An Old Map and Declarative 3D

This is an early  “work in progress” visualization of an 18th century map drawn by Giambattista Nolli, using @A-Frame declarative HTML mark-up extensions for VR/3D in WebGL – with procedurally generated geometry and baked lighting in Houdini. Lots more to do and learn. Eventually it will be part of an AR promo piece but I couldn’t resist.

aaa_nolli_splash

(better navigation in cardboard, varied building heights, and better global illumination)

 

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Who will make the merchandise display cases for VR shopping?

Many are convinced that simultaneous, shared, social experiences in VR and other 3D immersive modalities are a foregone conclusion. Regardless of how deluded we might be in this, one thing becomes clear – in order for this to scale, we will need to have a consistent way of describing all of the stuff – much like how molecules are a consistent way of describing the real world. Luckily the virtual world is many orders of magnitude simpler than the actual physical world, and instead of the uncountable trillions of sub particle level interactions of matter, the virtual world needs only a truly astounding level of trackable events through a potentially manageable number of protocols and standards.

The problem is that even at many orders of magnitude simpler, the task of how to consistently describe “anything” so that we can share it, sell it, buy it, travel to it, hold it, toss it back and forth, etc. is still really, amazingly complicated. Much more complicated than say – the choice of game engine d’jour, OBJ or FBX or Collada, or whether or not you have a cool physics engine. But what really are the basics of virtual matter that need description so that they can be manipulated in the ways we expect? I was thinking about this and came up with a functional, if prosaic example to get me into a more pragmatic frame of mind than say – blasting space zombie outlaws.

Let’s assume we have simultaneous social immersive 3D experiences delivered over a common framework. And let’s say that within that space there are millions of stores. And in many of these stores is the virtual equivalent of a merchandise display case. And let’s say your company makes display cases for virtual environments. There are a lot of assumptions here for sure, and the “display case” here is really just a conceptual placeholder for whatever the virtual world might offer up as a kind of “durable good”. But let’s put all that aside for the moment and assume that your business is making virtual display cabinets.

In the real world, display cabinets have certain features that make them more suited for some purposes than others, and yours are very good and specialized. In your case they are jewelry cases that have buttons on top that let a shopper rotate the shelves around forward and back. You make high end cabinets that are very durable and come in standard sizes that fit in with other leading retail fixture manufacturers’ products. The doors operate smoothly allowing ample access for the sales associate to quickly retrieve even the most tiny items the customer might want. When a business orders cabinets from you, they pay for them, you ship them out, they are installed and exist physically in place. No one can really duplicate them beyond manufacturing a knock off product.

In a virtual world retail businesses will want display cabinets, and just like in the real world they won’t normally want to design and manufacture them themselves. They will expect to buy them and for them to just simply work. Customers will be able to easily peruse their options and make their choices. They may want to try things on, see how they match the color of their eyes before they buy them. Your display cases will have to use the same “trying on” mechanisms that the rest of the display cases in the store do, because the store will want to support the latest most accurate shopping reality capture avatar system available. Your display case needs to be installable within the store’s inventory control scheme, but also installable within the stores local cartesian coordinate frame. It needs to be addressable within their asset management system so that stock changes and merchandising decisions can be pushed to the cabinets from central databases. Your cabinets will need to be backward compatible with this stores stock and inventory system which is several versions out of date because “they like their system fine the way it is”, and they are a big customer so you need to keep their business.

And so let’s say now you’ve managed to make a a future proof, universally accessible and addressable, fully inter-functional display cabinet, backward compatible with old virtual mercantile standards, with compliant e-commerce security features, but you still have another issue. How do you make sure that the store isn’t making copies of your display cabinets and using them across all their wholly owned subsidiaries? Or selling them overseas to offset a flat Christmas sales season? Or being stolen by a nefarious shopper and resold on the lucrative display cabinet black market?

This is where it’s all about standards. All about the protocols that set out the expected behaviors and configurations that define and prescribe how all of these magical virtual interactions happen. It’s the subatomic glue that connects all the disparate experiences into coherent, navigable places, and continues to do so after the cowboys and star fighters have all gone home.

Freeing Immersive Content Creators from App Trap

One of the biggest hurdles facing anyone wanting to deliver AR/VR content right now is that every different implementation requires a different packaging of content data. Some of this is a result of the “game” and “app” ecosystems that these experiences come from, but there’s also no other alternative.

Content cannot be delivered as a broadcast stream because there is no definition of what that stream is. Without that there is no standard viewing “environment” to leverage. There are some attempts to work on this – YouTube’s 360 video is an interesting way of delivering one component of immersive content, but it’s not an extensible or leverageable technology. It’s essentially only a movie player. A content creator cannot, for instance, embed a 360 video as one of many elements in a deliverable program.

And so content creators also have to be technologists capable of building worlds of mixed elements inside of an app or game metaphor. Each experience is a one-off, individually crafted delivery of heterogenous content. But most of this content is really just reconfigured instances of only a handful of different kinds of data – 2d, 3d, static, animated, geometry, images, navigable, etc. And this repetition could be exploited into not only a consistent data exchange “format”, but also a consistent experience environment. A content provider would construct, not an app or game, but a container of elements and descriptors, deliverable as a “unit” to any compliant experience environment. Like a broadcast network delivered TV shows, bounced off satellites, thrown across the airwaves or down cables to a TV set that decoded and displayed the experience.

But what would that package look like? How can we all agree? What are the NTSC, mpeg, jpeg, obj, wav of VR? Is it a file? Is it a file aggregation container? There are a lot of questions to answer, but the freedom afforded to content creators when they no longer have to worry about he technology of the viewing experience, could bring the freedom that other creators have had for years. Film makers don’t have to worry about the inner mechanical workings of projectors, writers don’t have to worry about how printing presses work, and AMVR content creators should not have to worry about writing apps.

The Late 1940s Black and White TV of Virtual Reality Experiences

Everyone seems to be chasing some pretty lofty production goals in VR right now – fully immersive 360 cinematic visual experiences, with full body tracking and gestural input – and that’s great. It’s like the ultimate mind bending experience. But it’s missing a bigger, more achievable, and more deliverable alternative which is a lot more like black and white TV of the late 40s.

It’s not a sexy as the hard wired, high octane, dedicated immersive pipeline experience of an 8K surround, best seat in the house concert experience, or the subtly expressive and captivating world of an elegantly rendered narrative, but it’s deliverable, right now, and on cardboard or a simple smartphone.

If we let go of designing for the future hardware utopia – no not all of us, and certainly not all of the time – we can make experiences that we can deliver right now. How captivating they are will be based on how well the inherent limitations are embraced and become part of the experiences themselves. It’s like the $9.95 sculpture in design class – what’s the best sculpture you can make for $9.95? Not what’s the best approximation of $9,999 dollar sculpture you could have made if the assignment weren’t so damn frustrating, and not the $0.99 sculpture – you get no points for false economies. But the best that you can do while fully embracing the limitation of $9.99.

What can we do with limited resolution, limited bandwidth, limited tracking, limited capture? Can we make a simple experience that can be immersive, but not stereo? Can a viewer go to a web page, hold up their smart phone and be inside an engaging experience? What are the experiences that lend themselves most to these design constraints? News? Documentary? Sports? Conversations? Simple telepresence? Standup comedy? Variety shows? We are not at the readily available 8k video experience of VR yet; we aren’t even at the readily available Color TV NTSC 1950s experience of VR yet. How do we design compelling experiences for what we do have. There were compelling things on TV when it was black and white, on a tiny round screen, and the image was mostly ghosted, solarized, and smeared. Maybe people were just smarter in the 40s.

Tensegrity and Clothing Simulation

In the 1960s Buckminster Fuller coined the word tensegrity as a combination of tension and integrity, to describe a structure which holds its form through the balance of tension between its parts. It’s a great metaphor when thinking about how energy is distributed in a visual effects simulation at rest and I’ll misuse it as a shorthand for just that.

Let’s take clothing dynamics for example. Look at the clothes you’re wearing. Every fold and wrinkle is an expression or the outcome, of a complex set of interconnected forces – friction, tensile strength, elasticity, etc. The shape exists as it does, solely because of the physical forces of the pieces of fabric, how they’re attached to each other, and the mutual exertion between the cloth and its environment. This is its tensegrity, and the folds of a shirt are a system of balanced tensions, momentarily stabilized.

So what use is this to simulating clothing in animation? Well, because it explains why it’s such a pain in the ass. The cloth’s tensegrity is essentially a lot of forces to keep in check with one another. Let’s look at it backwards.

When a fold is modeled into a shirt for instance, to get an approvable geometric model, and that model is then used as the basis of a simulation – what’s modeled is not actually a fold, but a complex interconnected web of physical tensions and exertions, held together in a sate by, and according to, its tensegrity. When the forces to that matrix of physical interplays change, the system must rebalance, and since the original balance was not based on anything resembling the physics of cloth, it’s efforts to rebalance are not very cloth-like.

Traditional clothes start out as really weird flat shapes. What materials these shapes are made of and how these shapes are attached to one another establish their tensegrity. That results in specific shapes, folds, draping and motion in response to environmental forces – shape is motion and motion is shape. Most CG modeled clothing could never be “unstitched” to lie flat – it would have odd warping, buckling and distortions. The simulated forces act on those structural malformations as input, and the simulation math tries to make sense of it all, as if the warpings were intentional distributions of mass in space.

The visual results are weird, “bubbly”, oozing, and overreactive motions that fold unexpectedly, and keep crawling after the character stops. Those are the simulation engine’s efforts to reestablish balance in the energy of the clothing mesh. It’s just the simulation version of a computer never does anything you don’t tell it to do.

for an actual, more scholarly explanation of tensegrity start here (please) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tensegrity

an interesting example of a 3D printed dress that uses modeled forms rather that flat patterns (and moves more like a sim)

take a peek at pattern making
http://craftsy.me/1Fc0sAi

#simulation #clothsim #cfx #tensegrity #moviephysics #patterndrafting #3dprinting