Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

Open Worlds™: Diary of RoundUP Presenter

Paul Diefenbach
DRaW Computing

Figure 1: OpenWorlds extensible browser with live video texture node. Camcorder model by Cybelius. Imagery by Bryan Housel.

Figure 2: OpenWorlds VRML browser running in Netscape. 3D content by Shout Interactive.

How to show off a programmer’s product to artists and engineers, and still make it sexy? That is the daunting question we face as each Web3D RoundUP approaches.

For those of you who have never been to a RoundUP, picture Ringling Brothers meets Radio Shack. Hundreds of tech-savvy audience members in a circus atmosphere. Add on top of that “wiggy-wiggy” noisemakers, ping-pong guns and other toys I deem too annoying for my six-year-old nephew, and you begin to get the idea. Mess up in front of this crowd and you’ll experience hundreds of %$#&! mooing (yes, as in cows) noisemakers letting you know it. Run overtime and get shot by ping pong and Nerf guns.

Unlike the other companies presenting, DRaW does not make websites, web content or even end-user products. We make OpenWorldsTM, the underlying rendering, animation and scripting engine for others to support web-based 3D graphics on their websites and in their applications. As our slogan says, we bring Web3D to any application! If there are software developers in the audience, we need to show them how OpenWorlds can bring Web3D graphics quickly and easily into their product, and hopefully develop some new partnering and licensing opportunities.

OpenWorlds was the first product available as a full C++ software development kit (SDK) for people wanting to support VRML. Yet OpenWorlds is much more. OpenWorlds evolved out of contract work for NASA to develop a human VR simulation system for the international space station. In creating this system, we realized early on that the same graphics and, more importantly, simulation capabilities that were needed by NASA could be used by many other applications. Each of the complex behaviors, ranging from gravity to inter-object collisions to a new hardware interface to a maintenance task itself, is simply a C++ script node. Hence, we designed an “open” system that could easily be used by any existing or new application, and could scale from high-end VR CAVEs to low-end laptops. We have a great software architecture, but for some reason flow-diagrams don’t excite a Web3D RoundUP crowd. This open design permits us to run on UNIX, Windows and Linux platforms. We support OpenGL, Iris Performer, Optimizer and Microsoft’s Fahrenheit XSG rendering layers. In fact, both SGI and Microsoft have chosen OpenWorlds as the VRML loader for their rendering layers! But what does this mean to an audience of several hundred to several thousand sitting at a Web3D RoundUP? We need demos!

The fear of getting blasted by glowing ping pong balls and getting mooed grows. We need to show this open, extensible architecture. That’s it! We will have four OpenWorlds applications, on two hardware platforms, on three rendering layers. In three minutes!

First up, the audience needs to see that OpenWorlds can be used to make a traditional browser plug-in as well as stand-alone applications. Point out that this OpenWorlds’ plug-in, however, uses SGI’s advanced rendering library, Iris Performer. Don’t forget to mention that our Performer version is now available for Linux as well.

Let’s then give a preview of our new X3D version. At the SIGGRAPH 99 RoundUP, we demonstrated the first XML-parsing X3D browser. Now we will show both a VRML encoding and XML encoding of the same file getting read into the same OpenWorlds browser, rendering on an SGI in OpenGL.

Next, a traditional VRML file with node extensions. Our MIDI node example? Our SpeechSynthesis node? We need flashier graphics for this group. The kind people at Cybelius agreed to let us show their interactive video camera model, but to make it more exciting, we will add live video using our VideoTexture node, which gets dynamically added at run-time when you read in the camera model. Let’s use the same SGI but run this in OpenWorlds’ OpenGL Optimizer version.

What should we show last? Something fast, something sexy. Something on the PC! Fahrenheit - now called XSG (eXtensible Scene Graph) - Microsoft’s new scene and rendering layer, running on top of both OpenGL and DirectX. That Shout Interactive MOD animation would look great running full screen in OpenWorlds. And since our OpenWorlds Horizon-WF browser will be downloadable in around 200KB in a self-extracting archive, it truly brings this great technology to the masses. And with its extensible, “open” design, the ease of adding new nodes and features means it will never be obsolete.

There. That’s 2:55. Just enough time to mention our website where our demo software is available: Now duck from the guns!!

Paul Diefenbach
DRaW Computing Associates, Inc.
Tel: +1-215-382-0390

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