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It's A 3D-licious World Wide Web
February 15th, 2000

Randy: Hey man, what are you doing with those pieces of pipe cleaner and that picture of Laura Croft?

Gary: I'm trying to get some 3D going over the web on my Mac. I figured I'd just tape the pipe cleaners to my monitor and then hang the pictures on them for a 3D effect!

Randy: That's not 3D, that just stupid.

Gary: Well, I am an Idiot.

Randy: Every day that becomes more and more painfully apparent. The fact is, true 3D on the web has been torturously slow in becoming a reality. And even slower for the Mac.

Gary: Whatever happened to VRML? I remember a few years ago that VRML, Virtual Reality Markup Language, was going to be THE thing to bring the third dimension to the web. But the few times I ever got it to work on my Mac it was pretty lame and very unstable.

Randy: VRML is still out there and has just undergone some drastic changes. After a high press introduction in the mid-nineties, VRML was poised to become the standard for delivering 3D through web browsers. It was a simple text-based language, not unlike HTML, that allowed you to construct 3D worlds, complete with textures, with tiny file sizes, and then display it in a plugin equipped web browser.

Gary: Wasn't there a VRML Consortium that was formed to further standardize the VRML spec? I remember the VRML 2.0 spec was approved by them a few years ago, and then they upgraded the spec to VRML 97.

Randy: Right you are, in fact, the VRML Consortium is still around but has become the Web3D Consortium, and VRML as a specification went from version 1.0 to 2.0 then to VRML 97 and is now finally it's called X3D. The Web3D Consortium, a key group of product vendors and developers, has expanded it's focus beyond just VRML to include Java and XML in the spec that was once known as VRML.

Now the proper term is X3D, and it employs XML tags and Java combined with VRML to create a 3D standard that goes far beyond what the original VRML could ever do.

Gary: So how can I view it? And better still, how can I create it?

Randy: Do you want the long answer or the short answer?

Gary: We do have a whole column to fill up here so give me the long, rambling, incoherent version.

Randy: Well 3D web content creation is a bit more difficult to explore on the Mac that simply viewing 3D content so I'll attack that first.

Gary: Let me just guess. Most of the tools available are Windoze only.

Randy: Yep. Same old story. In fact these days most tools are plugins or extensions to one single program, 3D Studio Max, which is of course Winblows only.

Gary: Arrrrrrrrg! @%$^%ing pieces of ^$$#! I @#$^%$@ hate those damn %$$!^$#! I ^$#@&^& the ^%$#@*&, and %$&#* my #@%*^&% with my foot up their $@!^*&%$ all the way up to the *&#%$*&^!

Randy: Ouch! You through?

Gary: Yeah, sometimes I just get so tired of companies who don't see the value of the Mac software market.

Randy: Relax man. One day you are going to blow a gasket and I don't want to be the one who has to mop it up. Besides rumor has it that Discreet * , the makers of 3D Studio Max, are strongly considering porting Max over to the Mac. I stress this is just a rumor, but the buzz in the multimedia industry has been so positive toward the G4 machines Apple is cranking out, that several major vendors are now investigating Mac versions of their flagship products.

Gary: Schweeeeeet. But what about right now? Are their any products that can output wed ready 3D?

Randy: Indeed there are. MetaCreations, the makers of Infini-D, Ray Dream Studio, Bryce and Poser have two new products that out put to their own new web 3D format MetaStream. Canoma and Carrara both support MetaStream output and the plugin for Mac web browsers is finally out as well.

Gary: I've been reading about Carrara. This new program combines the best feature of Infini-D and Ray Dream into a single complete modeling and animation package.

Randy: And Canoma lets you create fully textured 3D models from 2D images and them export them into MetaStream format.

Gary: Cool! That sounds like the easiest way yet to get your stuff into 3D and on to the Web.

Randy: That's the idea. However MetaCreations is heading towards some big changes. They are changing their focus from an imaging software company to an e-commerce 3D visualization company. Meaning that all the cool Mac imaging products they make, and they do make some of the coolest Mac 3D applications, are subject to being dropped from the company's offerings if they don't fit into the e-commerce 3D visualization business plan.

Gary: Yikes! Sounds to me like programs that offer MetaStreaming output are going to be keepers, but I don't think other programs they offer like KTP Power Tools, Painter Infini-D, Poser and Bryce are going to stay in their stable for too much longer.

Randy: Our hope is that the non-core products will be sold to companies who will breathe new life in these wonderful programs.

Gary: I know Strata Studio also includes VRML 1.0 and 2.0 spec output as an export option. And The excellent Infini-D Resource Page offers a VRML converter for Infini-D DXF files.

Randy: Also Amapi from TGS, offers output in a 3D file for the web using their own ZAP player plugin. If any of you 3D heads haven't checked out the new version 5 of Amapi, you need to as fast as you can. TGS has add a ton of new features to it's already elegant 3D modeling program.

Gary: What about QuickTime VR from Apple?

Randy: While it is a very cool technology it's not true 3D, it's a simulation of 3D using 2D images stitched together. So for today's little 3D powwow, we'll just focus on the rendered on-the-fly kind of 3D for the web.

But there is one other cool Macintosh web 3D creation tool I know of, Pulse Creator from Pulse Entertainment This company has some of the most promising technology out there today. They also make a Netscape browser plugin for Macs, that let you check all of their excellent content on the Internet.

Gary: Which brings us to the next section of our little column this week. How do you view all of the cool 3D content on web with your Mac?

Randy: Thanks for the Segue.

Gary: I had to shut you up somehow, or you would blather on all day about creating 3D for the web.

Randy: My, you know me so well.

Gary: Just unlucky that way, I guess.

Randy: As I was saying Pulse Entertainment has some of the best 3D content on the web in my humble opinion. The rendering speed and quality is very good and the content is very well done.

Gary: Actually you showed me the hysterical Sister Randy comic at the Pulse web site. This feature done by DotComix is as well written as it is rendered. A great laugh for any religion.

The irreverent Sister Randy teaches her own version of Art History
The flamboyant host of The Probe, Probert.

Randy: And I loved The Probe.

Gary: Check please!!

Randy: No, the animated trivia show called The Probe from MTV. The show stars Probert the sassy alien host who tries to stump you with TV trivia. This is a very slick 3D web based game.

Gary: I also recommend checking out Shout Interactive's web site for some awesome Java based 3D. Using whatever Java machine you have installed on your machine, I recommend Apple's Mac OS Runtime Java 2.2, you can explore 3D spaces and even see a 3D fashion show. No plugins required!

Shout 3D's totally Java based 3D in action.

This technology holds the most promise for me. Allowing a high level of interactivity and maintaining a great rendering quality. The speed is less than stellar but the idea is solid. With a bit more development, and a faster Java machine, Shout may have one of the key technologies that will finally bring 3D to the spotlight on the web.

More Shout 3D Java based 3D. Nice undies!

Randy: And finally the most important tool you'll need for checking out 3D on the web is a VRML browser. Cosmo Software makes a plugin that will extend your browser into the third dimension. Cosmo Software, once a part of SGI and now owned by Computer Associates, has the Cosmo Player for 4.0 and higher browsers. With this plugin installed you can browse tons of great sites containing VRML worlds.

Gary: 3D magazine's web site has some great in-depth info on VRML and other 3D web formats. And Virtock, Cybelius, SGI and the always cool MacWeb 3D site have some nice VRML models and scenes as well. Some sites require additional plugins to view certain projects.

Randy: While these are just a handful of the thousand of sites using true 3D on the web, we hope you, our ever curious readers will uncover many more that we have never even heard of.

Gary: And if you do, tell us about them!

Randy: Well, how do we end this column? The usual punch in the brain, knockdown, drag-out, adolescent scuffle?

Gary: Sorry, but no. I'm going to catch the Marty Show with special guest host Laura Croft at Pulse Entertainment's Pulse Beat site.

Randy: No way dude, we are going to check out the 3D Macy's fashion show at Shout3D site. You can make the models walk the runway in their underwear!

Gary: Oy…Here we go again. I guess we can't escape it.

Randy: Let's go hoser!

Gary: Alright , alright. Your brain or mine?

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .


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