VRML Projects


Matt Kirschenbaum


I began working with VRML in the summer of 1996. My first experiments were with rendering simple shapes and objects using a text editor to write ASCII nodes according to the VRML 1.0 standard. Once I had a sense of what I was doing, I began work on a model of Alderman Library's Garnett Room for the Electronic Text Center. I built the shell of the room, along with a few simple pieces of furniture by plotting XYZ coordinates on graph paper and translating them into VRML code -- a tedious and time-consuming way to go about it. By the Fall I'd graduated to the Multimedia Resource Center's SGI Indigo2 High Impact, which was running Cosmoworlds, SGI's authoring package for the new VRML 2.0 standard. At this point I began serious work on a revamped version of the Garnett Room, which became the first major VRML project I completed.

I'm currently interested in developing VRML interfaces to large volumes of (hyper)textual data. To that end, I've begun work on a series of investigations into workable heuristics for spatial organization and information visualization in three-dimensional on-screen environments.

Lucid Mapping and Codex Transformissions in the Z-Buffer

Lucid Mapping An investigation of textual and narrative possibilities within three dimensional on-screen environments (using VRML). Lucid Mapping, which applies and extends the work begun in the spatial heuristics experiments (below), is both a text to be read and a space to be surveyed.

Spatial Heuristics

The following models all require a VRML 2.0-conformant browser for viewing. They are offered not as displays of technical virtuosity, but rather in order to begin exploring relationships among a set of five spatially (and visually) oriented variables: size, shape, proximity, orientation, and color.

These models, though entirely schematic, are intended to lay the groundwork for more richly contoured visual environments by clarifying some of the principles necessary for the effective visualization of relationships among large volumes of (hyper)textual data. How, for example, might one create a three-dimensional on-screen interface to a book-length monograph, a body of information whose structural units are comprised of chapters, paragraphs, footnotes, etc.? Likewise, how well suited is the VRML environment to organizing documents according to the non-linear principles pioneered by hypertext developers? How can the addition of a third dimension extend (hyper)textual visualization? What are the conditions required for "narrative" in three-dimensional on-screen environments? Can visual and visible spatial cues supplant the brute-force mechanism of the link?

Well . . . maybe.

(Or else maybe not.)

Any comments related to this work are welcome.


First Series

Variables tested: size, proximity, color

One Two Three Four Five

Second Series

Variables tested: size, proximity, color, shape

One Two Three Four Five Six Seven

Third Series

Variables tested: size, proximity, color, orientation

One Two Three Four Five Six


Fourth Series

Variables tested: size, proximity, color

One Two Three Four

The Garnett Room

The Garnett Room
Click here for the VRML
SGI Screenshots:

This was a project undertaken for the Electronic Text Center as part of a Web site built to document the contents of the historic Garnett Room at the University of Virginia's Alderman Library. The model of the room took approximately five months to complete, though work was sporadic and irregular -- an hour or two once or twice a week, and often weeks passed when I had no time at all for it. The wide variety of furniture and other objects in the room allowed me to practice different rendering techniques, especially PEP (Points, Edges, and Polygons) editing. The simple step of linking the items in the room to their corresponding Web pages on the main site allowed the VRML to become functionally integrated into the Garnett project as a whole, rather than remaining an isolated stand-alone curiosity. There are some rough edges and loose fittings, but on the whole the room turned out to be a reasonably clean, well-lighted place.

Other VRML Work

What's Next


  • The VRML Repository. The most authoritative VRML site on the Web; contents include everything from technical specifications to current job listings, as well as extensive developer's resources and an exhaustive hotlist.

  • VRML at Silicon Graphics, Inc. SGI is currently the industry leader in developing design software and browsers compatible with the current VRML 2.0 standard. An essential site.

  • The Ocean of the Streams of Story. Virtual worlds at the University of Virginia, including many from projects underway at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. Hosted by Dan Ancona.

  • Will Rourk's Exploration of 3D Graphics in Academics.

  • Planet 9 Studios. Cutting edge VRML simulations of a number of different cities, including San Francisco, San Diego, New Orleans, and New York.

  • Protozoa. Animated VRML characters, birthplace of Floops.

  • WaxWeb. VRML and hypermedia.

  • Adam Ferrari's self-described "Dorky VRML Rotunda". [VRML 1.0]


    Thanks are due to Paul Jones for helping me get started, as well as to Dan Ancona, who has continued to patiently answer questions like, "What are indexed face sets good for?" Thanks also to the Multimedia Resource Center for the use of their SGI, and to the Electronic Text Center for giving me the time to work on all this.

    Document URL: http://www.iath.virginia.edu /mgk3k/vrml.html
    Last Modified: Thursday, 09-Oct-2008 14:10:26 EDT
    Graphic from www.jodi.org.