UMEL, Universal Media Element Library

Dateline: 11/4/98

Red Pepppers

Image courtesy Mantis Development Corp.

One interesting effort currently making rapid progress is the work of the Universal Media Element Library (UMEL) Working Group of the VRML consortium. In simple terms the idea is to create a library of high quality multi-media objects that can be accessed over the web and/or locally. These objects or elements will consist of sounds, 3D objects, textures and probably a few other things. Aaron Walsh the chair of this Working Group (and head cheerleader) has to his credit garnered a significant amount of attention and press for this work. The effort of this group is also quite significant as a way of giving small content creators a well established cheap source of high-quality multi-media elements for use in their virtual worlds. VRML Clip art has been around for quite some time but the establishment of an officially sanctioned collection will enable the use of URNs for more stable sources.

In a recent notice sent to several Working Groups Aaron Walsh chair of the UMEL Working Group provided the following information:

While it's tempting to think of the Universal Media Element Library (UMEL) as simply an open 3D library similar to proprietary ones now commonly available through VRML and Java3D authoring tools, it has a very important design feature worth calling attention to:

Textures, Sounds and 3D objects that make up the UMEL are locally resident, meaning they're *NOT* fetched from the net, but instead are retrieved directly from the user's hard drive, CD-ROM, video card, ROM, or set-top box hardware depending on installation.

Once the library is installed NO MEDIA IS TRANSFERRED OVER THE WEB from that point on. As a result, only the 3D model needs to come across the wire; the media that UMEL-savvy worlds reference are pulled directly from the user's hard drive (or alternate local storage device depending on installation). This simple but powerful design feature hinges off a rarely-used technology already accommodated in the VRML2.0 specification: Uniform Resource Names (URNs).

With UMEL you can take a traditional 3D model and turn it into a multi megabyte, media-rich, spec compliant world by adding only a few extra lines of code (a URN that corresponds to each piece of media you want to use). Authors can quickly and easily tap into a freely available, cross-platform library of professionally developed media. But most importantly the model is the ONLY thing that comes over the wire since the media resides on the user's system, meaning giant multinomial media saturated worlds full of textures, sounds and pre-made 3D objects are easily delivered over network connections as slow as dial-up modems.

Visit the UMEL home page for details, screenshots, technical papers and prototypes:

It's also important to note that UMEL isn't restricted to online 3D. Traditional applications can also tap into the library, offering a consistent, cross-platform suite of media building blocks to a wide range of authors and developers. One of the first traditional applications to benefit from UMEL will be Living Desktop (, an automated desktop artwork (wallpaper) utility. However, I suspect the library will also be used by Web page developers, game developers, multimedia, graphics and presentation tools and many others after it takes root in the Web3D community.

If you're interested in deciding what textures, sounds and 3D objects make it into the final library (due for launch at VRML99 in February, and further rollout at Sun's JavaOne conference later in '99), please join our "Content Review" list (sign-up info is at the bottom of our home page). We've already received over 1,000 textures for possible inclusion in the library, and will begin collecting sounds and 3D objects in December. Please join us in deciding which of these pieces of content the UMEL will contain when it ships this coming February.

With best regards,

Aaron Walsh

Chair, VRML Universal Media Element Library (VRML-UMEL) Working Group

Co-chair, VRML Intellectual Property Rights (VRML-IPR) Task Group

To check out progress to the Textures directory. As VRML grows and matures the most important thing needed are tools, techniques and building blocks for the creation of content. The UMEL effort is one more brick in a growing foundation as VRML supports the creation of a useful cyberspace.

One Year Ago in Focus on Web3D "Life in Cyberspace"

Previous Features