web development

The Ultimate Guide to WebGL

27 July 2022

With the development of new technology comes the need to learn and adapt. That’s the case with WebGL. It is possible to use 3D technologies in the browser to create an amazing user experience. However, in the past, browsers had to depend on the CPU to render content. These days, updated browsers have been adopted to provide support for hardware acceleration. The result is that browsers can now access a device’s GPU to render more complex graphics through the use of WedGL. 

There’s no question that WebGL is a difficult language to learn; however, there are JavaScript libraries that make this language easier to access and use, including three.js and Babylon.js. With the advance of this technology, the skills between traditional web developers, game developers, and VFX artists are now merging together to create interactive experiences across the web. 

It’s imperative to have an understanding of basic VFX principles. This includes lighting, animation, cameras, and 3D geometry. And it’s crucial to have an understanding of JavaScript frameworks and HTML. 

Export 3D for the Web

One of the major problems with exporting 3D assets into a WebGL environment is that the files are particularly weighty. Heavy assets, such as 3D models, require more care during asset creation in order to be sure the models are loaded efficiently. 

There are many aspects that can affect the size of a 3D model; however, there are three rules you can follow that can reduce weight in the browser: 

1) Good topology: this refers to the mesh flow of 3D models. The cleaner the mesh, the more efficient the model can run. This means fewer polygons are used to reduce the weight of the asset. 

2) Normal mapping: this approach is used to create a detailed raised texture on 3D assets while keeping a low polygon count. Though the details of the maps are fake, they are highly effective. What’s more, this method can create a higher resolution model with a detailed mesh. The normal map is exported and wrapped around a lower polygon model, which works to create the illusion of a detailed object. 

3) File formats: a new file format has been developed called gITF. This is a royalty-free interoperable format for sharing 3D graphics and is being considered as “JPEG for 3D.” This file format has been created to cover the need for a common graphics file format for 3D, which was the same reason JPEG was originally developed for photos. JPEG became the standardized file format for images. In much the same way, gITF is being looked at as the standard format for 3D assets. It will take time to see if gITF is truly adopted as the standard. 

How Will WebGL Be Used? 

When gITF first appeared, much creativity was seen. There were many wild and amazing experiences created by developers and artists who were experimenting with this new technology. It’s only recently that more practical uses have started coming out as more developers use this tech. 

Where FLASH was once used to create interactive learning tools for students, gITF is now replacing FLASH for these applications. gITF is creating more intuitive learning tools that can run complex graphics and interactions, which are needed to improve UI for students. 

Large brands are also turning to gITF to help graphics render more effectively. For instance, the PS4 UI is powered by WebGL, which means its menus and elements run more smoothly, without lagging. When a user logs into their PS4, they’re running WebGL code, which enhances their gaming experience. 

In architecture, firms are also investing in gITF to make their 3D visualizations more accessible. They’re also creating immersive experiences for clients to enhance their experience of a new property with WebVR. 

What’s more, within ecommerce, there’s also the adoption of WebGL, which is being used to render 3D models with intricate detail. Users then have a layer of interactive customization tools that make it easy for them to update their product visualization in real-time. This means products have the ability to become more realistic and tangible to potential buyers. 

What About VR? 

WebGL is being used to start the exploration of additional 3D technologies such as WebVR and WebAR. The big browser firms, including Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla, are looking at ways to define how VR and AR will be part of a user’s future browsing experience. 

One of the main benefits of VR on the web is the accessibility that it enables. VR content could be easily accessed by anyone with a browser. The creation and distribution of content, without the need to go through an app store, gives retailers, educators, and brands a higher level of reach than in the past. While this is still all very new, the technology is gaining support and demand. 

It is exciting to see how the VR medium is becoming more mainstream and how it will affect the web as it becomes more widely used. It’s all about making the web easier to access like never before. 

Augmented Reality

We can’t leave out augmented reality while speaking about WebGL. AR is the next step for browsers, which will work to blend digital content with the real world. While this tech is still very new and experimental, Google is making great progress in this area and has already released several tools and demos. 

These tools include WebARonArcore and WebARonARKit, which are both experimental apps for both Android and iOS. The apps make it easier for developers to create AR experiences with web technologies. Three.js and three.ar.js are making it easier to create AR experiences. They work to add helper classes on top of the three.js. Right now, the tech is only in the early stages of development. This means the experiences are only viewable through the use of experimental browsers. 

The goal of VR, AR, and mixed reality is to create an immersive user experience. The use of 3D tech is going much faster, being driven by WebAR. It will be exciting to see how all of this develops and the additional dimension it will provide in the browsing experience. 

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