The Art & Technology of Spacemaking

Randal Walser, Spacetime Arts, Inc.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 25, 1994


In the past, computer-aided design has mainly been used to model structures that are constructed in the physical world. Now, as virtual reality (VR) emerges as an industry, a demand is developing for three-dimensional structures that are never built in the physical world, but that are used and experienced in virtual worlds, as if they were real. The ramifications are staggering, for it is as if a boundless new space has suddenly become available for human settlement. Eventually, the space will contain a vast constellation of worlds, for various purposes and societies, but presently it is practically empty. That is both the problem and the grand opportunity.

Today, the focus in VR is on technology, as many companies recognize the huge rewards that are likely to flow to those who provide the infrastructure of cyberspace. Vital as technology is, however, it is not enough. Infrastructure only makes new worlds possible. Building the worlds is a formidable challenge in its own right, as well as a potentially lucrative business. Indeed, the art and craft of "spacemaking" is as essential to the VR industry as filmmaking is to the movie industry.

In this seminar, I will address the technology, methodology, and economics of spacemaking. After comparing spacemaking with filmmaking, I will discuss the qualities that distinguish cyberspace from other media, and consider the special problems and opportunities these pose for the spacemaker. I will also present an architecture for a cyberspace system, one that satisfies the peculiar needs of spacemaking as a business.

Finally I will suggest an approach to design as a performing art. In cyberspace, where there are no physical constraints, and where it is just as easy to build something as to plan to build it, there is no longer a reason to sharply distinguish design from construction. Instead of striving to improve design, it makes more sense to work out good ways to construct things directly.


Randal Walser is founder and president of Spacetime Arts, a startup company specializing in spacemaking, the development of virtual worlds.

Before forming Spacetime, Randal was Manager of Spacemaking, a part of the Cyberspace Project, in Autodesk's Multimedia Division. An original member of the Cyberspace Project, dating from nearly five years ago, he worked extensively on cyberspace systems architecture and programming, as well as on the refinement and understanding of cyberspace as a medium. Among other projects, he built a world called "Hicycle" in which people riding stationary bicycles have the feeling they are riding flying bicycles in cyberspace. He has written numerous papers on the subject of spacemaking, and has spoken at many professional conferences and other public events.


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