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.

VRML Versions

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.

VRML Tutorials

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

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.

WebGL is a JavaScript 3D graphics API that works with the HTML <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

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