Visualising research data in 3D with Blender

IT Innovation ChallengesStaff project based in IT Services

Trinity Term 2015

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Exciting visualisations are a key means of making research data comprehensible.  While specialised tools exist in most areas of research for presenting and interrogating data, these tools usually fall down when it comes to the creation of impactful, high quality imagery and animation.  This project will innovate by forging a link between research data and compelling 3D visualisation.

Blender is a free software program with a vibrant global community that can create high quality imagery and animation.  In addition to rendering images and videos, Blender includes a ‘game engine’ which can be used to create applications that render data in real time and respond to user input.  These can be used to ‘walk through’ data and examine it in new ways.

So what’s the problem? Unfortunately, data from the specialised tools is often not directly usable in tools like Blender.  Solutions exist, like intermediate conversion utilities, but these need configuration, and are sometimes not adequate.  Where these fail, Blender’s Python API (Application Programming Interface) can be a powerful alternative, allowing a developer to access all of Blender’s object creation and manipulation tools from a script.  So there is a problem, but it’s soluble, with time and attention.

So, the idea is to design pipelines which will take data resulting from research and import them into Blender, where they can be turned into high quality images, animations and interactive applications. In addition we will enhance our ongoing IT Learning Programme courses with the knowledge we gain.  Through solving academics’ real world problems we aim to create a centre of excellence in facilitating 3D data visualisation and conversion within Oxford.

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