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Report on the Virtual Environments Conference

The Virtual Environments on the Internet, World Wide Web and Networks Conference was held in Bradford on 14 - 17 April 1997.

Seven pre-Conference Courses offered the following topics:

  • Introduction to the Internet and World Wide Web
  • VRML 2.0 - from Concepts to Behaviours
  • Introduction to Java Programming
  • Introduction to Computer Animation
  • Virtual Environments on the Desk Top - an Overview of Key Technologies
  • Information Visualization on the web
  • Virtual Actor Technology.
  • Countries represented at the Conference included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Korea, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, UK and USA.

    This summary of the Conference (16 - 17 April) gives a review of the Invited Speakers' presentations.

    Left to Right: Dr Mikael Jern, Mr Joao Mena de Matos, Prof Nadia Magnenat Thalmann, Prof Daniel Thalmann, Dr Larry Rosenblum, Prof Patrick Purcell and Prof Brian Wyvill

    Realistic Avatars and Autonomous Virtual Humans in VLNET Networked Virtual Environments

    Professor Daniel Thalmann (EPFL, Switzerland) outlined how realistically modelled and animated virtual humans could facilitate communication in networked virtual environments. Realism in participant representation involves two elements: believable appearance and realistic movements. The sense of presence also increases with social and physical interaction. The VLNET system has three types of virtual humans coexisting in the environment: participative, user-guided, and autonomous. One of the problems with interactions between real people and virtual humans in networked environments is that the user never really knows whether the virtual representation corresponds to the characteristics of the real person or not.

    The Virtual Workbench: Experiences and Applications

    Dr Larry Rosenblum (Naval Research Laboratory, USA) discussed the uses and applications of the Virtual Workbench and the pros and cons of different types of virtual environments, including those for multiple users (e.g. the CAVE). Systems could be characterised according to immersiveness, resolution, habitability, interaction detail, group interaction, portability, and cost. Networked workbenches were being explored and the issue of conflict in shared workspaces is one area of current work. Future work is in the areas of effective remote collaboration, novel interaction techniques, evaluation of user interfaces, level of detail, hardware improvements, and accurate representation of the physics of objects.

    Digital Media Content - Making a Fresh Start

    Professor Patrick Purcell (Imperial College, London) discussed the pervasive shift from analogue to digital media and in particular the impending prospect of digital terrestrial broadcasting in the UK. In the relationship of technology and media applications, technology has been the dominant partner. A content-led research initiative is now needed aimed at addressing the imbalance in this form/content relationship. A full rethink of the professional techniques and methodology for current content creation is required. The approach is based on the triad of issues that will affect digital content, namely a redesigned human interface, new content structures and lastly innovative digital broadcasting platforms, such as web TV.

    Information Drill-Down using Web Tools

    Dr Mikael Jern (Vice-President, AVS/UNIRAS) presented the latest state of play in 3D visualization on the web. More data within a given region can be obtained. Data mining, direct manipulation, and data visualization can be combined with 3D web tools. VRML allows users to view and navigate through 3D information worlds and hyperlink to new worlds. The advantages of using distributed component techniques based on plug-ins, Java applets, Java Beans and Active X providing client-side data manipulation were discussed and presented.

    Interactive Cloth Simulation: Problems and Solutions

    Professor Nadia Magnenat Thalmann (University of Geneva) presented her latest work on creating and animating clothes in real time. Many issues need to be resolved in modelling clothes, including accuracy, efficiency, robustness, collision detection, response, and constraint handling. Professor Thalmann was interviewed by Yorkshire Television's Calendar programme and appeared on Thursday 17 April. Extracts from her work on the clothing of the virtual Marilyn Monroe were also shown.

    Virtual Environments and Applications on Trans-European ATM Networks

    Mr Joao Mena de Matos (European Design Centre, Netherlands) discussed the use of trans-European ATM networks to facilitate the design and implementation of collaborative work environments for visualization (VISINET), multimedia (MAID) and virtual studios (VISTA). The University of Bradford (EIMC) is a collaborator in all these European projects.

    Genocide, Culture, and the Internet

    Tom Evans (CITE, UK) discussed the problems with censorship and copyright on the Internet, a problem that was likely to increase as the number of users increases.

    The Blob Tree: Implicit Modelling and VRML

    Professor Brian Wyvill (University of Calgary) described an implicit modelling system as an extension to VRML - to enable animations to be performed on the web.

    Inner Space - The Final Frontier

    David Leevers (BICC) discussed the relationship between inner space, real space and virtual space. A similar cycle of cognition was used to perform various human activities such as rehearsal, navigation, exploration, and collaboration. The relationships between users, documents, databases, and reality needed to be carefully considered before the appropriate access method is chosen.

    On behalf of the Co-Chairs of the Conference, I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television for providing such an excellent venue and top class support for the Conference, and also to the University of Bradford for all their help and support. Thanks also to all the lecturers on the courses, the paper presenters, and all who assisted with the arrangements for the Conference.

    Prof R A Earnshaw
    Head, Electronic Imaging and Media Communications Unit (EIMC)
    University of Bradford
    BD7 1DP, UK