I am looking for an algorithm that given two meshes could clip one using another.
The simplest form of this is clipping a mesh using a plane. I've already implemented that by following something similar to what is described here.
What it does is basically inspecting all mesh vertices and triangles with respect to the plane (the plane's normal and point are given). If the triangle is completely above the plane, it is left untouched. If it falls completely below the plane, it is discarded. If some of the edges of the triangle intersect with the plane, the intersecting points with the plane are calculated and added as the new vertices. Finally a cap is generated for the hole on the place the mesh was cut.
The problem is that the algorithm assumes that the plane is unlimited, therefore whatever is in its path is clipped. In the simplest form, I need an extension of this without the assumption of a plane of "infinite" size.
To clarify, imagine that we have a 3D model of a desk with 2 boxes on it. The boxes are adjacent (but not touching or stacked). The user will define a cutting plane of a limited width and height underneath the first box and performs the cut. We end up with a desk model (mesh) with a box on it and another box (mesh) that can be freely moved around/manipulated.
In the general form, I'd like the user to be able to define a bounding box for the box he/she wants to separate from the desk model and perform the cut using that bounding box.
If I could extend the algorithm I already have to an algorithm with limited-sized planes, that would be great for now.
Best How To :
What you're looking for are constructive solid geometry/boolean algorithms with arbitrary meshes. It's considerably more complex than slicing meshes by an infinite plane.
Among the earliest and simplest research in this area, and a good starting point, is Constructive Solid Geometry for Polyhedral Objects by Trumbore and Hughes.
From the original paper:
More elaborate solutions extend upon this subject with a variety of data structures.
The real complexity of the operation lies in the slicing algorithm to slice one triangle against another. The nightmare of implementing robust CSG lies in numerical precision. It's easy when you involve objects far more complex than a cube to run into cases where a slice is made just barely next to a vertex (at which point you have the tough decision of merging the new split vertex or not prior to carrying out more splits), where polygons are coplanar (or almost), etc.
So I suggest initially erring on the side of using very high-precision floating point numbers, possibly even higher than double precision to focus on getting something working correctly and robustly. You can optimize later (first pass should be to use an accelerator like an octree/kd-tree/bvh), but you'll avoid many headaches this way in your first iteration.
This is vastly simpler to implement at render time if you're focusing on a raytracer rather than a modeling software, e.g. With raytracers, all you have to do to do this kind of arbitrary clipping is pretend that an object used to subtract from another has its polygons flipped in the culling process, e.g. It's easy to solve robustly at the ray level, but quite a bit harder to do robustly at the geometric level.
Another thing you can do to make your life so much easier if you can afford it is to voxelize your object, find subtractions/additions/unions of voxels, and then translate the voxels back into a mesh. This is so much easier to make robust, but harder to do efficiently and the voxel->polygon conversion can get quite involved if you want better results than what marching cubes provide.
It's a really tough area to do extremely well and requires perseverance, and thus the reason for the existence of things like this: http://carve-csg.com/about.