Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

From the Guest Editor

Timothy Childs
Web3D RoundUP/RoundUP Productions
Don Brutzman
Naval Postgraduate School

We all stand on the precipice of a chasm that stretches from today to the future – a chasm where the walls surrounding what is perceived as reality begin to blur with the synthetic worlds we create.

This is a truly exciting age - we are at a threshold point where technology has almost caught up with developers’ seemingly insatiable need for more image-generation power. Nevertheless, whole new sets of problems loom on the horizon. How do we harness this expressive power? How do we deliver interactive impact over the web? How do we make 3D graphics (as a technology) so intuitive that anyone can use it?

Through the Web3D RoundUP we’ve been asking these questions in public for five years, together with the many colleagues who describe their work in this special issue.

The Web3D RoundUP is a high-speed shootout that showcases the latest and very greatest interactive 3D content available over the web. Top 3D tools and content developers demonstrate their jury-selected Web3D technology and applications in a fast-paced, exciting format. Diplomatically speaking, we describe this as an “interactive event for interactive content.” Realistically speaking, it’s a gut-wrenching monster… Have you ever tried doing a cool demo in less than three minutes, with the seconds ticking down on the big screen, in front of 1,700+ world-class graphics experts, all armed with happy/sad sound effects and ping-pong ball blasters?

Twice a year, at SIGGRAPH and at the Web3D/VRML Symposia, the Web3D RoundUP presents the best the Web3D world has to offer in a cool and entertaining way. The challenge for jurors is to choose two dozen diverse, eye-popping selections from nine-dozen submissions. The challenge for presenters is to first finish that killer demo, and then engage the audience in a fun way so that everyone can interactively participate and become part of the event itself. The challenge for the audience is to hold on without blinking during this wild ride, to shake and rattle various “interactive feedback devices” for live comment, and then vote to pick the best entries in each category.

The future of our on-line 3D-graphics community lies partially within the infrastructure that the hardware manufacturers are building for us. It still boggles the mind to think that we can now buy cheap little black boxes that surpass the performance of a $100,000 supercomputer from only a few years ago. Can 3D software and content catch up? As an industry, and as individuals, are we ready to harness the power? Everyone has been waiting 10 years for this moment—the moment where the Internet and real-time 3D begin to intersect. Now they are slamming together with tremendous force. These impacts are sparking entirely new breeds of application, content and experience, quite unlike anything the world has ever seen. The next challenge is to make everything easy, so that 3D can be shared with anyone, anywhere, over the web.

The Web3D RoundUP evolved from the early days of the Virtual Reality Education Foundation (affectionately known as VeRGe) which was created by Timothy Childs, Linda Jacobson and Peter Rothman. Another precursor was the first SIGGRAPH “Demo SIG” meetings organized by Don Brutzman where the VRML community kick-started web-based 3D graphics. It was through those early VeRGe and Demo SIG events that we got our first tastes of technically successful chaos, producing and presenting bleeding-edge demo sessions which morphed into today’s Web3D RoundUP. Each year, we continue to grow, adapt, tumble and evolve as presenters push the limits.

One of the hot spices that gave the Web3D RoundUP its original kick was the oft-occurring computer crash. There seemed to be a direct correlation between a crashing computer and how bleeding-edge the demo was. Now Web3D technology is starting to stabilize (and fewer virtual fire extinguishers are needed). Even so, we’re still seeking the bleeding edge. Where is it? A big chunk lies in the gaming community, where programmers have moved past platform stability and are already attempting to harness new levels of power in hardware. It is important that dialogue occurs in many different forms between these two worlds. There are huge lessons that game designers can learn from the computer graphics world and vice versa—especially in understanding practical human-factors issues in immersive environments.

The diversity in this issue shows that there is no single “killer application.” Many areas are proving equally substantial: entertainment and gaming, education, e-commerce, scientific visualization and others. Everyone in the SIGGRAPH community has always “known” intuitively that 3D graphics can add value to almost anything. Now we can see major impacts become prevalent as 3D begins influencing almost every field of endeavor on a daily basis. Our goal for these Web3D RoundUP experiments and experiences is to continue helping SIGGRAPH push the leading edge of this wave.

The Web3D RoundUP became what it is today thanks to great help from all the volunteers at the Web3D VRML and SIGGRAPH conferences, as well as the solid advice and support by many SIGGRAPH chairs, staff, committee members and student volunteers. We’re especially grateful to Clark Dodsworth, Brian Blau, Walt Bransford, Warren Waggenspack, Jackie White, Tarik Thami, Celia Pearce, Jeff Jortner, Aliza Corson, Mike Capps and Jean Tam. We are most fortunate to receive sage guidance from the world’s greatest audio-visual wizards at (where else?) AVW Audio Visual, particularly John Kennedy, Gary Clark and Ed Goodman. Finally, we thank the hard-working technical trapeze artists and content creators, who put in countless hours getting ready for just a few minutes of unforgettably intense glory on stage.

Our guest presenters and authors have worked hard to describe the what, why, how and wow of it all. Since many of these pieces are available on-line, a fast box and a fat pipe sitting next to this special issue can help you experience them first hand. Finally, show up at SIGGRAPH! Please come and witness for yourself the fast-paced interactive event for interactive content that we call the Web3D RoundUP.

Time’s up, gotta go. Boom!!

Timothy Childs
Web3D RoundUP/RoundUP Productions
391 Jersey
San Francisco, CA 94114

Tel: +1-415-826-5628

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

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

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