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Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000
ACM SIGGRAPH


Virtual Kelp Forest Exhibit



Don Brutzman
Naval Postgraduate School



Figure 1: The Kelp Forest Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an ambitious and accurate recreation of a signature ocean habitat that exists along many parts of the California coast.

Teaching 3D graphics courses usually includes a mix of theory and practice. However a large number of sophisticated geometry and programming concepts must be studied before students can produce visually interesting results. Demo projects that bring users through interesting animations are an excellent way to “pull” students through beginner and intermediate material. Our Virtual Kelp Forest Exhibit project showed how building group scenes serves as an excellent way to teach and present 3D graphics modeling and simulation. Because the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) represents 3D as scene graphs rather than a program, multiple small VRML models can be quickly composed into larger scenes. This approach permits construction of elaborate and consistent worlds from multiple student-created projects.

The actual Kelp Forest Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is an ambitious and accurate recreation of a signature ocean habitat that exists along many parts of the California coast. Intensely beautiful, this complex and observable system was chosen as the modeling subject for 15 graduate students. Having to model both the imagery and behavior of a dynamic, interdependent and observable system provides an excellent challenge for group effort. Public demonstration before a demanding audience as the course-completion exercise provides great motivation for team success.

Students studied architecture plans, shot videos and observed this big system up close over a three-month period. Most were learning the basics of 3D graphics; some had prior experience programming OpenGL. Each student kept a log of their challenges and solutions on a project web page so that related efforts stayed in synch. Physical models, animations, digitized videos and an archived mail list steadily grew into a big site. Lots of discussion and testing produced a cool and compelling miniature world. Visitors often report feeling a sense of familiarity and presence reminiscent of the big tank.

Demonstrating this huge project in front of a big crowd basically seemed impossible! So we kept it simple. Stepping through the many viewpoints tells the story better than words. Our tour-guide sharks, Lefty and Lucy, swim lazily around to reveal swaying kelp, the pump built by David Packard which produces the wave action, sea stars and a wild variety of pretty-good-looking fish. There is even a school of sardines chasing each other around, “motivated” by Craig Reynold’s flocking algorithm from the original SIGGRAPH paper. Don’t miss the 180° fish-eye field of view! Two minutes and 59 seconds of vocal babbling on top of all that goes by pretty fast.

The Web3D RoundUP provides twice-yearly milestones that are a great target for world-class student projects. The full site can be visited or downloaded via http://web.nps.navy.mil/~brutzman/kelp.

Don Brutzman
Naval Postgraduate School
Code UW/Br Root 200
Monterey, CA 93943-5000

Tel: +1-831-656-2149
Fax: +1-831-656-3679
Website


The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.