WebGL craze at SigGraph 2013
In 1996, I moved to California from France to join the Silicon Graphics IRIS Performer team. Being a presenter at the Performer BOF (Birds of a Feather) at SigGraph was one of the most memorable times in my career so far. During the Performer BOF we talked about the new features and HW enablement we had added to the SDK, and presented demonstrations and prototypes of what was now made possible. IRIS Performer was an enabler for developers to create real-time 3D applications taking advantage of multi-cpu, multi-gpu and even multiple workstations. Enabling developers to innovate by providing them control over complex workstations, but alsoproviding portability across a range of hardware was the one thing that Performer did well. This had created a vibrant community with so much energy and new ideas. During the BOF one could feel the creative energy, feeding on each other’s projects and thinking about many different ways the new features could be used – most of the time in ways we had not imagined.
Since those high days of Silicon Graphics that I have been lucky to be part of, I have always been motivated to create software tools and APIs to enable 3D graphists and developers to thrive creating interactive games/virtual earth/cities that they could not envision doing before. But rarely have I felt again the incredible energy and enthusiasm that was palpable during the IRIS Performer BOF.
The SigGraph 2013 WebGL™ BOF definitely had the kind of energy and vibrant community that I took for granted when at Silicon Graphics, but have since learned is rare. WebGL is an enabler; it provides web developers access and control of the GPU for developing 3D interactive content that, like the IRIS Performer all those years before, would not have been possible otherwise. However, there is still a lot to be done. WebGL is the fundamental foundation that enables a new era for 3D graphics, but a lot more software needs to be written so that tools similar to Performer, or closer to today’s popular Unity3D, can be made available in a web browser and provide hundreds of millions of people the tools that they’ll use to create what is not imagined yet.
Although from an outside observer it might seem that WebGL appeared only recently and is progressing by leaps and bounds, I can assure you that the strength WebGL has demonstrated during SigGraph 2013 is the result of continuous efforts for quite a while (remember Canvas3D? ). It has not gone without hiccups, notably two years ago Microsoft raised concern about WebGL because of security risks. There is no doubt that security is a major concern for a technology that will be deployed at the scale of the Web. This is the first time in computer history that HW accelerated 3D graphics will be deployed on such a large scale. It looks like the WebGL working group took those issues very seriously, and has assiduously worked on those security concerns. It looks like as a result of this is that Microsoft decided to include WebGL in IE11, which they demonstrated
One important aspect of developing a graphics API is to provide a test for conformance to the API. WebGL conformance tests are available online to anybody to check their HW/OS/Browser configuration. Those tests are important as not only do they ensure that end users will experience the intended behavior, but also because many tests are specifically targeting security issues. IE11 is not finalized, so it is not yet able to pass all the tests, nor can it run sophisticated game engines such as Turbulenz. One can only hope that this will be fixed before IE11 is released. Note that AMD is taking advantage of the WebGL conformance tests to help test AMD drivers.
During the BOF many web applications were demonstrated. In fact, the BOF was just that, a series of demonstration of what has been created thanks to GPU acceleration in a web browser. But let’s not forget that one very important factor in the success of a technology is that it is not only used by leading edge demonstrations, but it is also viable for business. I think that WebGL has reached this milestone at SigGraph 2013, judging from the many WebGL applications that had a booth presence in the exhibition floor.
- Verold demonstrated Verold studio, a collaborative 3D tool that enable artists to review assets regardless of where they are located. Verold also demonstrated a WebGL enhanced web page they created for supporting Swappz Interactive launch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. Verold was able to directly use the 3D assets created for the game to put on the web page.
- Sketchfab announced several enhancements to their web service to publish and embed interactive 3D objects in the web. They have added integration with several popular modeling tools, as well as with human interface devices such as Leap Motion and Space Navigator. They also integrated a very nice sculpting tool (SculptGL) with their application.
- Cesium, an open-source virtual globe, had a lot of exposure, including on the AMD booth. Cesium is developed by AGI, (Analytical Graphics, Inc), the leading provider of commercial off-the-shelf (“COTS”) software solutions for the space industry. Being myself very involved in the creation of the extremely popular Google Earth, I am quite excited to see our earth available in all its 3D beauty to anybody with a web browser. Cesium enables application developers to add their own content on the globe, such as Dioarama - an interactive 3D presentation of activities recorded with a GPS -presented by a team from Australia’s NICTA research centre
- Exocortex - presented their new product: clara.io. This product is nothing more than a modeling package running inside a web browser. No software to install, and no worries about losing/storing models locally. This tool IMHO is one of the most interesting developments in tools enabled by WebGL, because it turns the web browser from surfing content in the cloud into a creation tool. Just think about how disruptive this could be. This product has received so much interest that they had to restrict its access through a closed beta in order to provide the best experience. They now have to progressively scale up their web application to the thousands of demanding users to ensure the success of the product.
- Lagoa - had a large booth at SigGraph, they provide Interactive Photoreal 3D Rendering in the Cloud. This is not their first SigGraph, last year they were known as TeamUp and were demonstrating their product on the AMD booth. Lagoa is taking advantage of WebGL to provide interactive editing of the 3D scene, while the photorealistic rendering is done in parallel on the server.
I will end this blog post by mentioning new technologies in development. Mozilla has just released an experimental prototype of WebGL2, based on OpenGL ES 3.0 specification, available in the Aura builds. The COLLADA (ISO standard for 3D asset exchange XML schema) working group is working on glTF - a ‘transmission format’ that both accelerates the transfer of 3D assets by reducing its size and simplifies its integration in a web application by being very close to the data format used by WebGL/OpenGL. And last but not least, rest3d is an http API whose goal is to provide content processing as a service to make it easier to deploy content on the growing (but very fragmented) client devices we are all expecting to be able to use to interact with 3D content. Rest3d is an open-source project available to anyone to experiment with or contribute on the AMD Github portal.
Dr. Rémi Arnaud is a software engineer and web browser technologies specialist at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied. WebGL and the WebGL logo are trademarks of the Khronos Group Inc.