 by Daniel Phillips

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Rotation matrices can be built by combining basic rotations in X, Y and Z (see Wikipedia), but it’s also possible to describe them by setting values in the matrix directly. I’ve recently found this useful as a quick way to create a matrix to convert from a space where the X and Y axes are flipped.

A rotation matrix can be built using three orthogonal vectors which define the original orientation of the X, Y and Z axes in the new coordinate space.

$$R = \begin{bmatrix} A_x & B_x & C_x & 0 \\ A_y & B_y & C_y & 0 \\ A_z & B_z & C_z & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix}$$ where $$A$$, $$B$$ and $$C$$ are unit vectors.

For the identity matrix (and hence no rotation), $$A = \begin{pmatrix} 1 & 0 & 0 \end{pmatrix}$$, $$B = \begin{pmatrix} 0 & 1 & 0 \end{pmatrix}$$ and $$C = \begin{pmatrix} 0 & 0 & 1 \end{pmatrix}$$.

# An Example

This only made sense to me after trying a few examples.

Rotating 90 degrees around the X axis results in an orientation where:

• $$X_{orig}$$ is the original orientation of the X axis. $$X_{orig}$$ is equivalent to X because rotation was around the X axis. $$X_{orig} = \begin{pmatrix} 1 & 0 & 0 \end{pmatrix}$$
• $$Y_{orig}$$ is the original orientation of the Y axis. It is now pointing along the new Z axis. $$Y_{orig} = \begin{pmatrix} 0 & 0 & 1 \end{pmatrix}$$
• $$Z_{orig}$$ is the original orientation of the Z axis. It is now pointing along the negative Y axis. $$Z_{orig} = \begin{pmatrix} 0 & -1 & 0 \end{pmatrix}$$

Putting these three vectors into the matrix above gives the following rotation matrix: $$R = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & -1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix}$$

To verify this, here’s the general matrix for rotation around X, where $$\theta$$ is the rotation angle: $$R_x(\theta) = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & \cos \theta & -\sin \theta \\ 0 & \sin \theta & \cos \theta \end{bmatrix}$$

Setting $$\theta = 90°$$ gives: $$R = \begin{bmatrix} 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & -1 & 0 \\ 0 & 1 & 0 & 0 \\ 0 & 0 & 0 & 1 \end{bmatrix}$$

Which is the same matrix that we originally created.