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Vector Field Rendering

libvfrendering is a C++ library for rendering vectorfields using OpenGL. Originally developed for spirit and based on WegGLSpins.js, it has an extendable architecture and currently offers renderer implementations for:

  • glyph-based vector field representations as arrows
  • colormapped surface and isosurface rendering
  • mapping vector directions onto a sphere

The library is still very much a work-in-progress, so its API is not yet stable and there are still several features missing that will be added in later releases. If you miss a feature or have another idea on how to improve libvfrendering, please open an issue or pull request!


Getting Started

To use libvfrendering, you need to perform the following steps:

  1. Include <VFRendering/View.hxx>
  2. Create a VFRendering::Geometry
  3. Read or calculate the vector directions
  4. Pass geometry and directions to a VFRendering::View
  5. Draw the view in an existing OpenGL context

1. Include <VFRendering/View.hxx>

When using libvfrendering, you will mostly interact with View objects, so it should be enough to #include <VFRendering/View.hxx>.

2. Create a VFRendering::Geometry

The geometry describes the positions on which you evaluated the vector field and how they might form a grid (optional, e.g. for isosurface and surface rendering). You can pass the positions directly to the constructor or call one of the class' static methods.

As an example, this is how you could create a simple, cartesian 30x30x30 geometry, with coordinates between -1 and 1:

auto geometry = VFRendering::Geometry::cartesianGeometry(
    {30, 30, 30},
    {-1.0, -1.0, -1.0},
    {1.0, 1.0, 1.0}

3. Read or calculate the vector directions

This step highly depends on your use case. The directions are stored as a std::vector<glm::vec3>, so they can be created in a simple loop:

std::vector<glm::vec3> directions;
for (int iz = 0; iz < 10; iz++) {
    for (int iy = 0; iy < 10; iy++) {
        for (int ix = 0; ix < 10; ix++) {
            // calculate direction for ix, iy, iz
            directions.push_back(glm::normalize({ix-4.5, iy-4.5, iz-4.5}));

As shown here, the directions should be in C order when using the VFRendering::Geometry static methods. If you do not know glm, think of a glm::vec3 as a struct containing three floats x, y and z.

4. Create a VFRendering::VectorField

This class simply contains geometry and directions.

VFRendering::VectorField vf(geometry, directions);

To update the VectorField data, use VectorField::update. If the directions changed but the geometry is the same, you can use the VectorField::updateVectors method or VectorField::updateGeometry vice versa.

5. Create a VFRendering::View and a Renderer

The view object is what you will interact most with. It provides an interface to the various renderers and includes functions for handling mouse input.

You can create a new view and then initialize the renderer(s) (as an example, we use the VFRendering::ArrowRenderer):

VFRendering::View view;
auto arrow_renderer_ptr = std::make_shared<VFRendering::ArrowRenderer>(view, vf);
view.renderers( {{ arrow_renderer_ptr, {0, 0, 1, 1} }} );

5. Draw the view in an existing OpenGL context

To actually see something, you need to create an OpenGL context using a toolkit of your choice, e.g. Qt or GLFW. After creating the context, pass the framebuffer size to the setFramebufferSize method. You can then call the draw method of the view to render the vector field, either in a loop or only when you update the data.


For a complete example, including an interactive camera, see demo.cxx.

Python Package

The Python package has bindings which correspond directly to the C++ class and function names. To use pyVFRendering, you need to perform the following steps:

  1. import pyVFRendering as vfr
  2. Create a vfr.Geometry
  3. Read or calculate the vector directions
  4. Pass geometry and directions to a vfr.View
  5. Draw the view in an existing OpenGL context

1. import

In order to import pyVFRendering as vfr, you can either pip install pyVFRendering or download and build it yourself.

You can build with python3 build, which will generate a library somewhere in your build subfolder, which you can import in python. Note that you may need to add the folder to your PYTHONPATH.

2. Create a pyVFRendering.Geometry

As above:

geometry = vfr.Geometry.cartesianGeometry(
    (30, 30, 30),       # number of lattice points
    (-1.0, -1.0, -1.0), # lower bound
    (1.0, 1.0, 1.0) )   # upper bound

3. Read or calculate the vector directions

This step highly depends on your use case. Example:

directions = []
for iz in range(n_cells[2]):
    for iy in range(n_cells[1]):
        for ix in range(n_cells[0]):
            # calculate direction for ix, iy, iz
            directions.append( [ix-4.5, iy-4.5, iz-4.5] )

4. Pass geometry and directions to a pyVFRendering.View

You can create a new view and then pass the geometry and directions by calling the update method:

view = vfr.View()
view.update(geometry, directions)

If the directions changed but the geometry is the same, you can use the updateVectors method.

5. Draw the view in an existing OpenGL context

To actually see something, you need to create an OpenGL context using a framework of your choice, e.g. Qt or GLFW. After creating the context, pass the framebuffer size to the setFramebufferSize method. You can then call the draw method of the view to render the vector field, either in a loop or only when you update the data.

view.setFramebufferSize(width*self.window().devicePixelRatio(), height*self.window().devicePixelRatio())

For a complete example, including an interactive camera, see


libvfrendering offers several types of renderers, which all inherit from VFRendering::RendererBase. The most relevant are the VectorFieldRenderers:

  • VFRendering::ArrowRenderer, which renders the vectors as colored arrows
  • VFRendering::SphereRenderer, which renders the vectors as colored spheres
  • VFRendering::SurfaceRenderer, which renders the surface of the geometry using a colormap
  • VFRendering::IsosurfaceRenderer, which renders an isosurface of the vectorfield using a colormap
  • VFRendering::VectorSphereRenderer, which renders the vectors as dots on a sphere, with the position of each dot representing the direction of the vector

In addition to these, there also the following renderers which do not require a VectorField:

  • VFRendering::CombinedRenderer, which can be used to create a combination of several renderers, like an isosurface rendering with arrows
  • VFRendering::BoundingBoxRenderer, which is used for rendering bounding boxes around the geometry rendered by an VFRendering::ArrorRenderer, VFRendering::SurfaceRenderer or VFRendering::IsosurfaceRenderer
  • VFRendering::CoordinateSystemRenderer, which is used for rendering a coordinate system, with the axes colored by using the colormap

To control what renderers are used, you can use VFRendering::View::renderers, where you can pass it a std::vectors of std::pairs of renderers as std::shared_ptr<VFRendering::RendererBase> (i.e. shared pointers) and viewports as glm::vec4.


To modify the way the vector field is rendered, libvfrendering offers a variety of options. To set these, you can create an VFRendering::Options object.

As an example, to adjust the vertical field of view, you would do the following:

VFRendering::Options options;

If you want to set only one option, you can also use View::setOption:


If you want to set an option for an individual Renderer, you can use the methods RendererBase::updateOptions and RendererBase::setOption in the same way.

Whether this way of setting options should be replaced by getters/setters will be evaluated as the API becomes more stable.

Currently, the following options are available:

Index Type Default value Header file Documentation
View::Option::BOUNDING_BOX_MIN glm::vec3 {-1, -1, -1} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::BOUNDING_BOX_MIN >
View::Option::BOUNDING_BOX_MAX glm::vec3 {1, 1, 1} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::BOUNDING_BOX_MAX >
View::Option::SYSTEM_CENTER glm::vec3 {0, 0, 0} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::SYSTEM_CENTER >
View::Option::VERTICAL_FIELD_OF_VIEW float 45.0 View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::VERTICAL_FIELD_OF_VIEW >
View::Option::BACKGROUND_COLOR glm::vec3 {0, 0, 0} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::BACKGROUND_COLOR >
View::Option::COLORMAP_IMPLEMENTATION std::string VFRendering::Utilities::getColormapImplementation(VFRendering::Utilities::Colormap::DEFAULT) View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::COLORMAP_IMPLEMENTATION >
View::Option::IS_VISIBLE_IMPLEMENTATION std::string bool is_visible(vec3 position, vec3 direction) { return true; } View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::IS_VISIBLE_IMPLEMENTATION >
View::Option::CAMERA_POSITION glm::vec3 {14.5, 14.5, 30} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::CAMERA_POSITION >
View::Option::CENTER_POSITION glm::vec3 {14.5, 14.5, 0} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::CENTER_POSITION >
View::Option::UP_VECTOR glm::vec3 {0, 1, 0} View.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< View::Option::UP_VECTOR >
ArrowRenderer::Option::CONE_RADIUS float 0.25 ArrowRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< ArrowRenderer::Option::CONE_RADIUS >
ArrowRenderer::Option::CONE_HEIGHT float 0.6 ArrowRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< ArrowRenderer::Option::CONE_HEIGHT >
ArrowRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_RADIUS float 0.125 ArrowRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< ArrowRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_RADIUS >
ArrowRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_HEIGHT float 0.7 ArrowRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< ArrowRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_HEIGHT >
ArrowRenderer::Option::LEVEL_OF_DETAIL unsigned int 20 ArrowRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< ArrowRenderer::Option::LEVEL_OF_DETAIL >
BoundingBoxRenderer::Option::COLOR glm::vec3 {1.0, 1.0, 1.0} BoundingBoxRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< BoundingBoxRenderer::Option::COLOR >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::AXIS_LENGTH glm::vec3 {0.5, 0.5, 0.5} CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::AXIS_LENGTH >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::ORIGIN glm::vec3 {0.0, 0.0, 0.0} CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::ORIGIN >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::NORMALIZE bool false CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::NORMALIZE >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::LEVEL_OF_DETAIL unsigned int 100 CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::LEVEL_OF_DETAIL >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CONE_HEIGHT float 0.3 CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CONE_HEIGHT >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CONE_RADIUS float 0.1 CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CONE_RADIUS >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_HEIGHT float 0.7 CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_HEIGHT >
CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_RADIUS float 0.07 CoordinateSystemRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< CoordinateSystemRenderer::Option::CYLINDER_RADIUS >
IsosurfaceRenderer::Option::ISOVALUE float 0.0 IsosurfaceRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< IsosurfaceRenderer::Option::ISOVALUE >
IsosurfaceRenderer::Option::LIGHTING_IMPLEMENTATION std::string float lighting(vec3 position, vec3 normal) { return 1.0; } IsosurfaceRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< IsosurfaceRenderer::Option::LIGHTING_IMPLEMENTATION >
IsosurfaceRenderer::Option::VALUE_FUNCTION std::function<isovalue_type(const glm::vec3&, const glm::vec3&)> [] (const glm::vec3& position, const glm::vec3& direction) { return direction.z; } IsosurfaceRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< IsosurfaceRenderer::Option::VALUE_FUNCTION >
VectorSphereRenderer::Option::POINT_SIZE_RANGE glm::vec2 {1.0, 4.0} VectorSphereRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< VectorSphereRenderer::Option::POINT_SIZE_RANGE >
VectorSphereRenderer::Option::INNER_SPHERE_RADIUS float 0.95 VectorSphereRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< VectorSphereRenderer::Option::INNER_SPHERE_RADIUS >
VectorSphereRenderer::Option::USE_SPHERE_FAKE_PERSPECTIVE bool true VectorSphereRenderer.hxx VFRendering::Utilities::Options::Option< VectorSphereRenderer::Option::USE_SPHERE_FAKE_PERSPECTIVE >


  • A EGS plugin for combining libvfrendering with existing EGS plugins.
  • Methods for reading geometry and directions from data files
  • Documentation

See the issues for further information and adding your own requests.