Real-time 3D graphics are a core foundation for the metaverse. As a result, the SIGGRAPH community naturally has a deep connection to the metaverse’s development. At SIGGRAPH 2022 many of the companies involved in the metaverse gathered for a “Building the Open Metaverse” course, which provided a mix of education and vision. The session was organized by Marc Petit, VP of Unreal Engine Ecosystem at Epic Games, and Patrick Cozzi, CEO of Cesium. The course covered what it means to build an open metaverse with a focus on interoperability and tools for creation; the state of metaverse beyond entertainment and its impact on enterprise; as well as its potential scale and how AI can help with content creation. Several founding members of the newly-formed Metaverse Standards Forum and other key players in the market participated in this unique conversation about the broad issues and opportunities surrounding the development of an open metaverse. We were able to explore the current state and potential future directions. Plus, this was the first time that many Metaverse Standards Forum members met in person!
Below are some takeaways from the conversations that happened during the SIGGRAPH course earlier this month:
Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash and co-founder of LAMINA1, a Metaverse Standards Forum founding member, kicked off the course by illuminating where his idea for the metaverse came from 32 years ago and where he hopes it’s going. He shared his vision for a community where artists are able to freely create digital art in a frictionless way. Neal highlighted practical problems for creatives and artists and challenged the industry to solve these issues in order to enable artists to produce higher-risk art: creations that are oriented less toward commercial sale, and more towards pure expression. Such artistic freedom will be a crucial piece of the metaverse economy. Attendees got a unique look at how Neal formed the idea for the metaverse, but he wasn’t setting any hard and fast rules about what it will become. “I’m not a believer in any top-down prescriptive approach to what the metaverse should look like. It should be bottom-up with as few absolute rules as possible. Builders need to decide,” he said. Guido Quaroni, senior director of engineering, Adobe 3D&I presented the need to develop a common language to power the metaverse. He explained that the metaverse must be believable and responsive in its experiences and interactions, even if it’s not realistic. Advocating for an open metaverse, Guido spoke about what’s necessary to make it inclusive, accessible, and reproducible – including being accessible on lower-end devices and using multisensory technology so people of all abilities can experience the environment with no pressure to stay or leave. Open standards will be the foundation of an open metaverse. “Nature, as an example, is an open system that is governed by one standard. An open metaverse should have a common periodic table with common-law physics for a believable, consistent experience,” said Guido.
Describing Universal Scene Description’s (USD) role in the metaverse, Steve May, CTO of Pixar Animation Studios, presented a primer on the origins of USD, how it is used to create films, and how it has expanded to serve as a foundational element in building the metaverse. “At Pixar, we render thousands of animations every day, and the performance of USD is critical to that. USD is a language for large-scale data modeling and world-building. It provides the nouns that define what’s in the scene and verbs for how to assemble simple data into more complex data,” he said. Steve closed by explaining how the tools used in film and gaming are converging: both benefit from the improvements in tools across these industries to create even better storytelling. Natalya Tatarchuk, Distinguished Technical Fellow and Chief Architect, VP, Professional Artistry & Graphics Innovation at Unity shared a look at how real-time 3D content will power what she called the “Creatorverse.” “Many people think of the metaverse as a place for VR, but I lean into thinking about the Creatorverse as a future where people are creating dynamically, independently, or together, using a variety of software or physical tools that allow them to create without boundaries and sharing the content freely, as real-time 3D,” said Natalya. She shared core principles for getting to that goal via composability & portability of content to drive towards an interactive, sharable real-time 3D internet. Natalya described key elements from the USD format that will be important to build upon for the evolution of a portable standard for real-time 3D content – towards a USD 2.0 – and explored specifics of what’s needed to achieve that vision, from portable schemas and versioning, to consistent rendering and material representation, animation curves and portable behavior, as well as runtime performance and memory improvements for USD. Sharing his view on the impact of the metaverse on industries and enterprises, Rev Lebaredian, VP of Omniverse and Simulation Technology at NVIDIA highlighted the less talked about picture of the metaverse for enterprise. “Most people think of the metaverse in terms of consumerist experiences: gaming, socializing, entertainment, and more — those are important, but over the last few decades, the internet has been used for so much more,” said Rev. “Amazing things happen when you can reproduce the real world inside the virtual world — and link them together.” Pointing to some future possibilities, Rev added, “Digital twins deliver superpowers — teleportation, time travel, and the exploration of alternate futures.” Morgan McGuire, chief scientist at Roblox wants to make the world better by making the virtual world better. In the afternoon, he shared his view of the metaverse as “3D embodied with simulated fantastical, cross-device content that everyone can create, in a meta-experience state, where things can be taken between worlds.” In a statement echoed in many of the presentations, Morgan also asserted, “We need an ethical, civil metaverse from the ground up…you can’t add civility and privacy afterward.” Jeff Petersen, principal engineer at Amazon Web Services (AWS) spoke about scaling the metaverse in the cloud, and user-generated content, which he notes will be a considerable challenge. “The usual model of professional developers creating content for the masses simply cannot scale because people have an insatiable need for new content.” He said many games take hundreds of artists, designers, and engineers to create new content that diligent players burn through in days. In contrast, in Second Life, residents could create their own content. “The explosion of content this creates is a key differentiator in determining what constitutes a metaverse,” said Jeff. He added, “Like Second Life, in the metaverse, there’s no distinction between the editing environment and the runtime environment; if you are in the world experiencing it, you are also likely in the world changing it.”
Tying together geospatial technology and the metaverse, Nadine Alameh, CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) opened up the conversation about how the geospatial and gaming communities are coming together to deliver 4D fully immersive environments that bridge real and virtual worlds. She noted that the geospatial community can contribute open standards for all sorts of models from cities, indoor space, underground infrastructure, all the way to the digital twin of the Earth. Echoing the vision of the Metaverse Standards Forum, Nadine closed by saying, “No one can do it alone. Standards equal collaboration. Let’s not reinvent the wheel”, and reminded that “This is not a one-time thing. We need to work together over the long term on standards and collective experimentation.” Khronos Group President, Neil Trevett closed the course by discussing how standards will complement open source and proprietary technologies as we build the metaverse at scale, and many diverse technologies are coming together in novel ways. Market-based innovation is critical in the early stages of new technology: the mix of ideas, experimentation, commercial success, and failure results in bottom-up evolution towards solutions that provide genuine value. Neil expressed the goal of the Metaverse Standards Forum: the industry will need open standards for the metaverse to develop as an open platform, and the Forum was created as a place to bring together multiple organizations and initiatives, examine what’s required, and build consensus and cooperative action.
Standards – like HTML for web pages, JPEG for 2D images, or glTF for 3D models – enable consistency across use cases, markets and platforms. Using glTF, the Khronos open standard file format known as the ‘JPEG of 3D’ as a case study, Neil described how open standard ecosystems are built through a shared passion for solving real industry interoperability issues, multi-company governance of standards, pragmatic implementation and iteration, open engagement with the industry, well-formed, precise specifications, and rigorous conformance testing. Once broadly adopted, timely open standards can remove friction points to provide a foundation for faster innovation, accelerating business opportunities and creating the opportunity to build an open and inclusive metaverse. “USD is a powerful technology for 3D authoring and scene composition, which will be critical to creating assets for the metaverse. glTF is used for run-time transmission of 3D objects to billions of devices today. But neither is standing still, USD is working on real-time interchange and delivery efficiency, and glTF is developing scene composability, and behaviors, and so now is the time for cooperative discussions and experimentation to see if we can build consensus on a joint path forward for metaverse assets based on technical merit and the strengths of both ecosystems for the good of the industry. That is precisely the type of experimentation and cooperation that the Metaverse Standards Forum has been created to enable,” closed Neil. All presentations and conversations throughout the day shared common themes: openness and collaboration. Morgan summed it up nicely in his presentation, “This course is about the open metaverse, and it’s not just our tech stack that needs to be open. Our eyes, minds, and hearts need to be open to the impact of operating at this scale.” Companies interested in learning more about the course can download presentation slides at https://cesium.com/building-the-open-metaverse-siggraph-2022/#SIGGRAPH2022.
We welcome any company to join our community of standards organizations, companies and institutions. Companies interested in participating in these ongoing conversations are invited to join the Metaverse Standards Forum at no cost. Find out more about membership here: https://metaverse-standards.org/#join and get an update on the first 60 days of the Metaverse Standards Forum in the recent blog post.