3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 82: VRML to Web 3D Continued
Lesson 82 - VRML to Web 3D Continued- Part 1
In our previous column, we sought to understand the current situation in 3D development for the Internet by taking the story of VRML from it's promising (if unrealistic) origins through its seeming collapse in the middle and latter part of 1998. We left our hero in dire straights, abandoned by all major commercial interests. The vast majority of its warmest supporters had given up hopes for 3D on the Web, and with good reason. If VRML, with the backing of Silicon Graphics Inc. and a large group of enthusiastic developers worldwide, couldn't make it--what could?
There's always a great deal of fiction in history (and journalism). Human affairs are a chaos of interdependent strands, and any attempt to extract a coherent story can be artificial and necessarily reflects personal biases. But, with that warning, this reporter will attempt to describe the emerging situation.
With SGI out of the picture, and no corporate protector to guide or control VRML, the only organizational influence rested with the VRML Consortium, the body charged with responsibility for the VRML standard. Acknowledging that VRML had been widely discredited, the VRML Consortium changed its name to Web3D Consortium, and over this past year it developed a long-range plan. The Web3D Consortium, consisting now of interested large corporations (like Panasonic and Sony), committed VRML die-hards, and fresh-thinking new companies, was willing to face the collapse of VRML head-on and assess what had gone wrong. The single biggest conclusion was that VRML 97, the existing standard, was too big. It contained too much and was too expensive to implement. Its size also limited its flexibility. A new generation of VRML was contemplated that would be lean and mean.
In the spirit of cutting loose from the past, the new standard was christened "X3D" (instead of anything VRML). The plan, as best I can make it out, is to launch the new standard over the next year. I say "over" because the structure of X3D is premised on a basic "core", expanded with "extensions" and "profiles." The stewards of VRML came to the very legitimate conclusion that a viable standard for Web 3D must be componentized. Some basic and essential functionality would be required for all purposes, and could be gathered into a lightweight core. Additional functionality could then be added as needed. This approach would be flexible and readily expandable, while establishing some basic foundation. A simple X3D player application, implementing only the core functionality, should be inexpensive to build and small in size. So small (it would be hoped)that the player application could be downloaded along with the content.
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Created: Dec. 24, 1999
Revised: Dec. 24, 1999