Good Data Manipulation Is More Important Than Virtual Reality (October 1998)

Chris Buckalew CEO of start-up VizolutionsInc. has contributed the following article debating the relative merits of VR vs. vanillavisualization. Chris concludes that ergonomic data manipulation is more important that thewhiz-bang of 3D VR.

Virtual Reality, huge screens, and real-time rendering are getting a lot of attention these days in the petroleum industry, but the ability to manipulate data in a natural and meaningful way on a desktop machine is much more useful for most purposes. Everyone enjoys a good roller-coaster ride through 3D data, but a PC with a well-designed visualization app gets 90% or more results at a fraction of the cost. Data Manipulation is the key. Most visualization apps have the same core functionality: 2D, 3D, and 4D display of data (cutplane slices, isosurface display, and time-varying isosurface display, respectively), but frequently these are hard to use and hard to learn. Performance is generally poor except on high-powered workstations.

Less use

These three factors cause users to manipulate their data less - fewer views, fewer "cuts", fewer experimental combinations of parameters, and fewer discoveries: finding out interesting things about their data. Also, fewer users have the software to begin with since such software is expensive and runs on expensive machines. A recent example of useful data manipulation in our work is the 2D slice of data, the simple cutplane. Most visualization apps provide cutplanes oriented perpendicular to the three coordinate axes; our clients wanted more flexibility in specifying exactly where the cutplane should go. We provided several improvements: the user can click with the mouse on several wells and cutplanes will connect them, like a "fence" of data slices; the user can click with the mouse on a map view and a vertical cutplane will appear between those points in the 3D view; and the user can drag those points with the mouse to move or stretch the cutplane. These cutplanes need not be axis-aligned.


Once they saw this functionality, the clients quickly thought of other improvements: animating the cutplane through a cycle between two positions; the ability to view and manipulate multiple cutplanes showing different attributes all at once, and the ability to see the cutplanes in both a map view and a 3D data view at the same time. Such cutplane functionality, although it may appear simple, teaches users a lot. VR and realtime flythroughs make for a great sales pitch, but most users spend much more time with the simple tools than with the gee-whiz tools. By listening to client requirements, figuring out what they really wanted to see and do, and providing prototypes for them to play with to spark new ideas, we took the simple cutplane and made a much more useful tool out of it. The other tools in the suite have had similar thought and user input, resulting in a very useful visualization app without the workstation cost and high performance penalties. Chris can be reached on and Vizolutions at

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