Buzz’s Blog: On Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web

Jan 4 2010   2:25AM GMT

3D Modeling and Animation Assets on the Web: A Web 3.0 Challenge

Roger King Roger King Profile: Roger King

Managing Animation Assets.

One of the most challenging applications of next-generation web technology is the support of sites that provide media assets that are used in 3D animation. Animation applications are used in television and movie productions, training and informational videos, product design and CAD, magazine ads, and on websites. Animated projects can be extremely expensive to develop, demanding highly skilled and experienced artists who are familiar with complex applications for modeling, animating, rendering, video and sound editing, storyboarding, and compositing.

This has created a rapidly-growing, high-dollar market for animation assets. There are a handful of sites that sell extensive libraries of animation assets, in particular 3D models of characters, buildings, vehicles, weapons, animals, plants, cityscapes, and the like. These models are used by a wide class of individuals, including professional animators, architects who want to place their designs in attractive surroundings, medical and scientific writers, and hobbyists.

These assets can vary from being free to costing several hundreds of dollars. They can be rudimentary, or extraordinarily detailed and real-life.

But it can be very problematic to search these sites. Why?

Lack of tagging standards.

There are standards for tagging image and video data, publications, and many other web-based resources. These include MPEG-7, the Dublin Core, and the Metadata Object Description Schema, which have been discussed previously in this blog. But when it comes to complex forms of information, such as animation assets, it is a free-for-all, and the searching process is manual, highly iterative, and painstaking, even if you already know what sites are likely to have content you are interested in.

Complexity of evaluating an asset.

Another problem is that it is time consuming to evaluate even a single asset once it has been identified. Models have to be read into animation applications and they are highly complex. Often, you can’t even download a model without buying it.

Interdependency among collections of assets.

Assets like animation models typically must be used in combination with other models and elements of animated scenes. There can be many conflicts between assets, such as highly varying vertex and line densities, differing artistic style, and in their materials and textures. To put together a reasonably matched sets of assets can be extraordinary time-consuming.

Complex and error-prone import/export processes.

There are also dozens of commonly-used model formats used by modeling and animation applications. There are indeed a handful of standards, with names like obj, FBX, and Collada. Translating between the many proprietary and standardized formats can be very error-prone (with information being lost or changed), and the process often demands that the animator have access to applications that he or she doesn’t own. And these applications can easily cost thousands of dollars, and take years to master, and so a given animator is only likely to actively use a small set of them, often only one.

The challenge of Web 3.0.

Some people define Web 3.0 as the successor to Web 2.0 technology, which is meant to produce web applications that approach desktop applications in their interactive performance. Web 3.0, some say, would extend this technology to web apps that make use of advanced media in their interfaces and/or provide access to large media bases. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Web 3.0 developers would be to attack the problem of animation assets, in particular, tagging, organizing, interrelating, searching, evaluating, and transforming them.

More on this in future entries of this blog…

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