The Mandelwat Set
_{March 05, 2017}If you’ve never seen the Mandelbrot set, do me and also yourself a favor and watch some amount of time of one or two of these videos real quick.
I know, right? What is that thing.
I wanted to learn about the Mandelbrot set. I thought, that’s a neat thing! I wonder how I could make one. Turns out it’s not that hard, really, but you have to understand the math and also what it is, and those things are pretty hard, at least for me, because I am not great at math even though I love it and also the Mandlebrot set is a fractal and fractals are bonkers.
I thought, “Hey, I’m a Web Developer^{TM} I should use JavaScript for this because JavaScript is the best lol!” And so here we are.
I’m going to jump right in and try to explain it practically, but if you feel a little lost or want something reinforced, jump down to the references at the bottom for some good resources and videos to watch!
So before I can draw a Mandlebrot set, I have to have something to draw on! In
html5 land, that thing is a <canvas>
That looks like this:
<canvas></canvas>
Here, let me put a border on it so you can see where it is:
<canvas style="border: 1px solid black;"></canvas>
By default, the dimensions of a canvas element will be 150 pixels tall by 300 pixels wide. This is a funny size, and I’m not sure why it’s the default, but in any case you’re almost always going to want to set the width and height yourself. You can do this with either with CSS, programatically in JS land, or as attributes directly on the canvas element. Since there are issues with using CSS for this, and because I don’t intend to resize the canvas dynamically in the JS code, I’ll just set the attributes directly.
<canvas style="border: 1px solid black;" width="200px" height="200px"></canvas>
Now we just need to slap an id
in there and we can grab it from the JavaScriptville.
<canvas id="ex0" style="border: 1px solid black;" width="200px" height="200px"></canvas>
That’s it from the HTML side. All the rest of the canvases will look the same except with incrementing ids!
You can do many wonderful things on a canvas! First you need to grab a reference to the thing:
var canvas = document.getElementById("ex1");
And then instantiate a context for drawing on it. For now, we’re just going
to stick with a basic CanvasRenderingContext2D
, which can be fetched with a
call like this:
var context = canvas.getContext("2d");
From there, there are a lot of methods you can call on the
context
to affect the canvas itself. In the following example, notice that we access
the canvas’s width
and height
attributes to know how big a rectangle to
draw! This is a common pattern, and it will be important later on. Right now
I’m just drawing a rectangle to fill the whole canvas though. Also I’m using a
random color
function I found for another post.
To run this example, press this button labeled “Run”, right here: .
context.beginPath();
context.rect(0, 0, canvas.width, canvas.height);
context.fillStyle = randColor();
context.fill();
You can also do other things! Like drawing lines:
context.lineWidth = 35;
context.strokeStyle = randColor();
context.beginPath();
context.moveTo(canvas.width/2, 0);
context.lineTo(canvas.width/2, canvas.height);
context.stroke();
context.beginPath();
context.moveTo(0, canvas.height/2);
context.lineTo(canvas.width, canvas.height/2);
context.stroke();
So, let’s look a little closer at those lines.
context.lineWidth = 5;
context.strokeStyle = randColor();
context.beginPath();
context.moveTo(50, 20);
context.lineTo(120, 150);
context.stroke();
Those numbers that I’m passing to moveTo
and lineTo
are x and y values,
sort of, but they’re indexed from the upper left corner. if they exceed the
width or height of the canvas, they’ll just go straight off the side!
context.lineWidth = 5;
context.strokeStyle = randColor();
context.beginPath();
context.moveTo(50, 100);
context.lineTo(1200, 1000);
context.stroke();
So, clearly, I have to account for the size of the canvas myself it’s not really designed to do that for me. Just keep that in mind!
It seems like this is really how you’re supposed to interact with the canvas… it’s definitely hinted at by the name, you draw strokes and shapes on it to achieve a final result.
I am interested in a lower lever api than these drawn lines and
shapes, though. How can I achieve granular control over each pixel? We can
interact directly with the pixels in a canvas by using a representation called
ImageData
.
Calling createImageData(height, width)
on a CanvasRenderingContext2d
will
return an ImageData object that contains three things:
context.createImageData(10, 10)
// ImageData { data: Uint8ClampedArray[400], width: 10, height: 10 }
There is the width
and height
that I expected to see. What is the other
thing? It’s just a 1dimensional array of bytes! 10 x 10 = 100, it seems like a
10 x 10 ImageData should contain 100 items since it represents 100 pixels, but
it contains 400, because each pixel is represented by 4 bytes, one each for
red, green, blue, and alpha (transparency) channels.
Uint8ClampedArray
ensures that any value inside of itself is an integer between 0 and 255,
simulating the hard type of a single byte. This is important because javascript
doesn’t otherwise have any sense of integer types, and internally represents
all numerical values as 64 bit floats.
You might expect a 2d array here, like this:
[
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p],
[p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p, p]
]
Where p
is a some sort of pixel object that can be address by attribute like:
p.r = 255;
p.g = 0;
p.b = 0;
p.a = 0;
But this is lower level than that. It is literally just a one dimensional array! Let’s play with it though. This example simply fills all the channels for all the pixels with a random value. You’ll notice that it looks a little pastel, since on average there will be some transparency applied to each pixel.
var imageData = context.createImageData(canvas.width, canvas.height);
for (var i = 0; i < imageData.data.length; i += 1) {
imageData.data[i] = Math.random() * 255;
}
context.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0); // 0, 0 is the offset to start putting the imageDate into the actual canvas. I won't use any other values for that in this article..
Of course, to be useful we need to look at each pixel’s 4 values as a chunk and change them accordingly. Here’s a simple little for loop that will do that! This example simply turns every pixel blue with no transparency.
var imageData = context.createImageData(canvas.width, canvas.height);
for (var i = 0; i < canvas.width * canvas.height * 4; i += 4) {
imageData.data[i] = 255; // red channel
imageData.data[i + 1] = 0; // blue channel
imageData.data[i + 2] = 0; // green channel
imageData.data[i + 3] = 255; // alpha channel
}
context.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0);
Here’s a small exercise I just thought of. How would one make a widget that uses the ImageData technique above to create a randomly colored background? How about one that allows user input for the RGBA values? A canvas that maps mouse position to the color of the canvas and changes it as you move it around? These are just some ideas. You wouldn’t have to use ImageData exclusively, of course, there are easier ways to simply change the background color.
It is a minor inconvenience to have to address the pixel values linearly like this, what I’d really like to be able to do is address coordinates inside the canvas. I can remedy this problem with a little bit of math and a helper function!
indexToCoord
takes an index value and then computes the x and y pixel offsets
for that index in that imageData object. Note that canvas
must be in scope
and a valid canvas for this to work! I will address that more thoroughly
later.
var indexToCoord = function(index) {
// first, we'll divide by 4 to get an absolute pixel. This number
// represents the pixel location where 0 is the upper left and the highest
// index is in the lower right.
index = Math.floor(index / 4);
// now we'll make a little coordinate object that has two attributes: x and y
coord = {
// x is the modulo of the index and the width of the canvas.
x: index % canvas.width,
// y is the floored index divided by the canvas width.
y: Math.floor(index / canvas.width)
}
// returning that coordinate will let us use it later on
return coord;
}
So now, let’s say I have a 10x10 canvas. (That’s a very small canvas, but lol I
guess) and I want to address the pixel marked below with an @
.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . @ . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
An ImageData object for this size of 10x10 would contain 400 byte values, and
the 4 bytes associated with that pixel would be at indices 132136. This is
pretty straight forward, but if I put it through the indexToCoord()
function,
I get something a little more palatable!
{ x: 3, y: 3 }
This tells me a lot more about that pixel’s location.
We’re almost there. I want to be able to use coordinates on a coordinate plane, this is still 0 indexed from the top and left. Also, I want to decouple the coordinate from the pixels themselves and simply be able to scale it to whatever range I want. That scaling value is going to be an “r” value.
Let’s say that I want the coordinate plane to go from 2 to 2 on both axes. (Just, you know, for example.)
var indexToCoord = function(index) {
index = Math.floor(index / 4);
var r = 4;
coord = {
x: index % 10,
y: Math.floor(index / 10)
}
// coord * 4 (which is the distance from 2 to 2) divided by the axis in pixels.
// this gives us a value between 0 and 4 that is equal to the coordinate
// pixel from earlier.
coord.x = ((coord.x * r / canvas.height)  r/2);
// the y value needs its sign flipped since the positive side is above the origin.
coord.y = ((coord.y * r / canvas.width)  r/2) * 1 ;
return coord;
}
Let’s also assume we have a much larger canvas! 10 x 10 is not very interesting. 200 x 200, as before, gives us an ImageData object that has 160,000 bytes in it! Again, that’s 200 * 200 = 40,000 * 4 = 160,000. Quite a lot.
So we have a way to turn an index into a coordinate that can be scaled according to what you’re trying to see! Given a canvas of 200 x 200, and a scale of 2 to 2, then, yields something very close to what you’d expect:
indexToCoord(0); // { x: 2, y: 2 }
indexToCoord(159999); // { x: 1.98, y: 1.98 }
indexToCoord(132987); // { x: 1.08, y: 1.3199999999999998 }
indexToCoord(54)); // { x: 1.74, y: 2 }
This is just begging to be abstracted, so that’s what I’m going to do.
First, the constructor will take one thing, a string that represents the canvas
id in the dom! It will assign both canvas
and context
as private variables.
We’re also going to go ahead and allocate an ImageData
object for this graph
that we can reuse.
function Graph(canvasId) {
var canvas = document.getElementById(canvasId);
var ctx = canvas.getContext("2d");
var imageData = ctx.createImageData(canvas.width, canvas.height);
}
Next we’ll add that indexToCoord
method. I’ve put the r
value and the
center
value as attributes on the object so that I can manipulate them from
outside, and I’ve added an aspect ratio to scale the coordinates correctly in
case the canvas is not 1:1.
If I were writing a real graphing library or something, I would want that to be settable as well, but this is a stepping stone to the Mandelbrot rendering, which will always be 1:1.
function Graph(canvasId) {
var canvas = document.getElementById(canvasId);
var ctx = canvas.getContext("2d");
var imageData = ctx.createImageData(canvas.width, canvas.height);
var aspectRatio = canvas.height / canvas.width
this.r = 4
this.center = {
x: 0,
y: 0
};
var indexToCoord = function(index) {
index /= 4;
coord = {
x: index % canvas.width,
y: Math.floor(index / canvas.width)
}
coord.x = (((coord.x * this.r / canvas.width)  this.r / 2) + (this.center.x * aspectRatio)) / aspectRatio;
coord.y = ((((coord.y * this.r / canvas.height)  this.r / 2) * 1) + this.center.y);
return coord;
}.bind(this)
this.render = function() {
var imageData = context.createImageData(canvas.width, canvas.height);
for (var i = 0; i < imageData.data.length; i += 1) {
imageData.data[i] = Math.random() * 255;
}
context.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0);
}
}
I’ve also added the rgb noise example as the render function for this object.
Now we can interact with a canvas something like this:
var graph = new Graph("canvasid")
graph.render()
Each pixel, now, can be viewed as a single discrete coordinate on a plane that can be centered anywhere in the two dimensional plane and scaled up or down depending on what you want to see!
Before packing away this abstraction and explaining sets, I want to add one
more thing. This render function above just randomly sets all the pixel values,
but of course I want more control than that. I will change the render()
method to accept a predicate function, instead:
this.render = function(predicate) {
for (var i = 0; i < canvas.width * canvas.height * 4; i += 4) {
set = predicate(indexToCoord(i)) ? 255 : 0;
imageData.data[i] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 1] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 2] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 3] = set;
}
context.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0);
}
Now, for every pixel on a given Graph, the predicate is called on it’s
coordinate and returns whether or not it should be filled in with black or not.
The first three values per pixel are RGB values, and the last one is the
alpha
channel, which sets the transparency of the pixel. The higher it is,
the more opaque, so by setting it to its maximum value of 255
, we make the
pixel black.
From now on we’re going to interact with a Graph object for each canvas in the next section, like this!
var graph = new Graph("canvasid")
// the below is the default so we don't need to do it.
// graph.center = { x: 0, y: 0 }
graph.r = 500; // just for starters, sure.
graph.render(function(coord) {
// stuff stuff stuff
// return true or return false
})
Ok let’s play with it!
graph.render(function(coord) {
return (
coord.x == coord.y

coord.x * 2 == coord.y

coord.x * 3 == coord.y

coord.x * 4 == coord.y

coord.x * 5 == coord.y

coord.x * 6 == coord.y

coord.x * 40 == coord.y
)
});
Above we see a predicate function that basically says: “if the current pixel is on the line described by one of these equations, fill it in. If not, don’t!”
You’ll notice that some of the lines are not totally smooth, and instead are made up of dots or dashes. What you’re seeing is kind of sort of a version of the “screen door effect”. For each individual pixel in, say, this equation:
x * 2 = y
The pixel’s coordinate must match exactly with the output of the equation in order to qualify and be filled in. This means that when it’s even with a multiple of the size of the canvas, it’s much more likely to be filled!
If I were building a fully functional graphing library, I would have to deal with this issue (and many more!). But I’m not, so I won’t! This is adequate for now. Let’s talk about sets!
Sets wtf is a set
I’m not going to get into set theory because I don’t know really anything about it, but maybe it’s worth a mention? Wonder what would be a really good succinct but not wrong explanation of set theory…
Let’s say a set is pretty much what you think it is, then. How can we describe a set? We can have a set that is completely enumerated.
{ 1, 4, 397376, 89, 44 }
These are just some numbers. They don’t really have anything in common with
each other, I just typed some numbers. And so for any number x
that you can
dream up, x
will either be in this set, or not.
x 
Is in set? 

2  no 
20  no 
76  no 
88  no 
397376  yes 
100  no 
Hey actually, JavaScript has a syntax for exactly this!
var mySet = new Set([ 1, 4, 397376, 89, 44 ])
mySet.has(2) // false
mySet.has(20) // false
mySet.has(76) // false
mySet.has(88) // false
mySet.has(397376) // true
mySet.has(100) // false
Will this work??
graph.r = 4;
var myset = new set([
{ x:0, y:0 },
{ x:1, y:1 }
{ x:1, y:1 }
]);
graph.render(function(coord) {
return mySet.has(coord);
});
Hmm, no it will not. Because of JavaScript’s equality rules, objects are not compared to each other by value. To whit, these are falsy:
{} == {} // false
{} === {} // false
{ thing: 7 } == { thing: 7 } // false
{ thing: 7 } === { thing: 7 } // false
// etc...
Objects instead are equal if they are actually the same object, meaning the two sides of the double or triple equals refer to the same memory.
var thing1 = { whatever: "whatevar" };
thing1 == thing1 // true
thing1 === thing1 // true
var thing2 = thing1;
thing1 == thing2 // true
thing1 === thing2 // true
You get the idea. Now, I could write a deep checking set class for these coordinates, or build the coordinates into a real object that has a function that can do that, but I don’t really want to. Instead I’m going to talk about sets more generally!
So, you can have a set that is just a defined set of whatever, and write all the whatevers out, like the example above.. That works great! But what about something like this:
var mySet = { /* The set of all even integers */ }
Obviously, I can’t write that out! But I can check if an arbitrary number is a member of that set with a simple function.
var isInTheSetOfAllEvenIntegers = function(x) {
return x % 2 == 0;
}
Hey cool! This is like, a programaticalized way to test for set membership in that particular set of numbers.
// we're making the scale of the graph 20x20 here
graph.r = 20;
graph.render(function(coord) {
return coord.x % 2 == 0;
});
Now we’re getting somewhere! What about this one:
The set of all points whose x value is higher than 100 and whose y value is higher that 27;
// again, changing the scale of the graph.
graph.r = 500;
graph.render(function(coord) {
return (coord.x > 100 && coord.y > 27);
});
This is cool, then, I have a way of “graphing” sets! These sets are pretty boring though. But you know what’s not boring??
The Mandelbrot Set
Ok, The Mandelbrot set is:
The set of all complex numbers that remain bounded when iterated on the equation f_{c}(z) = z^{2} + c
Ok so real talk, there are like 3 or 4 things in that definition that I totally did not understand at all when I started this project. But I do now, and I’m going to explain them to you, one by one!
Let’s start with the equation.
f_{c}(z) = z^{2} + c
This part’s pretty easy. I have a function, and I feed it a number, and I get a number back.
function thinger(z) {
return Math.pow(z, 2) + c;
}
This is, of course, borked.
thinger(2);
ReferenceError: c is not defined
at thinger (/private/tmp/thinger.js:2:29)
at Object.<anonymous> (/private/tmp/thinger.js:5:13)
at Module._compile (module.js:570:32)
at Object.Module._extensions..js (module.js:579:10)
at Module.load (module.js:487:32)
at tryModuleLoad (module.js:446:12)
at Function.Module._load (module.js:438:3)
at Module.runMain (module.js:604:10)
at run (bootstrap_node.js:394:7)
at startup (bootstrap_node.js:149:9)
c
here must be defined. I will define it then!
function thinger(z, c) {
return Math.pow(z, 2) + c;
}
Cool cool. I can plug whatever in there now great.
thinger(4, 2);
thinger(40, 3);
thinger(4000, 3.32);
18
1603
16000003.32
Ok so now, what does ‘iterated on’ mean?
It means that I take the output of the function and feed it back into the same
function. The initial z
input is always 0.
function thinger(z, c) {
return thinger(Math.pow(z, 2) + c, c);
}
Obviously, this is also borked.
RangeError: Maximum call stack size exceeded
at Object.pow (native)
...
This is a recursive function with no base case. This is where the “bounded” part comes in. For a given input, this equation exhibits one of two behaviors under iteration. It can either stay bounded Or it can explode to infinity. This makes a little more sense if we see some output. I’ll add a counter that I’ll increment on each call just to give us a way to get out of the recursive loop.
function thinger(z, c, i) {
if (i > 10) {
return;
}
var next = Math.pow(z, 2) + c;
console.log(next);
return thinger(next, c, i += 1);
}
Now, we can see some interesting stuff.
thinger(0, 2, 0);
2
6
38
1446
2090918
4371938082726
1.9113842599189892e+25
3.653389789066062e+50
1.3347256950852164e+101
1.781492681120714e+202
Infinity
Exponents are no joke, and 2 decidedly does not remain bounded.
What about this one?
thinger(0, 1, 0);
Hmm…
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
0
1
But this one does! 1 is thus in the Mandelbrot set, and 2 is not.
Wait, though, we were talking about complex numbers. And the numbers 1 and 2 are not coordinates, they are integers. How do you make a 2 dimensional graph with one number?
These two questions answer each other!
The Mandelbrot set is not plotted on a Cartesian
plane,
where each point is represented as a pair of numbers <x, y>
. It’s plotted on
the complex plane. Where each
point is represented by a single complex number.
A complex number is an expression of the form x + yi
where x
and y
are
real numbers and i
is the unit
imaginary number. Though y
alone
is a real number, it is here the coefficient of i
, and so cannot be combined
with x
. On the complex plane, we plot x
(the “real” part of the complex
number) on the x axis and y
(the “imaginary” part of the complex number) on
the y axis. This took me a while to understand but it’s pretty simple really!
Here’s a Khan Academy
video
that explains it in more detail.
So the cartesian coordinate (1, 2)
would be represented on the complex plane as the
complex number 1 + 2i
.
So, remember, we wanted to feed complex numbers into that function, but we can’t because javascript doesn’t have a complex number type. There are, of course, 36 packages on npm that probably can do this, but I’m not going to use any of them, because reasons!
No but seriously. It’s just one application and I can do it by hand and that’s how we learn new things.
So, A complex number is made up of a real part and an imaginary part. Never the two shall meet. What if I wanted to add two complex numbers together?
(1 + 2i) + (3 + 5i) = 4 + 7i
Alright. But in JS, I could just keep track of these two parts separately.
realOne = 1;
imaginaryOne = 2;
realTwo = 3;
imaginaryTwo = 5;
console.log([realOne + realTwo, imaginaryOne + imaginaryTwo]
[4, 7]
Or 4 + 7i
.
I’m returning this as a tuple of two values. I could use objects, if I wanted…
first = {
real: 1,
imaginary: 2
};
second = {
real: 3,
imaginary: 5
};
console.log({
real: first.real + second.real,
imaginary: first.imaginary + second.imaginary
});
{ real: 4, imaginary: 7 }
Do you see it? Do you see how this is just dying to be made into a prototype that implements basic math over itself and stuff? Oh man, it really wants me to do that, but I’m not going to do it.
We also need to be able to multiply complex numbers, in order to square them.
What does that look like? It looks like algebra. Remember FOIL
? “First,
outer, inner, last.”
(1 + 2i) * (3 + 5i)
(1 * 3) + (1 * 5i) + (2i * 3) + (2i * 5i)
3 + 5i + 6i + 10i^{2}
3 + 11i + 10i^{2}
3 + 11i + 10(i * i)
3 + 11i + 10(1)
3 + 11i  10
7 + 11i
Remember that i
is actually the square root of 1, so i^{2} is…
1
!
So… let’s go back to our testing function from before! All I need to do is
replace z
and c
with “complex numbers” made up of zr
(z real), zi
(z
imaginary), cr
(c real), and ci
(c imaginary). I’ll keep that index var i
around
for now, as well, but I’m going to change it to iterations
for a little more clarity.
function thinger(zr, zi, cr, ci, iterations) {
if (iterations > 10) {
return;
}
var nextr = (zr * zr)  (zi * zi) + cr;
var nexti = ((zr * zi) *2) + ci
console.log([nextr, nexti]);
return thinger(nextr, nexti, cr, ci, iterations += 1);
}
Those nextr
and nexti
expressions are just what you get when you factor out
the real and imaginary operations from the FOIL
procedure from above.
So here’s the trick. Right now I’m sort of just, winging it with those iteration counts. But how do I really know if a point is not in the set?
If the sum of the squares of the real and imaginary parts of the complex number ever exceed 4, then that complex number is not in the Mandelbrot set.
That’s a little more useful!
function thinger(zr, zi, cr, ci, iterations) {
if (iterations > 20) {
return true;
}
var nextr = (zr * zr)  (zi * zi) + cr;
var nexti = ((zr * zi) *2) + ci
console.log([nextr, nexti]);
if (Math.pow(nextr, 2) + Math.pow(nexti, 2) > 4) {
return false;
}
return thinger(nextr, nexti, cr, ci, iterations += 1);
}
So what we have here… this is getting there. If the condition stated above is met, then the number is not in the set. BUT if we’ve reached some maximum iteration count, then as far as we know, the number is in the set. That’s going to be important later on!
It’s cute to have this be recursive and all, but it’s unnecessary. The formula
looks cleaner as a loop and is less computationally expensive. We can let that
state be internal and leave it out of the function signature. And as a matter
of fact, dropping the recursion means we don’t have to pass in the inital zr
and zi
, either. And what the hell, why don’t I change that name from
thinger
to something a little more descriptive…
function isMandlebrot(cr, ci) {
var zr = cr;
var zi = ci
for (var i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
if (zr**2 + zi**2 > 4) {
return false;
}
newzr = (zr * zr)  (zi * zi) + cr;
newzi = ((zr * zi) *2) + ci;
zr = newzr;
zi = newzi;
}
return true;
}
Ok so, remember those predicate functions from before? They took in a coord
with an x
value and a y
value? Doesn’t that look… suspiciously similar to
what we’ve got above?
function isMandlebrot(coord) {
var cr = coord.x;
var ci = coord.y;
var zr = cr;
var zi = ci;
for (var i = 0; i < 100; i++) {
if (zr**2 + zi**2 > 4) {
return false;
}
newzr = (zr * zr)  (zi * zi) + cr;
newzi = ((zr * zi) *2) + ci;
zr = newzr;
zi = newzi;
}
return true;
}
var graph = new Graph("ex12");
graph.render(isMandlebrot);
There it is. Our old friend. The Mandelbrot set.
Lol that looks like a fuzzy potato why is this cool
Yeah, it might look boring from where we’re sitting, but it’s totally not
Remember when I built that “Graph” object, I made both r
(the zoom factor)
and center
accessible. We can totally change where we’re looking at the graph
and rerender on the fly!
Small refactor
So at this point I am going to drop the more general Graph
abstraction and
just hardcode that object’s predicate as the Mandelbrot test. That… pretty
much looks like you would expect.
function Mandelbrot(canvasId) {
var canvas = document.getElementById(canvasId);
var ctx = canvas.getContext("2d");
var imageData = ctx.createImageData(canvas.width, canvas.height);
var aspectRatio = canvas.height / canvas.width
this.iterations = 200;
this.r = 4
this.center = {
x: 0,
y: 0
};
var indexToCoord = function(index) {
index /= 4;
coord = {
x: index % canvas.width,
y: Math.floor(index / canvas.width)
}
coord.x = (((coord.x * this.r / canvas.width)  this.r / 2) + (this.center.x * aspectRatio)) / aspectRatio;
coord.y = ((((coord.y * this.r / canvas.height)  this.r / 2) * 1) + this.center.y);
return coord;
}.bind(this)
var isMandlebrot = function(coord) {
var cr = coord.x
var ci = coord.y
var zr = coord.x
var zi = coord.y
var i;
for (i = 0; i < this.iterations; i++) {
if (zr**2 + zi**2 > 4) {
return false;
}
newzr = (zr * zr)  (zi * zi) + cr;
newzi = ((zr * zi) *2) + ci
zr = newzr
zi = newzi
}
return true;
}.bind(this);
this.render = function(predicate) {
for (var i = 0; i < canvas.width * canvas.height * 4; i += 4) {
set = predicate(indexToCoord(i)) ? 255 : 0;
imageData.data[i] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 1] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 2] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 3] = set;
}
ctx.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0);
}.bind(this)
}
Now, I can do something like this:
var mb = new Mandelbrot("ex14")
mb.render();
There’s one important change here! In the Mandelbrot
object above, you can
see that I’ve exposed another attribute. this.iterations
, and used it as a
maximum value in the for loop in the Mandelbrot function.
Why are iterations important? Well, the more iterations we use the more fine grained the Mandlebrot can be displayed. Look at this!
var mb = new MandelbrotOne("ex15")
var iterations = 1;
var x = 1;
setInterval(function(){
mb.iterations = iterations += x
if (iterations == 20) {
x = 1;
} else if (iterations == 0) {
x = 1;
}
mb.render();
}, 1000)
As the iterations cycle back and forth, you can see that the edges of the set get more definition. That could go on infinitely, though what you see above is about as high fidelity as we can get at that zoom level, since pixels have a definite size, small as they may seem.
Colors come out of the speakers
Let’s talk about those trippy ass colors you see on all the zooms on youtube.
Right now we’ve got a pretty simple true false test that tells us if a pixel is not in the set or if, as far as we know, it is. Every extra iteration increases the fidelity of that second category, as you can see in the doodad above. The thing is, we’re throwing away some information here We’re throwing away how many iterations it took us to figure out that a point was not in the set. This is really interesting information!
Currently, the render function uses the boolean value returned by
isMandlebrot
to decide whether or not to set the opacity
‘byte’ to either
255, or 0.
this.render = function() {
for (var i = 0; i < canvas.width * canvas.height * 4; i += 4) {
set = isMandlebrot(indexToCoord(i)) ? 255 : 0;
imageData.data[i] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 1] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 2] = 0;
imageData.data[i + 3] = set;
}
ctx.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0);
}.bind(this)
We can change isMandlebrot
to return a tuple instead, of two things: the
original boolean value and the iterations required to divine it.
var isMandlebrot = function(coord) {
var cr = coord.x
var ci = coord.y
var zr = coord.x
var zi = coord.y
var i;
for (i = 0; i < this.iterations; i++) {
if (zr**2 + zi**2 > 4) {
return [false, i];
}
newzr = (zr * zr)  (zi * zi) + cr;
newzi = ((zr * zi) *2) + ci
zr = newzr
zi = newzi
}
return [true, i];
}.bind(this);
Now, back in the render function, we can use that information to color the pixel according to it’s iteration score!
this.render = function() {
for (var i = 0; i < canvas.width * canvas.height * 4; i += 4) {
thing = isMandlebrot(indexToCoord(i))
set = thing[0] ? 0: (thing[1] / this.iterations) * 0xffffff;
imageData.data[i] = (set & 0xff0000) >> 16;
imageData.data[i + 1] = (set & 0x00ff00) >> 8;
imageData.data[i + 2] = set & 0x0000ff;
imageData.data[i + 3] = 255;
}
ctx.putImageData(imageData, 0, 0);
}.bind(this)
set
here is a value that I’m first normalizing between 0 and 1, then scaling to be between 0 and 16777215. Then I’m extracting RGB values in kind from it with some bit twiddling. Sorry I’m not explaining that more/better, I’m turning the iteration count into a color value is all!
This is drastically cooler looking.
var mb = new Mandelbrot("ex16")
mb.render();
Remember those little thingers from before? Look what they look like in color!!
Alright! This totally works and is beautiful! But, it’s slow. On the one hand of course it is, this is a lot of computation. But on the other hand… we can do better.
Way, way better.
So, I’ve made a little doodad that computes Mandelbrots on the gpu using WebGL. It lives here:
All of the illustrations above that aren’t example canvases were made with this tool. I’ve really enjoyed playing with it! You can even resize the canvas to download high resolution backgrounds as large as you want! Though of course the bigger they go, the slower they’ll run, but just give it a try and see what you can find.
I am not going to explain the code in the webgl widget just yet for a few reasons. First, I’m really happy with how the final product turned out, but the code is a wreck, organizationally! And anyway, most of it is boilerplate to get the webgl connected and up and running, and the parts that aren’t boilerplate aren’t substantially different from the code I’ve shown in vanilla javascript over the course of this post.
I hacked together this widget using
The author Greggman also maintains a library called twgl.js for making the WebGL api less verbose and I am definitely going to use it next time.
Íñigo Quílez, who created shadertoy, also practically has the market cornered on Mandelbrot renders. The link above served as both inspiration for this whole thing (wait… we can compute in realtime now?) and model while porting my js code over to webgl. I have that shader to thank for that incredible coloring function that I used as the base of mine; I’m still not entirely sure how it works.
A few caveats this isn’t really designed for mobile. UX wise it’s definitely not, but more importantly mobile platforms don’t seem to have the same caliber of graphics processing as a lap or desktop. This isn’t really a huge surprise; you might be able to get it to render something, but no promises.
Also, unfortunately, current GLSL only natively supports 32 bit floats for use on the gpu, so we run out of precision relatively quickly on the widget. You can barely see where the pixels become blockish at the highest zooms, but don’t be mistaken this is not the end of the set the set goes on forever. There are techniques to work around this and achieve a higher precision, but my mandelbrot bike shed doesn’t need another coat of paint before shipping. I’ll likely try to get around to that sometime, or just put it off until 64 bit floats are native to the platform!
References
Here are some things I found really helpful while working on this project.

This deep zoom video accompanied by Jonathan Coulton’s song “Mandelbrot Set”

This wikihow.com page (I know right? But it was helpful early on!)

This collection of interesting coordinates I used for testing.
Unfortunately the last one is probably the best but I haven’t been able to find it online anywhere. The one I saw was loaned to me by fellow fractal enthusiast and Etsian PaulJean Letourneau. Thanks PaulJean!
Also thanks to Julia Evans for talking me through some of the math early on and helping me with my complex number algebra that I kept messing up and which produced weird blobs on the canvas.
I hope this was interesting. I’m going to shut off my computer for the rest of the day now. I’ve been thinking of picking one day a week and not looking at any screens, or at least not staring at the computer screen for the whole day.