Getting Started with VRML, a Beginners Guide

Dateline: 7/13/98, updated 5/8/01

What is VRML?

VRML the Virtual Reality Modeling Language is how to do 3D over the Internet.  VRML is a file format. The VRML format is capable of representing the geometry and behaviors of objects. These objects can range from the simple, such as cubes and spheres, to the complex such as humanoids, dragons or entire cities. VRML files or worlds as they are usually called, can also be tightly integrated to the Web. You can click on object in those worlds which link to other worlds or web pages. It's the start of a 3D webbed world.

What do I need to view VRML?

A VRML browser is the piece of software you must have installed in order to view and interact with VRML files (usually called worlds). The VRML browser is a plug-in that works with your Internet browser. There are two major browsers for PC and Macintosh platforms, Blaxxun's Contact and ParallelGraphics Cortona. They are both (as are all others) free and both are very good. CosmoPlayer has the lion's share of installed base however WorldView is now being distributed with Windows98 which may change things.
Blaxxun's major claim to fame is their ability to deal with multi-user worlds...very cool stuff! The VRML browser world is very  much in flux these days but VRML itself is quite stable.

Who's in charge of VRML?

Originally and still to some extent a rag-tag group of cyber-pioneers, there have been many histories written. There exists a formal group called the Web3D Consortium which shepherds changes to the standard, and VRML is an official ISO standard (ISO 14772), and provides a forum for the continuing evolution of the standard, primarily through a process of working groups.

Where can I see examples of VRML?

Probably  the best place (if I say so myself) for pointers to VRML applications is right here at's "Focus on Web3D" site. The various categories of Applications link to many wonderful sites and don't miss the collection of Humorous VRML links. One other very high quality and current VRML site is Bob Crispen's VRMLworks.

What kind of stuff can you do with VRML?

Oh just a few things like statistical graphics, Web advertising banners, stock market graphics, chemical structures, motion picture advertisementssites supporting tv shows , episodic 3D cartoons, educational sites, kid sites, Martian sites, and sites for sign language,

Is anybody actually using this in their business?

Some good examples of "real" applications are IBM's manufacturing tour (requires blaxxun's CCpro), a product demonstration of a Sony camcorder by Lunatic Interactive, also from those Lunatic folks a theatrical seat selection application (a perfect 3D application you get to virtually see your seat in a theater before you buy it), furniture specification by TechniCon for Visio, and finally of course there are those famous 3D Web banner ads by folks like out of the blue design for Pepsi.

What do I need to create this stuff?

For simple stuff all you need is a text editor and an understanding of the file format. For most of the rest of us, use an authoring tool, such as Spazz3DISB or ISA .

Where can I learn more about VRML?

There are a whole bunch of tutorials about VRML, a great list is right here. I'd recommend the "Intro to VRML2.0" by Nadeau et. al. for starters. There another comprehensive list that is being developed with the VRML Consortium's Content Development Working Group.

Where is VRML going?

"To the moon Alice, to the moon!" - Ralph Kramden
As I write this feature the VRML community is in a high state of flux primarily due to the uncertain state of CosmoSoftware's products. Silicon Graphics has stated (according to the press) that they are shutting down the CosmoSoftware operating division but hasn't said anything about their intentions of the products. Even if, as some fear, CosmoPlayer fades away (I doubt this) VRML is quite healthy and stable. The VRML Consortium and it's 60 odd members has a productive process in place to ensure the continued evolution and ultimate success of VRML. More important is that VRML is here now and a growing cadre of experienced developers are deploying real applications and real content. Of course much more is needed but I'm sure betting (with an awful lot of time) on VRML's continued growth and success, so join the crowd!


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