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Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000
ACM SIGGRAPH


MagicBlossom



Alex Shamson
VRmill, Inc.



Figure 1: The MagicBlossom.com homepage.

Figure 2: Main interface for creating and customizing 3D virtual reality greeting cards on MagicBlossom.com. On the left is the 3D view port; on the right is the menu bar; and under it are images of the 3D objects, behavior controls and basic instructions.
"Each MagicBlossom is like a word of a poem that blooms with emotion. We make the breathtaking ‘alphabet’ for your poetic and artistic expression."

Aah LOVE, rapturous - as the roses in May… But who wants flowers that will wilt in a day? Wouldn’t you like orchids that NEVER die? And what if you had an idea to send GREEN roses to your mom on St. Patrick’s Day, or how about PURPLE daffodils for Easter? At www.MagicBlossom.com, you don’t need a Ph.D. in bioengineering to make all this and much more a reality!

MagicBlossom.com is the new 3D virtual reality greeting cards website, the brainchild of Alex Shamson of VRmill, Inc. This free service is intended for the general consumer. MagicBlossom.com currently offers a selection of exquisitely modeled, lifelike 3D animated flowers, as well as seasonal greetings and the new Dazzling & Decadent section. The service enables you to create personalized, interactive virtual reality greetings and send them to anyone on the web.

MagicBlossom promotes wider acceptance of Web3D technology by using it in a refreshing new way. "We deliver your message in the most enchanting form of virtual reality, which engages people on an emotional level," says Alex Shamson. The service is steadily gaining in popularity because it speaks the universal language of love and uses the global reach of the web to spread from person to person.

You construct your greeting by selecting and editing 3D objects, adding and customizing your personal message and changing background colors. You fill out delivery information and press SEND. The simple and easy-to-use interface makes the service attractive to experienced Web3D surfers and novices alike. The confusing dashboard controls that come with the plug-in are eliminated to prevent you from thrashing around and getting lost in space. Instead, the user interface for creating and customizing is done in HTML and JavaScript. The graphic menu bar is always present. It has buttons which give you access to the four functions of the service: Select Category, Message, Background and Send. Appropriate pages with controls and brief instructions, related to each function, load into a frame below. What you see in the 3D frame is exactly what the recipient of your greeting will get.

All 3D objects that you assemble in your card have some user-triggered interactive features like lips moving into a kiss with sound, flowers opening up, snow flakes whirling, candle flame flickering, etc. Some items have built in hints: text messages that appear briefly when your cursor passes over the object, asking you to click on something. Both you and your recipient can interact with 3D objects, but only you, the author can choose which items are in your card, their colors and whether the scene is rotating.

The real magic is in the guts of the system! Here are the secrets of what really happens behind the scene. All objects are stored in a database. Your selections and commands are passed to Java applets, which affect specific changes in the 3D frame where your card is being constructed. When users create their cards, their actions and selections are recorded as a tiny description code, saved on the server and an email is generated with a link to that code. When recipients access that link, the card is generated on-the-fly using that code as a formula to recreate the card from the objects in the database. The VRML browser does the rest to parse and display the scene.

The service works on most systems, Windows and Mac. The 3D nature of MagicBlossom requires a VRML plug-in at this time, however a "no plug-in" version will be up soon. The current site comes complete with a step-by-step illustrated user guide, system requirements and links to download the appropriate plug-in. Recipients of the cards are notified via email with a link to the card, accompanied by a web page with helpful links: to download a plug-in, contact the webmaster, get help and to create a response or a new card.

At the Web3D RoundUP, MagicBlossom was presented by Marjorie Stave, a representative of VRmill, Inc. and the New York VRML Special Interest Group. She says, "The experience of getting up for the two minutes of fame in this charged atmosphere with 1,700 wild and cheering spectators was a total rush! Did they pump adrenaline into the chairs?" The stories and comments Marjorie received after the presentation are equally colorful: A woman dressed up in fairy-like flowing fabrics, claiming to be a fortune teller, predicted that MagicBlossom will make millions… Another remark of a man from the audience was that he felt, "Among the many whiz-bang shoot’em’up games, seeing the beauty of MagicBlossom was like a breath of fresh air. It’s useful too!"

From Alex Shamson’s perspective, "The real business advantage of presenting at the RoundUP came from meeting the people, making new contacts and solidifying working relationships. All the applause is good for the ego, too.

Alex Shamson
VRmill, Inc.



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