3D VR DESIGNS by Al Razutis

link to Al Razutis artist bio


To sculpt you need material with space, to paint you need a canvas. To create a 'virtual reality' you need a bit of all of the arts, and a 3D browser / rendering engine (a 'projector') that 'materializes' your imagination in a interactive virtual 'space'. This virtual space (a 'magic mirror') will fool the 2D / 3D eye, if it so wishes, by looking as 'real' as the virtual image in your everyday mirror, or will be a very 'unreal world' where laws of dimension, scale, gravity, collision, transparency and movement are synthetic constructs (or variables).

The many forms (java, X3D, game engine) of this 'magic 3D mirror-projector' are as remarkable now as the 'motion-picture projector' was in 1896, and the future status of VR will be comparable to the significance that motion-pictures enjoyed in the 20th century. 3D VR and projection of 3D content on the web are evolving works of computer science harnessed by artists to create 'worlds' that are sometimes called 'art', and sometimes 'design', and their mesh objects are found scattered throughout the 3D cafes of the web.

Interpretations of 'what is art' invariable come from many points of view. Engineers don't necessarily share the same aesthetic with the codified or chaotic worlds of 'fine art'. Po-Mo surrealists enjoy the contradictions in all meaning, preferring to rummage the virtual garages of the web. And while academics debate whether VR is truly related to 'reality', gamers have created a mega-industry with little time for such self-conscious distractions or studies of 'meaning'.


"It takes only a tiny group of engineers to create technology that can shape the entire future of human exerience with incredible speed. Therefore, crucial arguments about the human relationship with technology should take place between developers and users before such direct manipulations are designed." Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget. 2010, Alfred A. Knopf)

The web, where these works reside, has dramatically changed since it's first (Mosaic) browser days where personal web sites outnumbered the site-by-template, like the now prevalent Facebook 'networking sites', and where VRML was seen as a tool for webcasting 3D worlds. Web 1.0 has been overwhelmed by 2.0 and by anonymous or pseudonymous posts, networking of all kinds, wikiis, GPS tracked cell photos, Facebook, Twitter, mobile aps, and what Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget. 2010, Alfred A. Knopf) calls 'mush', 'trolls', 'cybernetic totalism' and a near religious obsession with 'cloud computing', 'singularity', and the end of privacy and authorship. We are getting 'locked in' by the very software that was designed to be liberating.

"The process of (software) lock-in is like a wave gradually washing over the rulebook of life, culling the ambiguities of flexible thoughts as more and more thought structures are solidified into effectively permanent reality....it reduces or narrows the ideas it immortalizes, by cutting away the unfathomable penumbra of meaning that distinguishes a word in natural language from a command in a computer program..." Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget. 2010, Alfred A. Knopf)

We see software limiting our choices and 'locked in' to a limited number of choices, templates, content and display parameters - a de-humanized world of pseudo personalities, anonymous postings and belligerence/hacking, trolling/lurking, and a networks of 'chatter' about the most mundane 'realities' that drive the content of a machine-like network exhibiting a 'virtual reality' and floating in some cyber ether of cloud computing.

Shall we populate this network with avatars? What shall the avatars look like, or do? Everything and anything, where anything is everything, and vice versa? Whatever? Shall the web become 'artificially intelligent' on its own, and need less 'human realities, and more 'information', which has no reality, context, or meaning? These are questions to be posed to ourselves, if we pursue creations (humanoid and otherwise) in 'Virtual Reality'.

Let me pick out some additional ethical and artistic problems, quoting from Lanier's book These issues of ethics, philosophy and social relations cannot be ignored in the works of VR artists in this and future eras.

"The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush. You then start to care about the abstraction of the network more than the real people who are networked, even though the network by itself is meaningless. Only the people were ever meaningful...Emphasizing the crowd means de-emphasizing the individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad moblike behaviors...The anti-human approach to computation is one of the most baseless ideas in human history." Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget. 2010, Alfred A. Knopf)

I am motivated to add that 'information', by itself has no meaning. It requires interpretation and contxt. By itself it is just information, like a landscape before you populated with color, shapes, and dimensional factualities. By itself, without a context, without a viewer and a 'sender', without a time and place, without interpretation and motive, it is meaningless.

But this 'free information', 'open source', 'available to all', 'anonymous', 'de-personalized', is precisely what dominates the web with anonymous postings, right-click mouse appropriations and redistributions, collage, montage, trickery, the mixing and mashing of cause and effect, signifier stripped from signified and re-combined into (what Lanier called) "mush", all 'shared' amongst 'friends' and 'anybody' since 'everything' and parts of this mush, the 'anythings' are simply 'everything' to be shared and re-shared, and re-sent, altered, commented on, in the joyour mush of 'friendships' on the network residing on servers in the not-so-religious 'clouds'.

You can object to the dissing of network conceits by saying that your information is 'private', 'shared only amongst friends', or 'who cares anyways?'. That is the point. A collective point. A point where political movements, protests on the web, outrageous deceptions, make lots of money, fame, and serve the ones whose exploitation of money, fame, and servitude are best accomplished in a uncaring, unthinking, unfeeling, unhuman, networked 'reality' of interchangeable parts of 'whatevers'.

"Information wants to be free....I say information doesn't deserve to be free...Information is alienated experience...But if you want to make the transition from the old religion, where you hope God will give you an afterlife, to the new religion, where you hope to become immortal by getting uploaded into a computer, then you have to believe information is real and alive. So for you, it will be important to redesign human institutions like art, the economy, and the law to reinforce the perception that information is alive...machine intelligence (like AI) can only be known in a relative sense, in the eyes of a human beholder." Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget. 2010, Alfred A. Knopf)

We need both a social and personal in our lives; the survival of our species, past and future, is based on that. We need a humanist philosophy informing both software and display. Easier said than done. Welcome to the future. The future is now. And forever, because the software is locked in, yet 'scalable'.

So each virtual world, and its avatars, is doomed to becoming 'mush', with a GPS date, place, stamped on it for predators to exploit, and the members of the 'hive' (the networked denizens) to 'share' ad infinitum? Not if you're thinking, when creating.


The presumptions of personal aesthetics, rules and inspirations

Aesthetics are personal and cultural choices. 'Perfection is laziness' Dali once stated. But a mathematician (see video clip of George Francis' Topological surfaces below) replied that 'Perfection (in numbers) is beautiful'. Marcos Novak's 'Worlds in Progress' (below) finds a certain perfection 'in progress'.

3D Art created in a tech environment takes many forms and reveals many preferences for subject and space. There are some that assert the breaking of rules with improvisation, chance and irrational inspiration, and some that assert adherence to logical forms (and its programming languages, geometric spaces, mathematical layouts of space and time).

The mass-market pop 3D world of medieval kitch, orcs, wizzards, sports heroes, war heroes, bad boys, bad girls all playing tits and ass, strike and kill, fly-race-snowboard the course, be a superman, conquer the world are everywhere, a spectacle of pop comix culture meets scary mysto-mythology of power and submission. It's everywhere ad nauseum and on purposeful quests for your bucks. That's the way the global economy of 3D design works. What's important in Japan is important in North America, and everywhere on the ever spinning world wide web. Car detailing, graffiti, international comix are the source of inspiration for the public genre of 3D punk aesthetics and its lasting power is enhanced by more viagra ads to the short-attention-gap XYZ gens and their boomer parents. It is a big 3D / motion-picture / storytelling industry, outperforming Hollywood. And its avatars are getting so good that soon they'll be copyrighted players in their own ACTRA pantheon.

Personal aesthetics

I prefer a hands-on 3D play with allegory and surrealist impulse, at the expense of fascinations with logical forms. You can see examples of this in numeous directories of 'Visual Alchemy'. In my work the aesthetic is a byproduct and not the tutor of these allegorical dances. Sometimes wonderful things happen when one makes a 'mistake'. Within the broad tradition of 'surrealism' I also found an impulse to fashion new and suprising interpretations of seemingly contradictory elements which have no aversion to (or obsession with) mythical forms. The allegorical content of many of the 3D works (including 3D video art, holographic art) features and cebrates these contradictions 'as beautiful' (as in 'lets dance').

Testimonial sim city or 'company aesthetics' when they go virtually beige:

I have heard that 'VRML sucks' from software programmers (we'll call him 'Paul') who have never created or published 3D worlds or scenes but led voyeuristic after-hour gamer lives of jolts per second. I guess 'it sucks' when speed and 'reality' is only determined by game engine and budget

I have heard that 'good animation' requires 'proper motion capture' which requires 'million-dollar facilities' from a Maya 3D character animator (we'll call him 'Don') who never created an interesting or engaging avatar other than one that looked like his red-haired 'girlfriend'. Nothing like blaming the tech for a lousy love life and lack of creativity.

I have heard that 'good writing' should be created by a office receptionist, a young blonde with big tits, using specially developed algorithms authored by the 'head of software' (we'll call him 'Joe') whose motives were typically residing between his legs. Such 'corporate culture' exists everywhere in a technical field that is full of alienated personalities working in a alienated environment on 'reality' products. It's a pity, since the ship goes down and the 'Paul', 'Don', 'Joe' types scatter to infect other world projects, and on and on.

Personal enchantments

The enchantment with 3D is a very personal experience, and it is the enchantment with color, form, texture, light, motion (as in flying through scenes) and transformation of space and forms that got me hooked in the first place.

My personal enchantment with three-dimensional art and design came from a personal 'place' that was awakened (with wonder) upon the occasion of seeing my first CG 3d models, 3d animation, holograms, and virtual reality (VRML) worlds.

What captivated me 'in the first instance' was the synthetic ability of objects and scenes to exist in once immagined, now real, space and time. The enchantment with objects 'appearing in space', moving and mutating, intersecting with known (photographic, sculptural, motion-picture) realities and departing from this known reality was captivating in itself. The creation of worlds beyond the 'known' became a passion, one that has sought out other artists in this endeavor and one that compells unadulterated creativity in ongoing works created typically 'far from the marketplace' of generic conventions.

Certainly the marketplace has changed and will continue to change due in large part to the efforts of an emerging generation of new media artists. This is a welcome aspect of our cultural process and should be encouraged not discouraged by the producers and financial officers of media companies where profit becomes the sole determination, and where 'formula' displaces courage to try something radically different.

The mysteries of '3D space', and that which is possible within it, are the places where I am interested in going, if only to return to that 'place of the first time' which, as poets wrote, is a place of remarkable beauty, our partner in dance.

(More on these topics, plus examples, will be added as time permits.)

    A discussion of poetically phrased aesthetics in my VRML works is contained in the legacy world directory, 'Uroboros - VRML 2.0'.

(Al Razutis 2001-2005)


CAVE experience

The Dan Sandin - Tom Defanti innovation known as 'CAVE' (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), first created at the University of Illinois in 1991, featured a immersive 3D VR experience, utilizing stereoscopic 3D head-mounted dislays (HMDs), 3D pointers ('the wand') and a rear-projected image environment (a box) with image displays on 3 walls and floor. The idea was to place the participating viewer 'into' the 3D VR scene where he/she could navigate 'within' the VR space.

    " The suspension of disbelief, so critical to the overall effect of virtual reality, is enhanced by the specific qualities of the CAVE's interface, which is, in fact, a small room of about three cubic meters. After entering the room, the user finds himself surrounded by projected images that are seamlessly synchronized on three walls, as well as on the floor. It is like stepping onto the stage of a virtual theater. The immersive experience of the CAVE was intended as an allusion to Plato's cave; its multiple screens and surround-sound audio evoke the metaphor of a shadowy representation of reality, suggesting how perception is always filtered through the mind's veil of illusion."

Two video clips of legacy works (derived sequences edited/assembled by AR) from PBS Nova 'Life by the Numbers' program, 1998) are included here to illustrate and concepts and aesthetics of selected researches in the VR visualization field.

    Donna Cox and George Francis (Univ. of Illinois - mathematics) demonstrating 'CAVE' VR (topological mathematics) modeling with commentary on aesthetics of abstraction'.

  • Topological Surfaces - VR (1 min.)
    - 2.2 mB Windows Media (.WMV) for Highband connections.
  • 'Worlds in Progress' (immersive architectural VRML) by Marcos Novak (Univ. of Texas - architecture) with commentary on VR aesthetics and intent. Epilog by Douglas Trumbull Film FX designer.

  • 'Worlds in Progress' (3 min.)
    - 4.5 mB Windows Media (.WMV) for Highband connections.

  • Local link to 1990's essay by Marcos Novak: Transmitting Architecture: The Transphysical City.

  • See also:

  • Char Davies ('Immersive virtual environments...')

Index of Writings on various medias (Al Razutis 1990's to present)

Refresh: VR and 3D Web (directory with navigation page)