CSS 3D Clouds Retake

This post is going to cover my experience following through the tutorial on making CSS 3D clouds posted here: http://www.clicktorelease.com/tutorials/css3dclouds/. I didn’t make the original code, but I did run into several issues while I went through and I wanted to share my experience, work-arounds, and pieces of code that were missing from the original tutorial.

All the questions that came up and fixes changes here were done on the Chrome Beta (v20.0.1132.41 beta-m to be exact)

1. Creating the world and a camera

CSS 3D Clouds Step 1

In this step, you create two div’s in the body of your HTML 5 page, the outer <div> gets an id of viewport and the inner <div> gets an id of world. From there you setup some structural styling (viewport spans entire screen via absolute positioning, world is centered in the middle)

Initial Page Setup

Some initial styling needs to be done to make it look like the demo, here’s what I have:

* {
	box-sizing: border-box;
	margin: 0;
	padding: 0;

body {
	overflow: hidden;

#viewport {
	background-image: linear-gradient(bottom, rgb(69, 132, 180) 28%, rgb( 31, 71, 120 ) 64%);
	background-image: -o-linear-gradient(bottom, rgb(69, 132, 180) 28%, rgb( 31, 71, 120 ) 64%);
	background-image: -moz-linear-gradient(bottom, rgb(69, 132, 180) 28%, rgb( 31, 71, 120 ) 64%);
	background-image: -webkit-linear-gradient(bottom, rgb(69, 132, 180) 28%, rgb( 31, 71, 120 ) 64%);
	background-image: -ms-linear-gradient(bottom, rgb(69, 132, 180) 28%, rgb( 31, 71, 120 ) 64%);

#world {                    
	background-color: rgba(255, 0, 0, .2);

Vendor prefixes

I’m so used to Chrome being the “latest and greatest” that I honestly expected to be able to use non-prefixed CSS properties and have the code “just work”. That’s NOT the case. As of this writing you will need to use prefixed properties, so add the following prefixes into the appropriate rules:

#viewport {
	perspective: 400;
	-webkit-perspective: 400;
	-moz-perspective: 400;
	-o-perspective: 400;

#world {                    
	transform-style: preserve-3d;
	-webkit-transform-style: preserve-3d;
	-moz-transform-style: preserve-3d;
	-o-transform-style: preserve-3d;

Help, my javascript code doesn’t work!

You probably put your javascript in the <head> tag, which means that document.getElementById( 'world' ) will not work because the elements don’t exist yet. Put the script at the end right before the </body> tag and it should work if everything else is correct.

Besides, it’s just good practice to put your javascript last.

Help, my javascript code doesn’t work! (pt 2)

This just shows my ignorance of javascript, but if something still isn’t working, you might have this problem:

Javascript uses the \ character in your strings to tell the parser to treat the next line as if the string continued:

'translateZ( ' + d + 'px ) \
rotateX( ' + worldXAngle + 'deg) \
rotateY( ' + worldYAngle + 'deg)';

Is the same as:

'translateZ( ' + d + 'px ) rotateX( ' + worldXAngle + 'deg) rotateY( ' + worldYAngle + 'deg)';

Zooming javascript

The code samples in the original tutorial omit the code to zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. Here it is in all it’s javascripty wonderfulness:

window.addEventListener( 'mousewheel', onContainerMouseWheel );
window.addEventListener( 'DOMMouseScroll', onContainerMouseWheel );

function onContainerMouseWheel( event ) {
	event = event ? event : window.event;
	d = d - (event.detail ? event.detail * -5 : event.wheelDelta / 8);

2. Adding objects to our world

CSS 3D Clouds Step 2
E.g. .cloudBase.

Create cloud base code is incorrect

Instead of:

for( var j = 0; j <<; 5; j++ ) {

the correct line is:

for( var j = 0; j < 5; j++ ) {

Actual random numbers and prefixed transforms

The random numbers for createCloud():

var random_x = 256 - ( Math.random() * 512 );
var random_y = 256 - ( Math.random() * 512 );
var random_z = 256 - ( Math.random() * 512 );

The transform styles for createCloud()

div.style.transform = t;
div.style.webkitTransform = t;
div.style.MozTransform = t;
div.style.oTransform = t;

3. Adding layers to our objects

CSS 3D Clouds Step 3
There were a couple of things in this section that cause me to scratch my head and go whyyyyy?

Code for random generation and transforms.

Random variables:

var random_x = 256 - ( Math.random() * 512 );
var random_y = 256 - ( Math.random() * 512 );
var random_z = 100 - ( Math.random() * 200 );
var random_a = Math.random() * 360;
var random_s = .25 + Math.random();
random_x *= .2; random_y *= .2;

Vendor transforms:

cloud.style.transform = t;
cloud.style.webkitTransform = t;
cloud.style.MozTransform = t;
cloud.style.oTransform = t;

Why don’t I see the new squares?

You have to add in the style for .cloudLayer into your CSS:

.cloudLayer {
	position: absolute;
	left: 50%;
	top: 50%;
	width: 256px;
	height: 256px;
	margin-left: -128px;
	margin-top: -128px;
	background-color: rgba( 0, 255, 255, .1 );
	-webkit-transition: opacity .5s ease-out;
	-moz-transition: opacity .5s ease-out;
	-o-transition: opacity .5s ease-out;

I see the cloud layers, but why are they are all flat?

Yeah, this got me too, the parent div’s need to have preserve-3d, so add this into your CSS:

#world div {
	transform-style: preserve-3d;
	-webkit-transform-style: preserve-3d;
	-moz-transform-style: preserve-3d;    
	-o-transform-style: preserve-3d;    

4. Making the 3D effect work

CSS 3D Clouds Step 4

This section is essentially “make the layers point at the camera”. You still want them projected into the same locations, but you want them to always face the camera, giving you that sense of “volume” effect.

Vendor Transforms and Update()

First, here’s all the vendor transforms:

layer.style.transform = t;
layer.style.webkitTransform = t;
layer.style.MozTransform = t;
layer.style.oTransform = t;

Now, you also need to call this update manually once right before the end of your script. So right before the closing script tag, make sure you call this:


Render Loop

Finally, even if you do this, you’ll notice that your layers still don’t point at the camera. You need to add in a function that loops and updates the layers in the #viewport at regular intervals. You could add a call to the update function inside your mouse move event, but we’ll need the loop to get the rotation to work in the next step, so it’s better if you just do this now.

(function() {
	var lastTime = 0;
	var vendors = ['ms', 'moz', 'webkit', 'o'];
	for(var x = 0; x < vendors.length && !window.requestAnimationFrame; ++x) {
		window.requestAnimationFrame = window[vendors[x]+'RequestAnimationFrame'];
		window.cancelRequestAnimationFrame = window[vendors[x]+
	if (!window.requestAnimationFrame)
		window.requestAnimationFrame = function(callback, element) {
			var currTime = new Date().getTime();
			var timeToCall = Math.max(0, 16 - (currTime - lastTime));
			var id = window.setTimeout(function() { callback(currTime + timeToCall); }, 
			lastTime = currTime + timeToCall;
			return id;
	if (!window.cancelAnimationFrame)
		window.cancelAnimationFrame = function(id) {

Lets break this down. I discovered that this function is a polyfill for the browser animation spec here one Paul Irish’s awesome blog http://paulirish.com/2011/requestanimationframe-for-smart-animating/. Previously, when you would animate something, you would set a timer, and every few milliseconds go and update move something from point A to point B on the screen with a small increment. In order to get smoother animations, the browsers are starting to support this requestAnimationFrame function that allows several changes to be made, and update everything with a single reflow / redraw of the screen. This becomes especially handy when you are updating multiple elements on the screen and you want a clean responsive display. It also means that the browser can stop animating when you switch tabs, which means that you don’t eat up battery when someone isn’t looking at your page :)

All you really need to know is that this creates a function on the javascript window object that tells the browser to “please render an animation frame, and call back to this function when you are done and ready to render the next frame”.

5. Final words

CSS 3D Clouds Step 5

Subtle Rotating

Not mentioned, but if you want the clouds to slowly rotate like the demo, you need to add in the rotate z component into the transform update of your layers like so:

'rotateZ( ' + layer.data.a + 'deg ) /

And, you need to add in a speed property into your cloud layers when you create them:

speed: .2 * Math.random() - .1

Adding Cloud Images

Instead of this:

var cloud = document.createElement( 'div' );

Use this (or find your own cloud .png, it should be transparent to work properly)

var cloud = document.createElement( 'img' );
cloud.style.opacity = 0;
var src = 'http://www.clicktorelease.com/tutorials/css3dclouds/cloud.png';
( function( img ) { 
	img.addEventListener( 'load', function() {
		img.style.opacity = .8;
	} )
 } )( cloud );
cloud.setAttribute( 'src', src );

And finally to remove all the debug styles remove the following lines out of your CSS:

From #world remove:

background-color: rgba(255, 0, 0, .2);

From .cloudBase remove:

background-color: rgba( 255, 0, 255, .5 );

From .cloudLayer remove:

background-color: rgba( 0, 255, 255, .1 );

That should cover it! Now go make some happy clouds.


Everything here was completely taken from the Click To Release CSS 3D Clouds tutorial and expanded to include the missing parts.

How to use PhoneGap API + iOS, Android

Last blog post I showed how to use PhoneGap’s API with Windows Phone 7. For this blog post, I will use the same web files (HTML and Javascript files) and create an iOS and Android application.

How to setup dev environment?
First thing to get started is visit PhoneGap’s website where they have instructions on how to setup your environment to create an iOS and Android app with PhoneGap. Just select your platform and the instructions will update update on the page for that environment.

After you have your iOS and Android environment setup using Xcode and Eclipse, copy the web files into the “www” folder for each project. Below is a screen shot of the project navigator or package explorer inside Xcode and Eclipse.

Package Explorer in Eclipse for Android Project Navigator in Xcode for iOS

Since I’m reusing the web files, all the code is exactly the same across the Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7 app. So, I’ll just show a few of the pages/screens in the iPhone simulator and Android simulator.

Device Screen (Android) Device Screen (iPhone)
Notification Screen (Android) Notification Screen (iPhone)

Click here to download the iOS example project.
Click here to download the Android example project.

How to use PhoneGap to port quickly your web app to a native iOS and Android device

This blog post will show how to take a web site written only in HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript and quickly develop an iOS and Android mobile application. In order to do this, I will use Adobe PhoneGap, a mobile web frame to build cross-platform mobile applications. As mentioned in my previous blog post, PhoneGap is an HTML5 app platform that allows you to author native applications with web technologies. Even though my blog post will only show how to develop an iOS and Android application, PhoneGap also supports developing BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Phone 7, Palm devices, etc. In a nutshell, you’ll be using a PhoneGap wrapper that contains your web-based HTML, CSS and JavaScript code. Also, you will gain access to many of the device’s native features such as the compass, camera, the contacts list, accelerometer, etc.

PhoneGap introduced last year PhoneGap Build which offers a cloud-based service that takes your app written in HTML5, CSSe and Javascript and sends you back app-store ready apps for iOS, Android, Palm, Symbian and the other mobile platforms. Check out pricing and other details on their web site.

Below is a general process involved in getting setup using PhoneGap and developing an application:

1. PhoneGap has a great Getting Started tutorial for all the mobile platforms. Download the PhoneGap tools and the specific set of tools for the platforms you’re working with. For example, download Xcode and iOS SDK if you plan on porting your web site to an iOS application. Download the Android SDK and Eclipse if you plan on making an Android application.

2. Install all the platform tools and PhoneGap to your existing environment.

3. Start developing your web application and test with a web browser of your choice. I normally use Visual Studio to write my web application and test it using Safari, Chrome or any webkit supported browser. Since these are the types of browsers on smartphones. I would take advantage of Visual Studio’s IDE in debugging my javascript code or Web Inspector in Safari or the dev tools found in FireFox or Chrome.

4. Once you’re ready to port it to a mobile application, you will put all your web files within the www folder. For Xcode, all you need to do is create a new project using the PhoneGap template. Once the project is created, immediately compile the project. Once the project is done building, a www folder will be created in your project folder. Add the www folder into the project navigator. This is where you will house all your web files (HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript files). Run your project and you should see your web page displayed in the iPhone or iPad simulator.

5. For Android, install Android SDK, Eclipse and then the Android plug-in for Eclipse. Create an Android project in Eclipse and follow these steps to modify the project to support PhoneGap. Then run the project and select an Android Virtual Device (AVD) to use as the emulator to display your application.

6. Steps 4 and 5 can be done for you using PhoneGap Build. Just upload your web application files using their Cloud service and they will send you back app-store ready packaged files for the mobile platforms they support.

7. A noteworthy caveat is you will have to tweak some of your web language code depending on which mobile platform you choose. Not all mobile devices are similar in hardware but PhoneGap does an excellent job in pointing out issues through their API Docs section on their web site.

For step 5, here are some links to great tutorials on how to Get Started in developing for Android:
1. Getting Started With Android Development Using Eclipse
2. Getting Started with Android on a Mac
3. Running Android SDK Examples Using Eclipse

So below is a web page example written only in HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript. The HTML consists of an input element and a button. Using JavaScript, it dynamically shows in an unordered list the input values you submit. If you click any of the list items in the unordered list, it will make a call using the Twitter Search API and return the latest tweet with that keyword as an input parameter.

HTML elements:

- (void) prepareForSegue:(UIStoryboardSegue *)segue sender:(id)sender
	<div id="main">
        <h1>Search Twitter</h1>
        <form id="foodForm">
            <input type="text" id="foodName" placeholder="keyword" />
            <button id="submitFood">Tell Us!</button><br>
        <ul id="foodList">

JavaScript code event handler when DOM is loaded:

- (void) prepareForSegue:(UIStoryboardSegue *)segue sender:(id)sender
    document.addEventListener("DOMContentLoaded", function () {
            //navigator.notification.alert("I think today will be a great day.", function() {}, "Great Day");
            // uncomment below code to clear items in LocalStorage
            // <ul> instance variable
            var foodList = document.getElementById('foodList');
            // textbox instance variable
            var foodField = document.getElementById('foodName');

            // length of food items in localStorage
            var l = window.localStorage.length;
            var i = 0;
            var storedFoodName;

            // add food item to <li> child
            function addNewFoodItem(foodName) {
                var newFoodItem = document.createElement('li');
                newFoodItem.innerHTML = foodName;

            // loops through localStorage for food items and calls addNewFoodItem function
            for (i; i < l; i++) {
                storedFoodName = window.localStorage.key(i);
                if (storedFoodName.match(/^food[.]/))

Javascript code that gets handled when the button is clicked:

document.getElementById('foodForm').addEventListener('submit', function (evt) {
                var newFood = foodField.value;

                // creates a foodKey value with food.[length]
                var foodKey = "food." + (window.localStorage.length + 1);
                // calls addNewFoodItem function
                // saves foodKey and input food to localStorage
                window.localStorage.setItem(foodKey, newFood);

                // clears foodFied variable
                foodField.value = "";
                return false;

            }, false);

Javascript code that calls the Twitter Search API remote service using the XMLHttpRequest object and parses the JSON data returned. It displays the latest tweet in a notification alert after you click on the ListItem in the unordered list.

// callback function to get the latest tweet
        function getLatestResult(JSONstring) {
            var twitterPayload = JSON.parse(JSONstring);
            var latestResult = twitterPayload.results[0];

            return latestResult;

        // performs a get request for url
        // passes the response text to callback
        function getXHR(url, callback) {
            var req = new XMLHttpRequest();
            req.onreadystatechange = function () {
                if (this.readyState == 4) {
                    if (this.status == 200 || this.status == 0) {
                    } else {
                        console.log('something went wrong');
            req.open('GET', url, true);

        // event handler for the clicks on <li> elements using event delegation to catch all of these events.
        // We listen on the document element, and then, if the target of the event matches one of our list items, 
        // fires the event handler
        document.addEventListener("click", function (evt) {
            if (evt.target.tagName == 'LI') {
                // gets the selected <li> element
                var foodSubject = evt.target.innerHTML;
                var foodSearch = encodeURIComponent(foodSubject);
                // generates twitterURL for Twitter Search API
                var twitterUrl = 'http://search.twitter.com/search.json?q=' + foodSearch;

                // calls getXHR function to get latest tweet of selected <li> element 
                // then calls callback function to pop-up an alert msg with latest tweet
                getXHR(twitterUrl, function (response) {
                    var latestTweet = getLatestResult(response);
                    var msg = 'Latest Tweet about ' + foodSubject + ' from ' + latestTweet.from_user + ': ' + latestTweet.text;
                    //navigator.notification.alert("PhoneGap is working")

        }, false);

Project Navigator in Xcode

Project Navigator in Xcode for PhoneGap project

iPhone Simulator of Search Twitter

iPhone emulator of PhoneGap application

Project Explorer in Eclipse

Project Explorer of Android project in Eclipse. Notice the /assets/www folder and /libs folder with PhoneGap related web files

Android Virtual Device

Android Virtual Device running the web page

PhoneGap is good at helping developers leverage their experience at building web applications using web standards, HTML, CSS and JavaScript. If you know web standards, you’ll experience few problems while working with PhoneGap. All you need to learn is how to use the PhoneGap API. Once you become familiar with the PhoneGap API, you can quickly take advantage of accessing the device’s camera, pull up the contacts or work with the accelerometer or compass.

As the web site example above shows, if you need to connect your application with a remote web service, you can easily bring in tools like jQuery to create powerful Ajax handlers. Or as I demonstrate in how to use XmlHttpRequest objects.

As I pointed out in step 7 above, just because you code a web application using PhoneGap and it works on an iPhone device, it doesn’t automatically mean that it will work on other devices. You will have to test and tweak for the other devices that are supported.

If you want to port to multiple devices, you will need separate environments for each wrapper. For example, you won’t be able to maintain your Android PhoneGap wrapper with Xcode. I used my Mac and have installed Xcode and Eclipse but I make sure I keep them in separate environments.

The Real-Time Web With SignalR

Today for RECESS I looked into SignalR.  The SignalR site (which currently is just the github repository) describes it as an “async signaling library for ASP.NET to help build real-time, multi-user interactive web applications.”  What does this mean to you and me?  This library allows you, in just a few lines of code, communicate in real-time amongst browsers that are hitting your site.

Scott Hanselman does a good job of summarizing what SignalR does and how we got here, so I won’t repeat it here.

I followed the super quick sample – a browser based chat application as described Scott’s post.  I ran out of time before I could get the lower level connection working, but the higher level “Hub” based connection works great.

It’s super cool to see it working – I have 3 different browsers (IE, Chrome, Firefox) in the chat together.  When I enter a chat message in one, the other two receive the message instantaneously.

    $("#broadcast").click(function () {
      // send() is the method on the ASP.NET Hub class running on the server

The use of dynamic objects in the ASP.NET implementation of the Hub allows me to call any method on the Hub, as long as that function exists in the client side JavaScript.

    public class Chat : Hub
        public void Send( string message )
            // addMessage is a client side javascript function

Here’s a couple shots of IE Developer Tools (F12) when running the chat client.

Waiting for a response on the first call to signalr/connect:


Got the response from the first connect (a message was broadcast to all the clients), now turn right around and connect to wait for the next “reply” from the server: