3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 50: VRML--Platinum Speaks
Lesson 50 - VRML--Platinum Speaks - Part 1
Some readers may wonder why I devote so much attention to the ups and downs of VRML (the Virtual Reality Modeling Language), and I do indeed consider this subject extremely important. 3D graphics and animation matured commercially within the entertainment industry--first in motion pictures and later in broadcast television. The technology was so new and expensive that serious development could thrive only within the rich confines of Hollywood. This work was, and still is, pre-rendered animation. In other words, bitmap images are rendered for every frame, just like a virtual movie, and these finished images are then displayed in sequence to create the illusion of action. The results can be beautiful, but the viewer is wholly passive and has no way of interacting with the images or apparent space on the screen. Computer technology was used to make animated product, but is not inherently necessary to view it.
Then games broke onto the scene, and huge a audience became aware the power of real-time 3D. By "real-time" (and in contrast to "pre-rendered"), I mean that the user's computer renders the imagery on the spot, and continuously redraws it fast enough to create the illusion of movement. Because rendering occurs in real time, the user can control the scene or objects in it, which simply re-render instantly as they are moved and positioned. With enough processing power, the rendering process can occur at rates approaching 30 frames per second, which provides a satisfactory impression of "virtual reality."
In the games development world, there is a sharp division of labor between the programmers who design and implement the movement and interactivity and the graphic artists who build and texture the 3D models used in the game. This will likely continue to be the case for some time, because high-end games require real programming expertise that graphic artists are not likely to pick up. But real-time interactive 3D can and will be a much larger subject than games, and in my view, represents the largest single opportunity in the 3D world today.
VRML, for all its flaws, is the key to that opportunity for the vast majority of 3D practitioners seeking to exploit the brave new world of interactive 3D. It is a standard to which a great many dedicated people have committed time and effort, and for which considerable educational resources are available. The VRML browser has been (and will continue to be) free and easily obtainable through download. The opportunities for real-time 3D in the coming years will be outstanding, and those who want to get involved in this flow will find VRML to be only serious choice. The VRML developer is a true renaissance personality performing the tasks of both artist and programmer to create an interactive and animated experience.
The closing of Cosmo Software by Silicon Graphics Inc. a couple of months ago necessarily caused the entire interested VRML community to wonder whether the technology would survive. I opined at that time that only the entry of a very large commercial player could restore confidence, and suggested that Microsoft might be the only candidate. But, as we covered in the last column, Platinum Technologies has taken the reins of the VRML world through the acquisitions of Intervista and Cosmo Software. While Platinum is very well known in its core field of enterprise software and services for large corporate business, it is unknown to the large majority of people already involved in VRML, or in 3D or Web graphics generally.
In order to get to know this new giant on our landscape, I went to San Francisco to talk to the noted VRML pioneer, Tony Parisi.
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Created: Sept. 28, 1998
Revised: Sept. 28, 1998