Now that it can be used in all common browsers, 3D drawing and animation is enjoying a renaissance. Andrew Liles, Chief Technology Officer at Tribal Worldwide London, takes a look at this capability, charting its history and thinking ahead to what’s next.

Remember Flash? It was a technology that made a step change in website experience back in the early 2000s. It brought motion and interaction to the web and became absolutely dominant, but like so many proprietary technologies was fought by the industry. After a protracted standards war, alternatives appeared and slowly rolled out. The general problem being that until the feature is available on a significant number of devices, developers cannot adopt it.

First there was Canvas — a way to draw and animate vector graphics using code. Here’s the basic example provided by W3 Schools.

Next came WebGL, which made it a lot easier to create 2D and 3D models. It also made use of GPU hardware, which let you animate more complex things. A famous early example was the Zygote Body project, which allows you to explore human anatomy at a basic level. WebGL can now go way, way beyond that to power games platforms.

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re now at a stable place where WebGL and allied technologies are mature and widespread in their deployment. Now, we can deploy 3D animations and expect most devices to handle it.

Of course, it’s not all easy — you have to build or acquire the 3D models and manage the processing so that your mobile device doesn’t overheat.

Here are some examples of current uses of 3D animation in the browser:

At Tribal, we’ve delivered a number of related projects in recent months, all of which have their own problems and interests. Read about them in the three companion articles to this mini-series — all about spinning things in a browser:

  • Spinning cars in the browser by Nicole Schloeter, to be published on 2nd October
  • Spinning sunnies by Nicole Schloeter, to be published on16th October
  • Spinning molecules by Lawrence Eldridge, published on 30th October