5 interesting things about CityEngine

Having the rather envious task of looking after CityEngine here at Esri UK, I get to play with all the new functionality that comes along. CityEngine has come on leaps and bounds with its GIS integration since we first acquired it and with the introduction of the CityEngine Web Viewer it’s now even possible to share your CityEngine projects on AGOL. Here are my top 5 things in CityEngine that you might want to try out.
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Using 3D tools to make informed decisions

There is a lot 3D development going on with esri software at moment, a part of which has led to the acquisition of a gaming company called Procedural (we’ve reported this in an earlier blog post). The software that Procedural developed is called CityEngine and it provides a rule base parametric modelling engine that allows you to build impressive 3D cityscapes in minutes. I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on this piece of kit, and its fair to say that I’ve been blown away by its capability. In addition to CityEngine, I’ve also been able to test the new LiDAR tools available in the soon to be released ArcGIS 10.1. Its all very well having new and fancy 3D tools, but the question is, what does that really mean?

GIS has traditionally enabled informed decision making using complex spatial analytics. With the improvement in 3D tools, this analysis can be extended to 3D, for city planners, landscape designers, emergency services etc, to understand how 3D space affects decision making. In this blog post we will look at how we can use LiDAR data, CityEngine and the new 3D tools to make an informed decision about the design and construction of a hotel complex in Bristol.

Our first task is to create an accurate 3D model of the surrounding buildings. This will allow us to see how our planned hotel will fit in with the neighbourhood and might flag up restrictions such as the height of the hotel based on the surrounding building heights. This is where we can use LiDAR data to help us out. LiDAR, for those of you who aren’t familiar, stands for (Light Detection and Ranging) and it is generated by a device emitting laser pulses at the ground to detect heights. Within ArcMap, we can use the new LiDAR tools to append the height values from the LiDAR data to our building footprints.


Model used to append heights to building footprint


Data sourced from BLOM

Now that we’ve got accurate heights for our buildings we can import this data into CityEngine and start creating our 3D models. The great thing about CityEngine is that it is really quick and easy to generate 3D content and allows you to create impressive visualisations of cities in seconds. All it requires is a set of ‘rules’ that describe how the GIS data is to be rendered within CityEngine. In this instance we’ve written a rule file which extrudes the buildings to the heights given by the LiDAR and also adds textures to give a good idea of what the area will look like.

However, we don’t just want a visualisation of the development; we want to do some powerful 3D analysis. Using ArcScene, we can perform different types of 3D analysis to aid our decision making process. In order to do this, we must first export these models into ArcScene. CityEngine provides us with a standard export function that allows export into a Collada data format (Collada is an industry standard format for display of 3D data). Within the ArcGIS 3D toolset, we’ve got an importer that then converts Collada into Multipatch (which the Esri standard format for analysing and managing 3D datasets). Once in multipatch format, you can then use the 3D tools to do some analysis.

The first thing I want to know is what shadow the proposed building might cast on the surrounding area. In order to do this, I can use the shadow analysis tool (new at version 10.1). We could also run a line of sight analysis to work out which rooms in the hotel will have ‘good’ views of the surrounding area. Perhaps, this could provide us with a metric to price the rooms accordingly (good views = more expensive?).


Shadow cast by planned building                   View from each room, where Green = good, Yellow = moderate, Red = poor

So as you can see, the new 3D tools working in unison provide great potential for not only analysing the world in 3D, but also being able to make informed decisions based on 3D analysis. The future is bright, the future is 3D.

Thank you to BLOM UK for supplying us with the LiDAR data that we used in this post. 

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: http://www.esri.com/software/cityengine/index.html