Exponentially Tiled Fish and Birds

November 5, 2021

This is an entry for @sableRaph's weekly creative coding challenge. The theme for this week was non-rectangular tiling. Back in the fall of 2019, Craig Kaplan, a Waterloo graphics professor I worked with in my fourth year of undergrad, wrote a really interesting article on the math behind M. C. Escher's spiral tilings. I had always wanted to implement some of the ideas from his blog post, but never found the time. This week's theme seemed like the perfect opportunity!

This works in two parts:

  1. Draw a flat x-and-y-tiled image of birds morphing into fish
  2. Use a shader to turn that image into an infinite tunnel (it interprets y as an angle and x as a radius)

Drawing morphing shapes

Morphing one shape into another is something I had explored in a previous sketch, and this sketch uses largely the same approach.

I created four drawings in Figma: a fish and a bird, and then an in-between keyframe for each. I've exported all of these drawings as SVGs and have stored their path drawing commands in variables in the sketch's source code. Then, I sample a number of points evenly spaced along the perimeters of these shapes. To draw the shape, I simply draw a polygon with lines connecting the sample points. To morph between two shapes, instead of using just one shape's sample points, I use a weighted average of two shapes' points based on where in the morph animation I am. Like in my previous sketch, the code looks something like this:

function morphCurves(curve1, curve2, mix) {
  const curves = [curve1, curve2]
  const curveLengths = curves.map((c) => c.getTotalLength())
  const numPoints = Math.ceil(Math.max(...curveLengths))
  const inputPoints = curves.map((c, cIdx) => {
    const samples = []
    for (let i = 0; i < numPoints; i++) {
      const fraction = i / (numPoints - 1)
      sample.push(c.getPointAtLength(fraction * curveLengths[cIdx]))

  // Linearly interpolate between the input points
  const morphedPoints = []
  for (let i = 0; i < numPoints; i++) {
    const p1 = inputPoints[0][i]
    const p2 = inputPoints[0][i]
      x: p1.x * (1 - mix) + p2.x * mix,
      y: p1.y * (1 - mix) + p2.y * mix

  for (const { x, y } of morphedPoints) {
    vertex(x, y)

Using this, I draw birds and fish in a simple 2D grid, without any spiralling into the center going on.

Spiral tiling

I strongly encourage reading Craig Kaplan's post on this for a more detailed walkthrough, but the gist of it is, one can use a shader to re-interpret the (x, y) coordinates of my tiled image as (r, θ) polar coordinates. Technically, instead of (r, &theta), which uses a linear radius, I am using an exponential radius by interpreting the coordinates as (ln(r), θ).

To use a shader to do this, it means I draw a rectangle, and for each coordinate in that rectangle, go through the reverse transformation to find the pixel in the original image to sample. For a pixel (a, b), this means looking up coordinates (ea cos(b), ea sin(b)). This creates a vanishing point in the center of the image.

To create a spiral, the input image can be rotated, just as long as it's seamless at its top and bottom. This can be done by just picking good rotation/scale values that make things line up. This makes it so that a simple translation in the original image ends up looking like movement along a spiral in the final image.