GIS, Visualization, XR & Modeling

The complexity of large-scale datasets and new forms of born-digital scholarship demands new methods and tools that keep pace with contemporary research. OARC’s GIS and Visualization Research Technology Group (RTG) emphasizes the ‘spatial turn’ that is opening up new opportunities for discovery and innovation.


The impact of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) on research at UCLA cannot be overstated. Disciplines across the campus have embraced spatial thinking to build knowledge within their primary fields and as part of interdisciplinary teams exploring broad research themes and grand challenges.


The term visualization encompasses a broad range of analytic tools and techniques that includes GIS, 3D modeling, and data and statistical visualizations. The common thread is the underlying desire to organize data into a coherent visual display that can be readily interpreted and understood.

Data visualization is the subset of visualization that involves the graphic display of data. Often data analysis can be summarized and communicated visually through detailed graph and chart constructions. In some cases, datasets may be too complex for manual processing, and the resultant imagery is typically the end result of an algorithmic process or generated from a large-scale dataset. Prime examples of this type of visualization include 100K DLA simulation, laser simulation, fluid simulation, and network analysis.

Statistical visualization originates from the statistical analysis of datasets and is supported by the combined forces of OARC’s Stats Group and GIS, Visualization, XR, and Modeling teams.

Extended Reality (XR) Technologies

Extended reality or XR technologies today offer a spectrum of experiences on a reality-virtuality continuum, including virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and 360 degree capture, offering new possibilities for engagement, interaction, and immersion. OARC coordinates with the XR initiative and others across campus to support research endeavors which incorporate XR technologies.


3D computer modeling is considered a subset of visualization that involves the generation of geometry either manually, from data, or from a scanning process.

  • Real-time simulation, where the output focused on highly detailed large-scale virtual worlds explored interactively; the NEH-funded VSim software supports pedagogical use for academically generated 3D content (Creator)
  • Photorealistic rendering, where output is focused on single-frame static imagery or fixed animations (Maya, 3DStudio, Rhino)
  • Web-based interaction, where output is focused on online user interaction, online virtual worlds, and game packages (Sketch Up, Google Earth, SecondLife, Unity)
  • 3D object scanning, where geometry is captured from a 3D scanning rig (rather than constructed) for manipulation
  • Terrain modeling, where geometry is generated from GIS coordinates or satellite imagery for large-scale research questions of natural environments

For more information on this program, visit the Technology Sandbox website, which includes information about consultation, ongoing GIS and 3D modeling projects, workshops, tools, and tutorials. Refer also to this page on GIS and Visualization consultation services to learn more.