CFD visualization needs upgrade, time to move beyond blue-red images

I recently posted a status update on LinkedIn on the topic of CFD visualization to elicit reactions from fellow CFDers. There were many interesting comments and some of them shared the same frustrations I am going to elaborate here in this post. Below is the photo I shared from google image search results for ‘cfd’.

Google image search result for ‘cfd’
The visualization techniques employed by vast majority of CFD users are mundane, oldish, repetitive, and needs desperate catching up with the huge amount of progress that have taken place in visualization technology.

To give an example; when CFD results are shown for combustion simulation, would not it be more realistic, sensually pleasing, and easier to deduce conclusions for non-experts if the color scheme is matched with the typical flame color in an actual combustion process?

I cannot stress it enough that the amount of confusion this dull and ‘non-scientific’ visualization creates among the non-experts who need to derive conclusions based on these blue-red color-mapped images.

For example in HVAC industry where I currently work, people have become used to seeing much more aesthetically pleasing images generated by tools like Revit and others. Even basic rendering techniques make the images much more realistic and pleasing. Now, I understand the purpose of CFD has never been aligned with focus on generating great visuals or animations. But it does not mean we should not focus on this aspect and keep the visuals look like it is from 1970s.

It should also be noted here that the blame cannot be entirely put, if at all, on the users of the CFD software (specially commercial software users).

The other day I was doing some post-processing in a software specifically developed for this purpose, from one of the largest CFD vendors, and no surprise the only color schemes available were Rainbow and Grey. This is the state of art visualization for most major CFD codes that I know of.

It’s true that in the world of open source tools like ParaView there is a bit more of options and there is even possibility to develop your own additional capabilities. You can even use free tools like Blender to convert your dull CFD images into aesthetically pleasing visuals by using renderings, shades and lights. However, a typical CFD user does not have time and resource to use multiple tools for CFD results post-processing and definitely not for developing custom visualization techniques as add-ins.

This is the reason that I believe that the CFD providers should move forward in time in terms of the post-processing capabilities integrated into their solvers. It’s a cliché but no harm to mention here that CFD does not stand for Colorful Fluid Dynamics. That also entails, I would argue, CFD results should be presented in a way that’s more than blue-red images all over the places.

With the current state of visualization, I would not be surprised if takes another decade for CFD software companies to move toward AR/AR support (It’s worth mentioning here that there are already such attempts in this area like ParaView has recently added support for VR devices).

I would love to hear from folks from commercial or open source CFD providers if they think they have got something that stands out in terms of post-processing capabilities.

But for now, I just wish there was a better choice for CFD results visualization.