WebGL in the wild

This is a guest post by David Humphrey and was originally posted in his weblog. David is a professor at Seneca College in Toronto where he teaches and researches open source development and leads Mozilla’s education project. David’s been involved with WebGL well before it became WebGL and was just a Firefox extension. It’s nice to see that work making its way out of the experimental stage and already being used to solve real-world problems even before it’s officially shipped anywhere.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about 3D in the browser. It’s to the point that I have to blog about it, and try to get it out of my head and onto the web where it belongs. Part of the reason I’m writing this tonight is that my colleague, Cathy Leung, has just put up a demo so awesome I’m compelled to share it (video here):

She put the video together after this article was written about her work to make 3D accessible to web developers via C3DL. Cathy has been working with a team of students at Seneca College for the past few years, focused on an experimental 3D technology created by Mozilla. Her work proves how valuable 3D in the browser can be. I think a lot of people misunderstand its significance: “Doom in the browser?” Sure, but it’s way more than that. There is no shortage of tea pots on the web these days, as various browser vendors start to show-off early releases of WebGL enabled builds. However, Mozilla has been at this game a long time. I know because we’ve been using their stuff as long as they’ve been building it. And it’s really reached a new level now.

As Mozilla pushes WebGL further, and Cathy continues her work on C3DL, I’m focused on another project to harness the power of 3D in the browser. Together with Al MacDonald, I’m leading a Mozilla Foundation project to complete the work begun by John Resig to port the Processing language to JavaScript (aka processing.js). The processing.js port, while unfinished, is already amazing. Imagine if we took eight students, finished it, and added 3D support from C3DL? I know, exactly.

Part of what makes me so excited about all this work is the deep intersection of things I love. I’ve long been a fan of the work of Processing creators, Ben Fry and Casey Reas, every since they were part of the Aesthetics and Computation Group. I’ve always thought that their work belonged on the web instead of on the desktop. At the same time, my own work with Mozilla and the open web has proven to me the need for richer ways of working with things like open data. The web is at an interesting point in its evolution. We now take for granted that it can do what was once only possible via desktop apps. Looking forward I can already see a time when the web will also be the proper medium of artists, designers, data visualizers, and others pushing the limits of the second and third dimensions. I’m thrilled to be a small part of this effort now.

If you’d like to get involved with any of the work discussed above, please do get in touch with me. The most exciting aspect of everything I’ve told you remains that it’s all community developed, from Mozilla to C3DL to processing to processing.js. That’s how you build the software stack of the future.


  1. LKRaider

    way to go! awesome suff

    October 2nd, 2009 at 00:11

  2. Nicolas

    I really like your work with MotionView, it’s nice to see people writing meaningful applications on top of WebGL :)

    October 2nd, 2009 at 11:09

  3. Francis Baptiste

    I’m really excited about the Processing-to-javascript thing. That’s going to be huge. The web design community really appreciates the work that’s being done in that direction.

    January 15th, 2010 at 11:43

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