eTech & Art & More

Web3D RoundUP Manages Chaos

by Ben Wyrick

Take 30 of the choicest Web 3-D developers and corral them into West Hall B at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Hand out ping-pong cannons to a posse of hundreds of the meanest tech-savvy hombres this side of the digital divide. Now you've got yourself a Web3D RoundUP, partner.

The developers vie for the coveted Golden Lasso award, delivering demos of their company's product during a timed session ranging from one to three minutes. Seated on risers at the front of the hall, would-be award recipients endure the crowd's critique, which ranges from lynch-mob mentality to exuberant acceptance.

And it's not a purely academic critique. Audience members are armed with noisemakers: cow cylinders which "moo!", signaling a "boo!", and plastic yellow smiley face sticks which signal "hurray!". Ping-pong ball handguns are distributed for the purpose of penalizing the presenters when they run over the time limit, which is projected on the big screen. Pipe-cleaners are also made available, for no other discernable purpose than to fashion silly hats. (And the smiley faces also blow bubbles.)

It's an understatement to say the Web3D RoundUP is one of SIGGRAPH's most interactive Special Sessions.

Now in its sixth year as an official SIGGRAPH event, the RoundUP's ringleader and head wrangler is Timothy Childs, who applauds Web3D's "unstoppable evolution."

The RoundUP grew from an informal gathering of VRML devotees in 1995 to an official SIGGRAPH three screen circus where demonstrators hunch behind flatscreen monitors to escape the inevitable pelting.

Sponsored by primary donor WildTangent, Discreet, and Intel (who provided the computers), Web3D RoundUP is a non-serious revue of some serious products.

All of the tools demonstrated facilitate the creation of interactive 3-D images on the Web. It's important to keep in mind that these products are not offline, go-out-to-lunch-while-you-render packages. They are remarkable in their ability to whittle down big files to modem-friendly sizes.

Some examples from the RoundUP:

* Geometrix offers a package which uses standard CCD cameras to make a 3-D facial model which can then be fitted with virtual eyeglasses, a product which will appeal to opticians

* Keyhole runs a 10 Terrabyte server which displays detailed, scalable satellite imagery over the Web: "We can see Britney Spears's house if you want ... she's in the jacuzzi!"

* Discreet has created a tool which interfaces with Director and 3D Studio MAX to allow skinning and rigid body dynamics on the Web

* Viewpoint's brainchild is a product which overlays images over a static flat webpage, allows them to be zoomable without loss of detail, and to extend beyond the bounds of the application window

Meanwhile, products come and go, judged almost instantly by ruthless techies. Like the "ball boys" at Wimbledon, Student Volunteers dash about collecting ping-pong balls after they've been fired, returning them to the audience for another volley.

After 90 minutes of demos in which the speakers hawk their wares like auctioneers, the RoundUP proper is over. Participants are faced with the task of voting for their favorite product on ballot cards. But the weighty decision is quickly made, since there's a post-RoundUP party at the nearby Hotel Figueroa.


Web3d Consortium

The Web3d consortium was created in 1996 to coordinate the evolution of the VRML technology which evolved into Web3D.

Check out the website


The very first precursor to the RoundUP was an barely organized collection of demos at the end of the first SIGGRAPH VRML course in 1995.


This page is maintained by YON - Jan C. Hardenbergh All photos you see in the 2001 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY