CityEngine - Esri’s gone all 3D

If you go to Esri’s Aylesbury office, climb the stairs to the 2nd floor, turn left and see someone wearing a granddad-style jumper, you’ve probably found me. My name is Caroline Steer and I’m the Technical Solution Group’s (TSG) placement student for the year, after taking some time out from studying geography at UCL. I’ve been at Esri since September and so far I’ve been working on a wide range of things, including creating webmaps, a bit of geocoding, a smattering of Python, some beta testing and now starting to demo our online solution for Local Government, LocalView Fusion.

So in my first week at Esri, I was asked to investigate some new 3d technology that Esri Inc. had recently acquired. This software is called CityEngine, and harks from the exciting world of movie graphics. It’s been used for the likes of the cityscapes in the movie Cars 2, adverts for the Ministry of Sound and hard-core gaming. All very exciting, but what’s it got to do with GIS? Well CityEngine’s main function is to quickly create 3D models from 2D data and then making it look life-like by using a rules engine, allowing us GIS folk to build up cityscapes in no time. These buildings can then be imported into ArcScene, where we can do shadow or line-of-sight analysis. For example, this process will be of interest to the urban planning market but also links into some really interesting research some of us in TSG have been doing around Building Information Management (BIM).

There are clearly many useful and interesting applications for CityEngine in generating 3D urban environments for city planners, architects, the military and of course those working in film and entertainment.

So now you’ve got a rough idea of what CityEngine does, I’ll share my experience of it. I sat down at my new desk and after reading several help files, trying out lots of bits and pieces and overcoming various challenges I can now say I am a competent user of CityEngine. I was impressed at how I was able to create cities, which were relatively realistic with no programming skills. Those lucky enough to have some Python skills will be able to create some amazing cityscapes.

To test out my new found knowledge and CityEngine’s capabilities we decided to set ourselves the challenge of creating a 3D tour of the area surrounding our Aylesbury offices. The buildings were created using a shapefile of Ordnance Survey MasterMap building outlines and applying a series of rules which apply images to the building fascades. The streets were created by importing street networks, again from MasterMap, and applying rules to insert 3D cars and texturing. The final detail was provided by an aerial photograph taken from the Esri Imagery basemap. The result was a really impressive 3d model of Aylesbury which only took 3 days and to make it look even better I could have added lampposts, higher quality aerial imagery and use the Facade Wizard to create highly detailed facades.

So what have I learnt about CityEngine? I found the software pretty simple to use and its unique scripting language (Computer Generated Architecture) is relatively easy to pick up. I’m sure the future looks bright as Esri plans to develop tighter integration between existing ArcGIS software and CityEngine making it even easier to use.

I’d like to thank BLOM for letting us use their aerial photography and model data for testing. CityEngine is still evolving so look out for updates on the blog to see what’s been happening. For example, our friends over at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis(CASA) have already started using CityEngine with a renderer and have created some really impressive models

To see what CityEngine can do see: