new york's historical landmarks in vrml

To introduce and promote the concept of navigable three dimensional (3D) space on the Internet, the New York VRMLSIG has created a collaborative, promotional 3D project designed to draw attention to New York's historical landmarks, the organizations that occupy the buildings and the 3D artists who are building navigable 3D worlds on the Internet.


What is VRML?

Unlike a static web page that is two dimensional (2D), a Web site with VRML presents viewers with a three dimensional representation of an object or a setting. The viewer can navigate within this space as though they are flying or walking through the image.

VRML was first introduced by Mark Pesce at the World Wide Web Consortium in 1993. VRML, or the Virtual Reality Modeling Language, is the language that describes 3D space on the Internet. VRML evolved out of Silicon Graphic's OpenInventor, an ASCII-based language, which they donated to the public domain. In less than four years, VRML has gathered a significant amount of support from 3D software manufacturers and browser software companies.


What is the New York VRML SIG?

In January 1996, industrial designer Larry Rosenthal, founded the New York VRMLSIG, a special interest group focusing on VRML and 3D on the Internet. What began as a small group of less than a dozen designers, has grown to a 250-member organization. Although a majority of the members stay in touch with the organization via e-mail, approximately 30-40 people meet monthly at The Bell Technology Group's headquarters in Lower Manhattan. In November 1997, the SIG incorporated as an educational non-profit in the State of New York.


New York's Historical Landmarks in Navigable 3D

As a project, the re-creation of historical landmark buildings is a tribute to New York's rich architectural history.

Each building with landmark status has an important history that can be expressed using VRML and then made available to viewers globally over the Internet.


VRML Model Building in 1998; VRML Animation and Interactivity in 1999

Model building is the first step to learning VRML. Although animated, interactive 3D is the ultimate step, learning to build a 3D model requires some experimentation with three dimensions or X, Y and Z. Building usually begins with 2D objects that can be "extruded" or inflated to form 3D objects. Creating a building requires an assembly of separate objects to form a whole.

Today, there are a variety of tools to create 3D models. Although some 3D modeling software programs can write VRML 2.0 files, many lack the ability to write a file that also includes animation and interactivity. Only a small number of people in New York's VRMLSIG have worked extensively with 3D modeling tools. An even smaller number have built sophisticated worlds with VRML animation and interactivity. The landmark project and other model building activities represents an opportunity to get a significant number of people started working in a 3D medium that can be viewed over the Internet.

Creating navigable 3D VRML models in 1998 is an achievable goal that can be met using software tools that are inexpensive and readily available. By the end of the year, we hope the number of people creating VRML 3D models has increased by a factor of ten. Next year, the SIG will assist a large group of artists who wish to add animation and interactivity to their models.


Adding VRML Animation and Interactivity to a Model

Animation and interactivity are the next steps after mastering 3D modeling. The tools that exist to write this type of VRML file are V-Realm Builder from Ligos and World Visions from Aesthetic Solutions. Both companies have been extremely supportive of the landmark project. Ligos has extended a free license for 50 CD-ROM copies of V-Realm Builder for the life of the landmark project and will make those copies available at a 50% educational discount at the conclusion of the project in June 1998. In July 1997, Ligos sent John Palacio to New York to train nine of the New York SIG members how to use V-Realm Builder. The company has also recently extended a 20% discount ($39.96) to members who wish to purchase the VRML Workbook, a new courseware workbook from Ligos (visit Many thanks are due to Court Shannon, Vice President of Marketing at Ligos and John Palacio, for their help and support.

Modelers at Aesthetic Solutions have participated in the project by modeling a New York City yellow cab and cab driver. Both the cab and driver have had animation added with Aesthetic's World Visions tool and have been added to Larry Rosenthal's Gray's Papaya model ( For SIG members who are ready to add animation to their models, a beta copy of Aesthetic's World Visions is available for downloading at Many thanks to Gary Falacara, President of Aesthestic Solutions, for his help and support.


Virtus Corporation and the "3D Walkthrough"

Virtus WalkThrough Pro occupies an interesting niche in the Macintosh and Windows software marketplace. This 3D-visualization tool was created in 1990 by Virtus president David Smith. During that year, movie director James Cameron needed several underwater sets for the filming of The Abyss. After Mike Backes, the technical consultant on the movie, saw David's 3D walkthrough game called "the Colony," he asked David to write a software program that would help him block shots for the film. David wrote the software for The Abyss in just a few weekends. Later, David learned that his software saved the filmmakers $2 million. Many of the shots James Cameron had planned could not be seen -- something he learned from working with the 3D visualization tool.

David Smith's 3D-visualization tool is now popular with several other Hollywood directors. A director can use this easy-to-use tool to communicate camera angles to everyone working on a film. Virtus WalkThrough Pro was also used to block shots for Brian DePalma's film Mission Impossible. In less than one year after VRML was formalized, Virtus added a VRML 1.0 export feature to their software making the tool the first VRML file-writing tool and "first to market."

Virtus was the first toolmaker to lend support to the New York VRMLSIG's landmark project providing a site license to Pratt Institute for classroom instruction in model building provided by Alex Shamson. Many thanks are due to Ashley Sharpe in Public Relations at Virtus, Mike Helpingstine, Product Manager and Dena Slothower at Pratt Manhattan's School of Professional Studies for providing software and classroom space.


Getting Started: Landmark Projects for Elementary and High Schools

VRMLSIG members who have created their landmark models in Cosmo's Homespace Designer and Meta Creation's Ray Dream 3D have created "pre-fabricated" sections for elementary and high school students who want to build their own models. Homespace Designer and Ray Dream 3D were selected because they are inexpensive and available for both Windows 95 and PowerPC Macintosh.

The SIG will make pre-fabricated sections available as downloadable files and provide an online tutorial for teachers.