VRML Tutorials, Resources, and Books
VRML, the Virtual Reality Markup Language, was a 3D modeling language intended to be, like HTML, a web standard. The idea was that web browsers could support viewing interactive environments created in VRML, and the web would become a world of virtual reality sites.
The Sad History of VRML
VRML was first proposed back in 1994 at the very first World Wide Web conference. The first consumer-facing application that used the format was a 3D plugin to the Netscape browser, released in 1995.
In 1997 the language was revised and became an ISO standard. Though there was initially a lot of excitement around the format, development mostly stagnated. At the same time, 3D graphics creation and rendering boomed, led primarily with proprietary formats geared toward the development of video games and movie production.
One of the problems with the adoption of VRML was timing. When it was first introduced, home computers were relatively low powered — often lacking graphics processors — and connected to the web with extremely low-speed (dial up) internet connections.
The result is that, while there were a few projects that played around with the technology a bit, it never really took off as a viable platform. It's most useful application has been as a data-exchange format for 3D models, especially in CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) programs.
The dream of VRML as a widespread web standard never really panned out, and VRML is now a defunct standard. But it is still interesting for historical reasons. It's interesting to think about what the web might have been like if VR interaction had become as common as text and video.
There were three major versions of the VRML language standard. The first was just VRML, or VRML 1. Then VRML 2.0. Then VRML 97. The basic ideas for all three versions are the same, but there are some non-compatible differences.
In this document, we have included tutorials and resources for all three versions.
- Introduction to VRML is a technical introduction to the language from the Design Lab at MIT.
- An Introduction to VRML by one of its co-creators, Mark Pesce. If you've ever wondered what the first object ever rendered by VRML was, this page will tell you. (Spoiler Alert: It's a banana.)
- VRML Tutorial is a detailed introduction to the language, including history, basic concepts, and a practical tutorial.
- Floppy's VRML Guide is a practical, three-part guide that covers basic object creation, advanced objects, realism, and animation.
- VRML Tutorial is a very simple tutorial that introduces the basic ideas of the language.
- How to Display Virtual Reality Files is a short tutorial on accessing VRML files as a user.
- VRML is a chapter excerpted from Using HTML and XHTML, Special Edition (2002), by Molly E Holzschlag.
- Mastering the Triangle is a VRML walk-through that takes the reader from knowing nothing at all to anumating a simple triangle.
- Introduction to VRML 97 contains the contains the course materials from a class on the language taught at UC San Diego.
- VRML Audio Tutorial is a guide to learning how to implement sound in VRML.
- Paolo's VRML Tutorial is a 7-lesson tutorial with downloadable worlds.
- VRML Interactive Tutorial is a project-based tutorial with instructions for modeling an animated lighthouse.
- VRML 1.0 Tutorial is a detailed tutorial covering model creation for a number of shapes.
- Web Workshop: 3D Graphics and VRML 2.0 is a book length guide to web-based 3D imaging with VRML.
- Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) in Chemistry is an interesting paper on using the VRML to illustrate chemistry concepts.
Reference and Other Learning Resources
- Exporting VRML Files explains how to create VRML files using the popular 3D modeling tool SketchUp.
- VRML Resources for Beginners has a collection of topic-specific VRML tutorials.
- RcCad Gallery is the largest gallery of free VRML aircraft models on the internet.
- Lighting Shapes is a VRML tutorial covering the different types of lights available.
- A Two-Player VRML Mobile Game is a research paper exploring the use of VRML and Java for mobile gaming.
- VRML Virtual Reality Modeling Language is the official page on the VRML standard from the World Wide Web consortium.
- VRML97 Specification is the official specification document for the 1997 standard.
- GeoVRML was an official Working Group of the Web3D Consortium. It was formed in 1998 to standardize the representation of geographical data. They have been largely inactive since 2002, but the website still has a lot of interesting information.
- VRML Models is a large, categorized collection, with everything from buildings to people to platonic solids.
Books on VRML
- VRML: Browsing and Building Cyberspace (1995), by Mark Pesce, is the classic book on VRML by its inventor. If you want to know what the original intention and thinking behind VRML was, this is the book to get. The forward is by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web.
- Building VRML Worlds (1996), by Sanders et al., goes beyond the simple creation of individual objects and focuses on the planning, design, and development of entire virtual sites.
- Distributed Virtual Worlds: Foundations and Implementation Techniques Using VRML, Java, and CORBA (2010), by Stephan Diehl, is a historically and technically interesting look at weaving together several technologies to deliver 3D, immersive web-based experiences.
- VRML: Exploring Virtual Worlds on the Internet (1997), by Goralski, Poli, and Vogel, is an introductory text on VRML, covering all the language basics.
- VRML Programmer's Library (1997), by Jamsa, Schmauder, and Yee, is a cookbook-style collection of VRML source code examples.
- Laura Lemay's Web Workshop: 3D Graphics & VRML 2.0 (1996), by Lemay, Couch, and Murdock, is an easy-to-read book covering the VRML specification and exploring the existing (at that time) online ecosystem of 3D sites.
- Instant VRML Worlds (1996), by Schwerin and Kennedy, is a collection of usable VRML components. The idea is that web designers could import the models directly into their own VRML sites, from the included CD-ROM.
- Information Visualization: Beyond the Horizon (2010), by Chaomei Chen, only touches on VRML briefly, but in an interesting context. Whereas most of the tutorials and other material on VRML was about creating virtualized versions of real objects, and human-scaled worlds to interact in, this book sets VRML in the context of complex data visualizations.
- Web Publisher's Construction Kit With VRML/Live 3D: Creating 3d Web Worlds (1996), by Fox and Shaddock, is an intermediate-level book on VRML, for people already familiar with HTML and web publishing.
- Reality Architecture: Building 3D Worlds In Java and VRML (1998), by Martin McCarthy, leads the reader from VRML basics through the design and creation of complex virtual environments.
- Introduction to Virtual Reality (2004), by John Vince, covers a wide range of issues and technology in the virtual reality space, putting VRML in context of several other developments that were happening at the same time.
- The VRML 2.0 Handbook: Building Moving Worlds on the Web (1996), by Hartman and Wernecke, explains how to use VRML to build rich, interactive environments, walking the reader through a virtual recreation of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.
- Late Night VRML 2.0 With Java (1997), by Couch et al, is an introductory book on VRML, but geared toward experienced programmers and graphic designers.
- Teach Yourself VRML 2 in 21 Days (1997), by Marrin and Campbell, is part of the Sam's Teach Yourself series. This book is a very methodical tutorial on the language, focusing on practical usage.
What came after VRML?
The official successor to VRML is X3D, which is similarly based on XML. In fact, VRML content is largely compatible with X3D.
<canvas> attribute. WebGL is widely supported in modern browsers, and is likely the best option for native, browser based 3D graphics.
Further Reading and Resources
We have more guides, tutorials, and infographics related to coding and development:
- Java: Introduction, How to Learn, and Resources: learn all about Java, which was often used along with VRML.
- ImageMagick Introduction and Resources: this collection of command-line graphics tools is set up to use as a graphics library.
- C++ Developer Resources: learn all about one of the great languages for graphics and virtual reality programming.
When to Use JPEG, GIF & PNG
Confused about graphics file formats? Check out our infographic, When to Use JPEG, GIF & PNG.