The Web is easy to neglect. Sure, it has valuable product information, software patches, perhaps the occasional discussion board. But for content creators, the value of developing true graphical complexity has not been apparent. So the best bet is to wait until the technology ma tures a little more before ad ding Web expertise to your repertoire, right? Wrong.
There has never been a better time to think about how your talent can cross over to the Web and give you an edge in the creation of rich, interactive experiences. While the Web is certainly a volatile place, waiting for a level of stability is pointless. It's not in the nature of the Web for that to happen. And while the dot-com fallout is real, there's nonetheless a growing demand for complex graphics content.
So where should you start? The transition may be simpler than you first imagine. Many of the current 3D authoring packages can already export Web-capable formats. Start by exploring some of those unused options in your File menu. Of course, the challenge lies not simply in becoming familiar with new features and revisions of the software product you already use, but also in learning new tools.
You may find these clunky and unintuitive, but they should be. Developing content for the Web requires a different mindset than developing for film, television, or industry, and you should expect the tools to reflect that. Here are factors to keep in mind:
Bandwidth limits: Think small and think fast when developing for the Web. Users are notoriously impatient. They aren't going to wait an hour on a 28.8K connection to view your two-minute animation. Therefore, issues such as file size should supersede the concerns you had when developing for other media. For instance, your textures may suffer and your models may be greatly simplified. Incidentally, the pervasiveness of Flash on the Web is due to its ability to offer relatively complex interactive content with small files, as well as to the speed and ease with which users can download the plug-in, which is only about 200K.
Interaction: The Web is more than just an alternate delivery method. It's not print, and it's certainly not television, and treating it as such is likely to have your visitors clicking elsewhere. Content developers should embrace interaction and avoid creating another generation of Web animations differing only in complexity when broadband becomes the norm. It's the nature of the Web to be interactive rather than passive.
Complexity: So you've optimized your file and made it a truly interactive experience. But what you develop on your dual-processor P4 may appear vastly different on an early Celeron-based machine. Be aware of the variety of hardware that your audience may possess, and test your results on different machines and different browsers. But also respect and understand the demographic of your audience. The average visitor to yahoo.com is unlike the average visitor to yugop.com, and the technical considerations should reflect that.
Creative freedom: If you're ever frustrated about creative freedom, unrealistic timelines, or unsympathetic bosses, the Web is the medium for you. You don't need a massive budget. For a few dollars you can become "yourself.com" and publish your own work for the world to see, regardless of your day job. In fact, some of the most innovative work on the Web is being done by individuals on their own, non-commercial sites. You can have an audience of millions, and the only person you have to please is yourself.
Try talking to students at conferences such as Siggraph and ask them if they think they'll be developing for the Web in their careers. The look of puzzlement on their faces will not be from considering your question; it will be from wondering why would you would ask anything so asinine. Of course they will develop for the Web. It will be an integral part of their world.
The Web may not be mature, but it's ripe with artistic, commercial, and personal potential. Think about bandwidth, interaction, complexity, and your career. It's time to take the Web seriously.
Simon Allardice is a web applications developer and the Web Graphics program chair for Siggraph 2002.