Peter Young
Visualisation Research Group


Select the above image to enter the 3D visualisation
or you can view the full size image shown above.

About FileWall

FileWall is an attempt at visualising source code files (or indeed any documents) based upon the perspective wall concept developed by Mackinlay, Card and Robertson at Xerox PARC. FileWall displays a source file on a rotating drum by mapping a single page to each of the faces. The drum can be rotated to view any page while also showing contextual detail of the adjacent pages above and below.

Displaying textual information such as source code files and documentation is extremely hard within a 3D environment. At present most VR systems have very little text support and it is necessary to link the visualisation to an additional source of information, for example by linking it to HTML documents (as with other visualisations shown here). Displaying large and monolithic information blocks such as source code is particularly difficult when trying to utilise the potential of a 3D environment. To display such items we are left with few choices, some of which are:

The FileWall visualisation addresses the third option. At present, the entire source file shown in the visualisation is mapped completely onto the reel. If you were to manouver to the back of the reel you would still see the code (though upside-down). For large files this would mean creating bigger and bigger reels. This has some advantages in that it offers an instant gauge as to the size of the file, but offers more disadvantages in the storage and location within the virtual worlds. Additionally, as the files becomes larger then the angular difference between adjacent faces becomes smaller, thus reducing the effectiveness of the perspective wall.

A further option available in the FileWall visualisation is to distort the space further. A larger file could be mapped onto the same size reel by "swapping" pages at the back of the reel. The reel would effectively act as a window onto a much large file. At any point in the file the reel would only show a section of it. This section would be mapped onto the surface of the reel and presented to the user. As the reel is moved, so would the viewable selection from the file. The page swapping would occur at the back of the reel maintaining continuity.

FileWall is merely a demonstration of a concept. The actual implementation uses texture mapping to place the source code onto the reel. This is far from a useable solution as texture mapping often distorts the images making reading difficult. With better support for displaying text within worlds it would be possible to map the text directly onto the reel with much improved quality.

About the demo

In order to view this demo visualisation you will require a browser with Superscape's Viscape VR plug-in installed. It would also be an advantage to have a high color display configured.

To turn the FileWall simply click on the direction icons to the left which offer page-up, page-down, goto-top and goto-bottom functions. As the wall rotates the slider will indicate the position of the current page within the document. This slider can also be manipulated directly by dragging it with the mouse to move to any portion of the document. In order to read any of the file it will be necessary to manouver teh viewpoint closer to the front face of the reel.

Navigation through the 3D environment can be facilitated simply by using the directional control icons at the bottom of the frame. Alternatively, a more efficient though trickier control method can be activated by selecting the 3D frame then pressing the space bar. This produces a white box called the dead zone. Moving the mouse out of this box will result in movement through the 3D world. Various methods of movement can be facilitated by using the left and right mouse buttons in conjunction with moving the pointer. The left mouse button allows rotation control over pitch and yaw (i.e. turning on the spot) and the right mouse button allows translation horizontally and vertically (moving left/right, up/down while facing the same direction).

This page is maintained by Peter Young, please send any comments, jokes, insults or general abuse to (

Last updated: Monday 19 May, 1997.