Volumetric visualization of the brain during a migraine attack.

Volumetric visualization of the brain during a migraine attack.

The term “Visualization” means different things to different people, at the UM3D Lab we define it as:


Visualization is the distilling of data, or concepts, into a visual form to expose meaning or increase understanding.

Perhaps you have volumetric data of solar winds, an architectural space that needs to be experienced before being built, or even a theory you think can be better shared visually. Regardless of where you’re starting from we’re here to help give you access to the technology and expertise to realize your vision.

  • Types of Visualization

  • How to Get Started

  • Available Technologies

  • Other Resources

Types of Visualization

There are many types of visualization and attempts to categorize it. Some break it down into three categories such as:

Data Visualization

Visualization of data that has been modified/filtered to help with understanding. (e.g. extracting gender/age from census report)

Scientific Visualization

Visualization of unfiltered/unmodified data directly from it’s source, occasionally in real-time. (e.g. digitially slicing through a MRI scan)

Illustrative Visualization

Visualizing a concept or theory that is not represented entirely by it’s data. (e.g. animation depicting concepts around dark matter)

However, those categories really only describe the source of the data and also lends itself to blurred lines between them as some visualizations can fall into multiple categories. Here at the UM3D Lab we take a holistic approach avoiding categorization and just looking at the key questions:

  • What is the message, or story you’re trying to share?
  • What data/information do you have?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • How will the visualization be shared?
  • Should it be interactive?

We can help you work through these questions regardless of where you are in your project’s life-cycle and what skills you have available to you.

How to Get Started

While it’s better to start think about visualizing your data sooner rather than later, depending on where you are in your project’s life-cycle there are various ways to get started…

  • Consultation Session

    Even if your project is nothing more than an idea in your head, the best way to see if you’re on the right path or have fully considered what visualization means for your project is to schedule a consultation with our group. Our team of experts can help walk you through the key questions, demonstrate various technologies, help with fund raising and development, and bring in other resources from across campus to ensure the right people are at the table as we figure out a solution.(Cost: Free)
  • Attend a Workshop

    Interested in learning more or doing the visualization yourself? The Library has a wide range of workshops and training sessions focused on visualization and data manipulation skills. These are great opportunities to learn more about a particular topic or build up your own skills. We’re in the process of rolling out more training opportunities including micro-credentials (i.e. badges). Look for workshop notifications on our site here or at the Library’s Visualization Workshops. If you have suggestions for workshops, let us know at the bottom of the page.
  • Experiment on Your Own

    Sometimes you just want to casually build up your skill set or explore a topic on your own. One way of doing this is through tutorials. We have a large collection of visualization related tutorials focusing on specific tools (VisIt, Paraview, etc.) and concepts. The tutorials will be made available here in our learning section as we continue to migrate the site. However, in the meantime you can see them on our YouTube Channel. Additionally, it often helps to experiment in a safe environment with expertise close by in case you have a question. The Visualization Hubs (2nd floor, Duderstadt Center) and VisLab 1 (1st Floor, Duderstadt Center) are great environments for visualization tasks big or small. These stations are well-equipped and have experts close by to help you in their use.

Available Technologies

Just as your inputs can make a big difference in the methods available to you for visualizing your data/concepts, what tools and methods you use for your outputs can make a difference as well. Below are a few technologies available to you for exploring your visualizations. Whether you need to parse very high-resolution data, mix data types in a single experience, step inside for a unique view, or show it in 3D to a larger audience we have technology to help you.



Jugular is the 3D Lab’s in-house virtual-reality visualization software.  It imports 3D model files, composes them into scenes, projects them in various monoscopic and stereoscopic display environments, and allows users to interact with them in 3D.  It can combine different kinds of model data into a single heterogeneous scene. Jugular supports a variety of display environments, including common laptop and desktop computers, the Oculus Rift, the Stereo Wall, the MIDEN, and the Library’s Visualization Hubs.  In addition to monoscopic projection, it supports stereoscopic projection in anaglyph (red-cyan), cross-eyed, wall-eyed, and quad buffered formats.  It also supports 3D interaction with models using various motion-capture systems, including Vicon iQ, Vicon Blade, Oculus Rift, Microsoft Kinect, and Leap Motion.


Game Engines

Game engines are software kits for the development and execution of interactive virtual scenes, such as in computer video games.  They include tools for importing visual and audio assets , assembling those assets into actors and scenes, scripting behaviors and event handlers, and managing user interaction with the scenes.  Unity and Unreal Engine are both software development kits that provide some of these tools for free, or for a more professional project advanced kits are available for a cost.


Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift is a motion-tracked head-mounted display (HMD) that provides highly immersive stereoscopic views of 3D scenes.  It’s both an input and an output device.  As an input device, it provides quick and accurate tracking of the user’s head relative to a rigid coordinate system.  As an output device, it provides a high-resolution stereoscopic display with a wide field of view.  It relies on software such as Jugular or various game engines to accept its positional input, uses that input to accurately locate the user’s eyes in a virtual scene, generates left-right stereoscopic perspective views of the scene, and then outputs those views to the display.



For those of you who have been to a theater recently, put on the special glasses, and sat back to enjoy the latest 3D movie you will recognize this device. Much like what you’ll find in the movie theaters, this is a large stereoscopic projection system capable of projecting 3D movies, interactive simulations, live 3D video feeds, or 3D powerpoint slides. It comprises a screen measuring 12 x 6.75 feet (3.66 x 2.06 meters) and two 1080p projectors (1920 x 1080 pixels) shining through circular polarizing filters with opposite chirality. The system splits the image pair across the two projectors, which polarize them oppositely and superimpose them onto the single screen. This system is low-cost, easy to build, and can accommodate large audiences which makes it great for presentations, class discussions, and easy access data exploring.


M.I.D.E.N. (Michigan Immersive Digital Experience Nexus)

Much like the StereoWall the Michigan Immersive Digital Experience Nexus (M.I.D.E.N.) relies on stereoscopic projections for its effect but the system takes the concept much further. Unlike the StereoWall, the M.I.D.E.N. tracks where the user is within a space and adapts to the simulation to what the person would expect to see. It is a 10 x 10 x 10 foot (3.048 x 3.048 x 3.048 meter) immersive audio-visual environment that offers 3D stereoscopic projection on the left, front, right, and floor surfaces. Users can walk naturally within the physical boundaries of the space, use a game controller to navigate through a larger virtual space, and see their own bodies in the context of the projected virtual environment. The M.I.D.E.N. brings together a wide variety of disparate technologies to create the highest level of immersion that effectively places you “inside” the data.

The 3x3 tile display at the U-M 3-D Lab

Tiled Display

There are times when one has a vast amount of data that needs to be presented on a large screen with high enough resolution so that the finest of details are preserved. This is where a tiled display comes in. A tiled display is typically comprised of multiple monitors or projectors organized in a grid where each device displays a small section of the total image. This allows for very high resolutions coupled with the impressiveness of a large display. The Tiled Display is the only publicly accessible, free, high-resolution (4k) screen on campus. Additionally, the display can easily connect with FLUX HPC and offers many common software packages for researchers, designers, and programmers.

Other Resources

More Coming Soon…