Chisel the VRML Optimizer

Dateline: 11/17/99

Screen shot of Chisel courtesy Trapezium.

Almost all serious VRML developers finish their coding by running Chisel. Trapezium's flagship product is the gold standard VRML validator and is a nitty gritty utility that is, shocking as it may sound, actually easy to use.

Michael St. Hippolyte the Chief Chiseler, has created a tool that understands the semantics of VRML and therefore knows how to clean, wash and scrub it. Chisel isn't new and has been around since the fall of 1998. One of the really attractive aspects of Chisel's functionality is the outline processor approach it takes. You can optimize aspects of your VRML file at a high general level, or you can drill down to some very specific aspects and get Chisel to control some very detailed aspects of your file. Detailed features can be found on the Trapezium Web site.

One particularly common way of bloating VRML files is to have coordinate values which are expressed to six significant digits. Often that level of precision is not necessary. Chisel lets you cut it down to whatever value you like. Of course be sure to check out the resulting VRML file, because it's not always obvious when you need the precision. For example I recently was creating a human figure with small spheres marking body landmarks. After I reduced the precision of the spheres, lots of them disappeared into the body becoming invisible!

Another "big" feature of Chisel is the ability to perform polygon reduction. In fact there are three different methods you can use to reduce the complexity of your models. With the right kind of polygon reduction you can obtain major size reductions with little loss in quality. Although not part of Chisel explicitly you could use the polygon reduction to create several increasingly complex versions of your model and then use them with VRML's LOD (Level Of Detail) node resulting in more efficient run time models. Chisel with file being optimized
Chisel with file being optimized.

Chisel can also "un-inline" VRML files, a real convenience. One of the terrific capabilities of VRML is to "include" other VRML files. This let's you manage large scenes in a much more manageable way. However, at runtime, the browser is forced to make more fetches from the Web server. Un-inlining these files often results in significantly faster loading of the VRML world.

The obvious question for these folks is "What about X3D". Michael answers:
Regarding X3D, we are ready to implement support in both Vorlon and Chisel as soon as the proposals sort themselves out and a consensus emerges.
Hmmm seems to me it's time for the shout3d and/or blaxxun folks to give Trapezium a call (hint hint).

One particularly novel feature is Chisel's ability to validate H-ANIM files. H-ANIM, the Humanoid ANIMation specification currently at version 1.1. H-ANIM files aren't that pretty to read and Chisel does the dirty validation work.

Chisel costs $49.00 and is written in Java and because of this runs on PC's, Mac's, Linux, and a variety of UNIX boxes. Closely related to Chisel is Vorlon (available since the fall of 1997) a freeware VRML validator but it doesn't have the nice user interface and you run it via a command line. For my taste Chisel's price is a bargain. Damn, I hate writing product reviews with nothing but good things....happy Chiseling.

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