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What is VRML?
VRML is Virtual Reality Modeling Language, the open standard for virtual reality on the Internet. VRML files define worlds, which can represent 3D computer-generated graphics, 3D sound, and hypermedia links.
VRML is useful for a variety of applications, including:
Financial analysis can use data visualization to visualize financial data, such as stock prices or corporate financial accounts. Anomalies and opportunities can be detected by highlighted areas in the data set.
Entertainment is a potential goldmine for VRML developers, since VRML allows for interactive, 3D movies. VRML allows customized, dynamically-generated camera angles with alternate scenarios possible.
Education with VRML can give people a chance to learn something in a new way, or learn a real-life job without the dangers of physical machinery.
Distributed Simulation can use multi-user VRML worlds over networks to simulate military exercises or industrial courses.
Computer-Aided Design is an area where designers could collaborate on designing industrial parts or other 3D objects in a shared multi-user space. Or alternatively, they can e-mail parts back and forth to each other, or put drafts up on Web servers for comments.
Product Marketing often tries to reach buyers at an emotional level. VRML is great way to do this, for the same reasons that it will be successful in entertainment applications. In addition, marketers selling 3-dimensional products like clothes can give buyers an impression of the object before they purchase it.
People can shop in Virtual Malls built in VRML.
As User Interfaces to Information, VRML can help bring some sense to the confusing hypermedia world of the Web, and to massive databases packed with more information than can be easily represented textually.
In Scientific Visualization, researchers or students can observe a 3D protein hovering in space and click on parts of it to learn about the function of the parts of the protein through hyperlinks to a database. In fact, Aereal Inc. is currently working on this for the Genetic Information Bank of Japan's Institute of Physical and Chemical Sciences.
To view VRML, you need a VRML browser, helper application or plug-in. The most commonly-used VRML 1.0 browser is Netscape's Live3D, which is available on Windows and PowerMac machines. Their are several VRML 2.0 browsers available in beta form. They include converters that let you view VRML 1.0 worlds as well. VRML 2.0 browsers include Dimension X's Liquid Reality, Silicon Graphics' Cosmo Player and Sony's Community Place (formerly known as Cyber Passage).
No, you don't need to compile VRML files (just like HTML). When you view the source on worlds that have been compressed with gzip, you may think that they have been compiled, but they have only been compressed. VRML can be created using any text editor (as long as you know the syntax of the language!).
If you know the VRML language, you can actually create VRML in a text editor like notepad or vi -- just like HTML. If you haven't learned VRML or would like an easier way, try out the VRML authoring tools, available from various vendors. (See the answer on authoring software for more info on tools.)
The three main differences are that VRML 2.0 includes 3D sound, interactivity and an object-oriented structure. Interactivity means that objects can move around and respond to the user's actions. For more information, see this month's article, VRML Goes Dynamic, for more information.
Well, a good place to start is by looking at our new VRMLSite Billboard section, which includes links to several VRML-related companies with openings. Though the market is currently small, most VRML-related companies are trying to hire people. At the same time, not many of those positions are actually for world creators. Many times they are for programmers who write authoring tools, or for marketing people.
Some VRML creators do work on a freelance basis, working on various projects as they come up with different companies. There's not a huge market at this point, but it's gradually growing. Artists who are good at creating 3D models sometimes develop models and sell them to other companies, such as Viewpoint Data Labs.
Others get jobs based on other Web design skills, such as HTML, CGI, Perl, Java, etc., and work some VRML into the equation. Good luck!
How do you view VRML on a Mac?
There are now several browsers available for Macintoshes, and not just for PowerMacs either. Browsers for 68K Macs include ExpressVR, a Netscape plug-in, and Virtus Voyager, a stand-alone VRML viewer or helper application.
All of the previous are VRML 1.0 browsers. The new kid on the block is RealSpace, with yes, a VRML 2.0 browser for PowerMacs.
You can FTP your VRML file onto a Web server, just as you would with an HTML file. The Web server will serve your file properly only if the MIME type is set up properly in the server.
The MIME type for VRML is "
In addition, to serve VRML files that have been compressed
with GZIP properly, ask your webmaster to set up the
Content Encoding type "
Yes, you can have multi-user VRML worlds, using multi-user servers from companies like Integrated Data Systems and Black Sun. Currently, you need to download a special plug-in or browser to experience these multi-user worlds, however it's possible to create multi-user worlds with VRML 2.0, using the Java API.
Close your eyes and drag your mouse. But seriously, there are three kinds of modes that most browsers have: fly, walk and point -- but each browser uses slightly different names or styles. In fly-like modes, it's like you are piloting a plane through a 3D space, arrow keys or mouse direction adjusts the direction you're headed in, and you also can move forward and (sometimes) backwards. Walk mode lets you move around on an imaginary flat surface, and you have to press special keys to move up and down.
Point mode is the best (maybe only?) excuse to use a mouse in navigating a VRML environment. You click on an object you see, and then you move towards it. Nice and simple.
Another feature of VRML is that you can have preset viewpoints that a world creator positions to let you look at special vistas or views in the world. Think of it as a movie director positioning a camera while filming a scene. You can usually switch between these by right-clicking and making a selection from a pop-up menu. In addition, there can be links inside the VRML world that link to other parts of the world -- other viewpoints!
It takes a bit of getting used to, but you'll gradually get the hang of it.
There is one simple way to drastically reduce the file size of your VRML world. You can reduce the file size by 80-90%!! You just need to compress it using GZIP.
GZIP is available for almost all available Unix platforms, plus other machines. Do a search at your favorite search engine to find a version for your machine.
In Unix, if you have gzip, you only need to type:
Other browsers may have their own Java APIs. Dimension X's Liquid Reality VRML 2.0 browser has its own Java API.
In VRML 2.0, you can use the
Netscape's Live3D VRML 1.0 browser has an extension to VRML 1.0 that lets
you target frames. The VRML navigation bar in VRMLSite uses this extension.
You can add an extra field called
At this point, there are few VRML 2.0 authoring tools available that allow significant behaviors, so you're pretty much stuck using text editors. SGI's Cosmo Create includes some capability. Also, Paragraph's Virtual Home Space Builder provides the capability of creating VRML 2.0 compliant animated textures. Look for VRML 2.0 behavior-authoring software soon from Superscape.
This happens if the Web server has not been configured to deliver the VRML MIME type. What happens when the MIME type has been set up is that when anyone requests the file from the server, the server puts a little message at the beginning saying that the file is VRML, not text.
For information on how to set up your server for VRML see the answer to the server setup question above.
There are three particularly good books on VRML 1.0. These are "VRML Browsing and Building Cyberspace" by Mark Pesce (New Riders), "The VRML Sourcebook" by Ames, Nadeau and Moreland (Wiley), and "Special Edition - Using VRML" by Matsuba and Roehl (QUE). Head to the Books section of our Buyer's Guide for links.
#VRML V2.0 utf8 |
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