At this year’s SIGGRAPH, the computer arts conference, WebGL was everywhere, as was something called X3DOM. I met the Web3D Consortium and saw first-hand how 3D can be put to work inside browsers and educational institutions to build a better world for us to live in.
The Web3D Consortium: the greatest Web 3D allies you’ve never heard of
The meeting of the Web 3D Consortium was collocated at a nearby hotel, and I got to ask questions to many of the consortium’s members directly. One of my first was… what the heck is the Web3D Consortium? So few people know what it is, self-included!
Web3D Consortium is a non-profit group working on royalty-free standards that enable real-time 3D across applications, networks, and XML web services. They work closely with the International Standards Organization (ISO), Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), World Wide Web Consortium (W3C—the folks I work with). They have working groups for CAD, MR (the difference between VR, AR and MR), and even medical applications.
One of the projects they work on is H-Anim, a standard for defining human motion in 3D for the Web. Another project is X3DOM, which lets you include 3D scenes on a web page using XML-like sytax. It runs on top of WebGL and is supported all the way back to IE 7! If this XML format sounds familiar, that’s because this project grew out of VRML–literally “XML for VR.” The members I met seemed to pride themselves on X3DOM’s archivability and utility for higher education.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research did a talk on X3DOM, and making declarative 3D a first-class citizen in every web browser. It’s interesting to see academic institutions recognising the power of the web (and 3D within the web) as a place for research and academic advancement! They’re also working on bringing physically-based rendering (PBR) to the Web, something which has been gathering steam for a while now.
WebGL 2 and WebGL Next
There was much talk about WebGL Next, the proposed successor to WebGL 2, which some people have some Big Opinions about. WebGL features heavily in bringing VR to the Web, as you can see in this W3C post on the matter. Remember, even X3DOM runs on top of WebGL!
Learning with WebGL
At a panel of college professors discussing teaching 3D graphics with WebGL, Firefox got major shout outs for not only for having a shader editor (Chrome doesn’t seem to), but also for having great turn around time on bug fixes. One of the professors was admonishing students to report every bug they found! A win for OSS.
Patrick Cozzi, author of OpenGL Insights, said, “It is a great time to get into WebGL.” Are you ready to get into it? What luck! One of the panelists, Eric Haines, co-created a full (and free!) interactive 3D graphics course on Udacity where you can learn the basics of meshes, transforms, cameras, materials, lighting, and animation with WebGL.
Extra WebGL Learning Materials
- Know the basics and ready to make something with WebGL? Find the best tool for the job.
- A little overwhelmed by all this? Rachel Smith has some advice on where to start with Canvas or WebGL.
- If you want to get started with WebGL 2, here’s a primer.
All of these uses for WebGL realize the Open Web’s promise of low cost solutions for real world problems. It was reaffirming to see what could be done with a consumer grade drone and a browser. That’s not to say that WebGL experiments like Neve aren’t equally important to our ecosystem. But in the web design and development world, it’s more common to see 3D in storytelling use cases rather than industrial ones. This was a refreshing alternative.
Bonus: the following has less to do with the Web, but is awesome.
Made something cool with 3D or VR? Sketchfab lets you share it. It’s a little like Codepen: you give it some code, and it gives you an embeddable, rendered example. Game dev companies use Sketchfab to share character designs with fans on their Facebook pages, for instance. (I’m partial to its Cultural Heritage applications, personally.) Sketchfab also presented their own PBR (that’s “physically-based rendering”, not “Pabst Blue Ribbon”!) at SIGGRAPH as well.
This brings us to the end of the SIGGRAPH Special! If you enjoyed this, consider donating a little to keep Web Animation Weekly going or sharing this post with someone. Either way, spread the Web Animation Love!