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
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
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 About.com'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,
picture advertisements, sites
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 Spazz3D, ISB 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
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!