3145K (x1)
Benchmark                              Time           CPU
BM_CatmullRom<double>/4               20 ns         20 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/8               21 ns         21 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/16              23 ns         23 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/32              24 ns         24 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/64              27 ns         27 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/128             27 ns         27 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/256             30 ns         30 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/512             32 ns         31 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/1024            33 ns         33 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/2048            34 ns         34 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/4096            36 ns         36 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/8192            38 ns         38 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/16384           39 ns         39 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/32768           40 ns         40 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/65536           45 ns         44 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/131072          46 ns         46 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/262144          50 ns         50 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/524288          53 ns         52 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>/1048576         58 ns         57 ns
BM_CatmullRom<double>_BigO          2.97 lgN       2.97 lgN
BM_CatmullRom<double>_RMS             19 %         19 %

Point types

We have already discussed that certain conditions on the Point type template argument must be obeyed. The following shows a custom point type in 3D which can be used as a template argument to Catmull-Rom:

template<class Real>
class mypoint3d
    // Must define a value_type:
    typedef Real value_type;

    // Regular constructor--need not be of this form.
    mypoint3d(Real x, Real y, Real z) {m_vec[0] = x; m_vec[1] = y; m_vec[2] = z; }

    // Must define a default constructor:
    mypoint3d() {}

    // Must define array access:
    Real operator[](size_t i) const
        return m_vec[i];

    // Must define array element assignment:
    Real& operator[](size_t i)
        return m_vec[i];

    std::array<Real, 3> m_vec;

// Must define the free function "size()":
template<class Real>
constexpr size_t size(const mypoint3d<Real>& c)
    return 3;

These conditions are satisfied by both std::array and std::vector, but it may nonetheless be useful to define your own point class so that (say) you can define geometric distance between them.


The Catmull-Rom interpolator requires memory for three more points than is provided by the user. This causes the class to call a resize() on the input vector. If v.capacity() >= v.size() + 3, then no problems arise; there are no reallocs, and in practice this condition is almost always satisfied. However, if v.capacity() < v.size() + 3, the realloc causes a performance penalty of roughly 20%.

Generic Containers

The Point type may be stored in a different container than std::vector. For example, here is how to store the points in a Boost.uBLAS vector:

mypoint3d<Real> p0(0.1, 0.2, 0.3);
mypoint3d<Real> p1(0.2, 0.3, 0.4);
mypoint3d<Real> p2(0.3, 0.4, 0.5);
mypoint3d<Real> p3(0.4, 0.5, 0.6);
mypoint3d<Real> p4(0.5, 0.6, 0.7);
mypoint3d<Real> p5(0.6, 0.7, 0.8);

boost::numeric::ublas::vector<mypoint3d<Real>> u(6);
u[0] = p0;
u[1] = p1;
u[2] = p2;
u[3] = p3;
u[4] = p4;
u[5] = p5;

// Tests initializer_list:
catmull_rom<mypoint3d<Real>, decltype(u)> cat(std::move(u));