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guest post by Patrick Cozzi, @pjcozzi.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds: WebGL has a chance to become the graphics API of choice for real-time graphics research. Here’s why I think so.

An interactive demo is better than a video.

WebGL allows us to embed demos in a website, like the demo for The Compact YCoCg Frame Buffer by Pavlos Mavridis and Georgios Papaioannou. A demo gives readers a better understanding than a video alone, allows them to reproduce performance results on their hardware, and enables them to experiment with debug views like the demo for WebGL Deferred Shading by Sijie Tian, Yuqin Shao, and me. This is, of course, true for a demo written with any graphics API, but WebGL makes the barrier-to-entry very low; it runs almost everywhere (iOS is still holding back the floodgates) and only requires clicking on a link. Readers and reviewers are much more likely to check it out.

WebGL runs on desktop and mobile.

Android devices now have pretty good support for WebGL. This allows us to write the majority of our demo once and get performance numbers for both desktop and mobile. This is especially useful for algorithms that will have different performance implications due to differences in GPU architectures, e.g., early-z vs. tile-based, or network bandwidth, e.g., streaming massive models.

WebGL is starting to expose modern GPU features.

WebGL is based on OpenGL ES 2.0 so it doesn’t expose features like query timers, compute shaders, uniform buffers, etc. However, with some WebGL 2 (based on ES 3.0) features being exposed as extensions, we are getting access to more GPU features like instancing and multiple render targets. Given that OpenGL ES 3.1 will be released this year with compute shaders, atomics, and image load/store, we can expect WebGL to follow. This will allow compute-shader-based research in WebGL, an area where I expect we’ll continue to see innovation. In addition, with NVIDIA Tegra K1, we see OpenGL 4.4 support on mobile, which could ultimately mean more features exposed by WebGL to keep pace with mobile.

Some graphics research areas, such as animation, don’t always need access to the latest GPU features and instead just need a way to visualization their results. Even many of the latest JCGT papers on rendering can be implemented with WebGL and the extensions it exposes today (e.g., “Weighted Blended Order-Independent Transparency“). On the other hand, some research will explore the latest GPU features or use features only available to languages with pointers, for example, using persistent-mapped buffers in Approaching Zero Driver Overhead by Cass Everitt, Graham Sellers, John McDonald, and Tim Foley.

WebGL is faster to develop with.

Coming from C++, JavaScript takes some getting use to (see An Introduction to JavaScript for Sophisticated Programmers by Morgan McGuire), but it has its benefits: lighting-fast iteration times, lots of open-source third-party libraries, some nice language features such as functions as first-class objects and JSON serialization, and some decent tools. Most people will be more productive in JavaScript than in C++ once up to speed.

JavaScript is not as fast as C++, which is a concern when we are comparing a CPU-bound algorithm to previous work in C++. However, for GPU-bound work, JavaScript and C++ are very similar.

Try it.

Check out the WebGL Report to see what extensions your browser supports. If it meets the needs for your next research project, give it a try!

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The second paper published by the Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques is up for download here, “The Compact YCoCg Frame Buffer” by Pavlos Mavridis and Georgios Papaioannou. Don’t worry, I won’t announce every paper as it goes by; if you want to know when a new paper is up, follow JCGT on Twitter.


If you’re interested in the new open-access “Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques“, some of us editors, contributors, and other birds of a feather are informally meeting up at SIGGRAPH 2012. You’re welcome to come and chat (half the point of SIGGRAPH, amirite?):

Time: 5:30-6:30 pm Monday (just before this party in the same hotel)
Place: Marriott HQ hotel lobby, behind registration. This area:

Yes, this time conflicts with the Electronic Theater on Monday, etc., etc. – every time almost every day from 9 am to 8 pm on conflicts with something, and oddly no one wanted a 7 am meeting.

Morgan McGuire, the Editor-in-Chief of JCGT, won’t be attending SIGGRAPH, but has a great blog entry about JCGT’s progress and status. The whole post is worth reading, and I’ll repeat the last part here:

How is the JCGT board funding the journal?

The answer comes in three parts. First, it isn’t that expensive to publish a graphics journal electronically. All of the writing, editing, and reviewing is done by volunteers and most of the software is free open source (LaTeX, BibTeX, Apache, MySQL, mod_xslt2, Emacs, Ubuntu, etc.). The board is unpaid, as is the case for most academic editorial positions. Graphics authors and editors are capable of producing professional-quality typesetting, layout, and diagrams on their own.

Second, Williams College has a grant from the Mellon Foundation to create digital archives to match the quality and reliability of the college’s substantial physical scholarly archives. Those physical archives are in rare books, visual art, scholarly journals, and congressional papers. I find the breadth and depth of those fascinating: the college’s holdings include original drafts of the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, first editions of major scientific works such as Principia Mathematica, and paintings by major artists such as Picasso. The college is well-positioned to archive and conserve digital computer graphics papers and unlike a commercial publisher, an academic library has no agenda for those materials beyond preserving knowledge for all.

Third, the minor incidental costs of advertising, hosting, and legal are being picked up out of pocket by a few of us. Of of the financial contributions and dues I’ve given to graphics organizations, this was the one I was most pleased to make. We’re not accepting donations or seeking outside funding–that would subject us to bookkeeping overhead and legal requirements. If you want to support the journal, the best way to do so is to read it, write for it, and offer your services as a reviewer.

One other tidbit: the first paper accepted by JCGT has been downloaded over 10,000 times in four weeks. Clearly there’s a high curiosity factor for an inaugural article, but reaching this wide an audience is a good sign.

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Here goes:

  • The Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques has published its first accepted article: “Importance Sampling of Reflection from Hair Fibers”. Free for download, of course.
  • Mauricio Vives pointed out that the thirteenth article in a series going back to 2010 is now up: Fluid Simulation for Video Games. Not my particular interest, but my gosh this collection is impressive, it’s practically book-length at this point, and includes code snippets and a demo with source (you’ll need to install TBB to compile).
  • A new book has been announced, coming out in October: The CUDA Handbook. The author, Nicholas Wilt, was a software architect at NVIDIA who worked on CUDA since its inception.
  • John Owens pointed out an interesting way to search Google Scholar, by publications with the word graphics. This gives an interesting weighing of influence – no real surprises, and note that some conferences are not included (I highly doubt that EGSR, I3D, and HPG don’t make the cut).
  • Sebastien Lagarde gives an in-depth analysis showing how the Phong and Blinn specular highlight models are related by a factor of 4 in the power. This is an old result from Fisher & Woo in Graphics Gems IV, but it’s nice to see an independent verification and analysis.
  • Thinking of Graphics Gems, I wanted to mention this old piece of news now: Jim Arvo (editor of Graphics Gems II) passed away back on October 19th of last year. He did seminal work in ray tracing, Monte Carlo sampling, light transport, and many other areas, and was also just a great guy. See his homepage while it still is there.
  • There are mutant women who live amongst us with a fourth type of cone cell. There’s more information on Wikipedia.

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I was cleaning up the RTR portal page today. Of all the links on this page, I often use those linked in the first three items. I used to have about 30 blogs listed. Trying them all today, 5 have disappeared forever (being replaced by junk like this and this), and 10 more are essentially dead (no postings in more than a year). Understandable: blogs usually don’t live that long. One survey gives 126 days for the average lifetime of a typical blog. Another notes even the top 100 blogs last an average of less than 3 years.

Seeing good blogs disappear forever is sad for me. If I’m desperate, I can try finding them using the Wayback Machine, but sometimes will find only bits and pieces, if that. This goes for websites, too. If I see some article I like, I try to save a copy locally. Even then, such pages are hard to find later – I’m not that organized. Other people are entirely out of luck, of course.

My takeaway: feel free to start a blog, sure. But if you have some useful programming technique you’ve explained, and you want people to know about it for some time to come, then also submit it to a journal. One blog I mentioned last post, Morten Mikkelsen’s, shows one way to mix the two: he shows new results and experiments on his blog, and submits solid ideas to a journal. I of course strongly suggest the (new, yet old) Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques (JCGT), the spiritual successor to the journal of graphics tools (as noted earlier, all the editors have left the old journal). Papers on concise, practical techniques and ideas are what it’s for, just the sorts of thing I see on many graphics blogs. Now that is journal is able to quickly publish ideas, I dearly want to see more short, Graphics Gems-like papers. If and when you decide to quit blogging/get hit by an asteroid/have a kid, if prior to this you also submitted your work to a journal and had it accepted, you then have something permanent to show for it all, something that others can benefit from years later. It’s not that hard, honestly – just do it. JCGT prides itself on working with authors to help polish their work and bring out the best, but there are plenty of other venues, ranging from SIGGRAPH talks, Gamasutra articles, and GPU Pro submissions to full-blown ACM TOG papers.

Oh, I should also note that JCGT is fine with work that is not necessarily new, but fills a gap in the literature, explains an improved way of performing an algorithm, gives implementation advice, etc. Citing sources is important – don’t claim work that isn’t your own – but otherwise the goal is simple: present techniques useful for computer graphics programmers.

By the way, if you do run a website of any sort, here are my three top pet peeves, so please don’t do them:

  • Moving page locations and leaving no forwarding page at the old page’s location (I’m looking at you, NVIDIA and AMD) – you don’t care if someone directs traffic to your site?
  • Giving no contact email address or other feedback mechanism on your web pages – you don’t want to know when something’s broken?
  • Giving no “last updated on” date on your web pages – you don’t want people to know how fresh the info is?

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After talking about open access so much, it feels great to finally be doing something about it! Eric and I are both on the founding editorial board for the Journal of Computer Graphics Techniques (JCGT), a new peer-reviewed computer graphics journal which is open access, has no author fees, and is practice-focused (in the spirit of the Journal of Graphics Tools).

Similar to other journal “declarations of independence”, the JCGT was founded by the resigning editorial board of the Journal of Graphics Tools (JGT). Initially created as a “spiritual successor” to the Graphics Gems series of books, JGT had a unique focus on practical graphics techniques and insights, which is being continued at JCGT.

With Morgan McGuire (the editor-in-chief) and the rest of the editorial board, we plan to leverage this illustrious history, our expertise, and the advantages of online self-publishing and open access to create a truly exceptional journal. But we need your help. Like any journal, JCGT can only be as good as the papers submitted to it.

If you are a researcher, we hope the pedigree of the editorial board, the increase in impact afforded by open access, the lack of author fees, and the streamlined process will make JCGT compelling to you as a publication venue.

We also want to reach out to industry practitioners (especially game developers) who would not typically consider publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Similarly to its predecessor, JCGT emphasizes practicality and reproducibility over novelty and theory, and the papers differ from the typical “research paper” style (lengthy “related work”, “conclusion” or “future work” sections are not required). There are also many advantages to publishing in JCGT vs. more traditional industry channels such as trade conferences, magazines, books, and blog posts. The open access format guarantees wide and immediate distribution, and the peer-review process will provide valuable insights and comments on your work from some of the top experts in the field as well as assure potential readers of the high quality of the work.

Open access to research: an idea whose time has come. Be a part of it!

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