Towards a 3D British Tree Species CityEngine Library

Towards a 3D British Tree Species CityEngine Library

The ESRI.lib plant (trees) rule file is great but why is the most detailed ‘model’ a default?

I’ve talked about trees in CityEngine before, but not in any great detail.  The fact is 3D urban models look really dull without a few trees and plants. Come to think of it so does the real-world! 

A 3D model of Durham, UK looks way better with 90,000+ trees in it! 

I know the ESRI.Lib has a Plants directory and an amazing list of trees all in ‘Model’, ‘Analyical’, and ‘Fan’ 3D model types.  The Plant_Loader.cga and Plant_Distributor.cga I consider one of the most useful rule files for users in CityEngine, simply because it saves us time.   However it is quite North American in its approach and I’ve always meant to add to it with some ‘tweaks’ to reflect how I work and how I train others in my CityEngine courses.

Exciting dropdown lists! (work in progress)

So I’ve started a new project in CityEngine!   It is the start of a British specific tree species rule file, I’ve adapted a list of the British tree species (native and non-native) from the Woodland Trust.

Like this, but more (and British Specific).

I’ve made simple small steps at first and I’ve started at the interface (inspector pane in the CityEngine interface).  I’ve used the ESRI.Lib as a basis for an approach but obviously I want ‘British’ tree species.

After the overall structure of the interface and how it gets 3D assets to use is settled I will start trying to source 3D assets that represent these species.  That’s the difficult bit for each species Esri has done 3 models (model, analytical, and fan).  Whether I can finish this on my own is doubtful, so I will be adding this soon to my Github account and hoping others can help.  Now, I’m not a big user of Github at all but it seems a good place to do this.

Feel free to contact me directly if you want more information or better yet want to help!

Hidden Feature? Esri CityEngine Dashboards in your browser

Hidden Feature? Esri CityEngine Dashboards in your browser

Update: I had a repsonse from one of the Developers about this on LinkedIn which is at the end of this (I have his permission to post it)

Bless those Esri developers in Zurich and Redlands developing cool new features and workflows!  It seems they work so fast sometimes they forget to document the features they’re working on.  With several releases/updates a year I can’t always keep up so perhaps they can’t either?

Who doesn’t like a good metric in a pretty graph?  This one shows the Graphic Complexity index of a whole bunch of data, useful for assessing future workflows and export sizes.

Those of you who use CityEngine for geodesign will love the dashboard, instead of reporting dry numbers you get these dynamic charts giving you visual and numerical feedback in to you geodesign projects.  It can be very useful bu twhen I use it I’m constantly fighting windows and screens coding and visualising, now where did I put that dashboard.  This tip gives you another option placing it in your web browser!  

wait… what’s that? Double-click on on it.

I only relatively recently noticed a message in the log tab (Window –>Show Log), you do use this window pane/tab right?!  Well probably not, and only when you’re trying to figure out what went wrong. Double-clicking the message that says ‘Dashboards are also available in your browser’ and you’ll get this message…

Dear lord, please can someone look at this UI mess please….

Select and copy that web address that says http://localhost:60288 (or similar it does change each time, perhaps this could be more friendly??).

No I’m not telling you how I changed the thousands separator to something sensible

Ta da!  Now you can have a dashboard in CityEngine’s interface…… and your web browser, sadly it’s not published out to the big world wide web but for local desktop use this could be useful.  Now I’ve tested it and it all seems to work nicely, a change in one window is still reflected in the other.

See??? It works! And no I’m still not telling you how to change the thousands separator…

That’s it, you may have sensed some frustration with Esri CityEngine’s interface design and documentation…. well perhaps you’re reading too much into it 🙂

So I posted this to LinkedIn and one of the developers added this comment which really adds to the information above:

Hi Elliot,There is a reason why we “overlooked” this “feature” in the documentation phase:) We don’t want to support it atm, means we don’t check and make sure that the dashboards render nicely in different browsers. There are other technical reasons that are taken into account and the main use case of it I guess is already covered by the dashboard tab beeing detachable from the main window. Thanks anyway for the nice article and have a good time, Chris 

Christian Iten, Product Designer at ESRI R&D Center Zurich. 
Sedbergh and District The Fallen of WW1: A Cartographic project

Sedbergh and District The Fallen of WW1: A Cartographic project

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working on some custom mapping for a range of products (digital and paper) to commemorate 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War here in Sedbergh.

Fantasy mapping using real world data in ArcGIS Pro is fun!

It started with my experimentation of using ArcGIS Pro and the Ordnance Survey’s fantastic Open Zoomstack data product to create ‘fantasy’ type maps.  I soon realised that there was more I could, do and with Remembrance day coming up I had an idea.

Old Ordnance Survey Mapping of the WW1 battlefields notice the red lines of war related infrastructure (trenches, barbed wire etc…) Source: National Library of Scotland  and Ordnance Survey

What if I recreated those old Ordnance Survey (6-inch maps) using modern data and symbolise the natural features of the area as some kind of trench and barbed wire network?  This would represent the deep routed effects war had on the community and highlight the ‘battlefield’ of home, whether that be loved ones not returning, or returning not quite the same, and the ripple effect it had on the valleys around Sedbergh.

Sneak peak at the A1 paper version…

I started by making a basemap I could use in a printed product (a series of A1 sheets), but quickly realised this nice looking basemap (derived from OS data) could be used in some nice digital mapping.

“Streams of Remembrance” in St Andrews Church, Sedbergh
It’s a giant river, valley, and places map of our area.

Staff at Garsdale Design had been involved in the ‘Streams of Remembrance’ display in St Andrew’s Church in Sedbergh and had a list of names given to them by Sedbergh and District History Society.   What I’ve done with this is create a geographic point file of where all the soldiers lived and their biographical details, then I constructed a web link to feed their details into the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website so you could click on the link and find where they are buried.


My feeling was that more viewers can relate to an age than they can to rank, status or anything else. 

Symbology – I’ve wrestled with this for a while, I knew each soldier had to be represented by a poppy symbol of some kind.  Was age important? Was rank? Was where they lived or died significant?  I could not and did not want to answer, every death is a tragedy and significant.   I did think however, that age might be a good way to group these people in the storymap.   My feeling was that more viewers can relate to an age than they can to rank, status or anything else. 

Badly drawn poppies by me from an image I found using Google at different life stages….

So I drew some poppies, single flowers, flowers on stems, and finally I settled on a collection of symbols.  Single poppies when close together overlapped too much and you couldn’t make out individuals and I didn’t like it.  I tried resizing the poppies based on age but was unhappy… so I asked for help.


so I asked for help.

After much deliberation I reached out to Kenneth Field**, if it’s one thing that those who know Ken would agree on is that he has an opinion!   I gave him some background and asked for advice on displaying the poppies, I won’t repeat all of what he said (it was long and very kind) but basically my idea of sizing based on age was brought into clarity when he said:

…you could ditch age altogether. Is it important in the context of the map? Isn’t the fact each poppy locate a fallen soldier enough (mass of poppies = more in this sense cognitively). A larger poppy might also be seen as being ‘more important’ because it’s more visible. Is a soldiers age relevant to their ‘importance’

Ken Field 2018
Overlapping poppies at different stages…

A poppy at various life stages is an interesting and beautiful thing.  I liked the idea and in the end after much thought I used all the symbols on my map (with the bottom of the stem being where the point is on the map).  Each poppy symbol would be distributed randomly, age would not be a factor, this also allowed me to avoid some of the overlapping symbology issues I was having.  I know it’s not perfect and the image above looks a bit too delicate, but I think I’ll never be truly happy with any solution.  Artistically I like this compromise the best.  An unexpected outcome is actually the 3D view of these poppies looks much better than the 2D.

The symbology I settled on….

I didn’t want to write so much in one post, I do have a technical blog post about the making of this coming as well.   I’ll end by saying I’ve created a number of maps paper A1 sheets, 2D webmap, StoryMap, 3D Scene, and a custom 3D mApp using the Esri JS API.

A link to the StoryMap and 3D mApp (this custom app allows you to get screenshots of an area and download them with a custom title) are ready and linked here below (click on the images).

** Shameless plug but Ken’s book “Cartography.” it’s a valuable resource for those who want to make better maps. 

The Fallen 3D mApp Demo (work in progress)

The Fallen 3D mApp Demo (work in progress)

I’ve done a series of mapping products (digital and paper)

A first draft demo video of one of several cartographic products produced in commemoration of the end of the First World War. The map shows where the people of Sedbergh and District who died came from as well as some biographical details. The basemap was use OS Open Zoomstack data and hand drawn by myself custom symbology assembled in ArcGIS Pro. 


Each point has a different poppy symbol based on a poppy’s lifecycle but not representing importance or an attribute, this is to help with potential overlapping of points. These points and the list of people came from the Sedbergh and District History Society.

I’ll be writing a blog post shortly to outline the steps in its production.

The Fallen 3D mApp Demo (work in progress) from GD3D® by Garsdale Design on Vimeo.

The Fallen 3D mApp Demo on mobile (work in progress) from GD3D® by Garsdale Design on Vimeo.

USA STYLE STREET SIGNS FOR ESRI CITYENGINE

USA STYLE STREET SIGNS FOR ESRI CITYENGINE

Subtle product placement by me (I’ve already modified this rule set)

Just a quick Esri CityEngine news post for those who may have missed it, or (and more likely) for me about 2 months later when I remember there being a cool rule set for signs, but can’t for the life of me remember where the link is…

Those of you who use Esri CityEngine will already know that it is sometimes frustratingly lacking in useful content.   Yes there is the ‘ESRI.Lib’ project directory which is installed in each new ‘workspace’.  Some of the most used rules in that library are the tree and road rules, and the occasional text for labels. 

creating generic rules for everyone is actually quite hard

I’ve always said creating generic rules for everyone is actually quite hard unless you can guarantee how they work and the structure of their underlying data (oh crikey I think I just advocated some kind of ‘standard’).   Complicated generic rule files for all the Esri CityEngine users is hard to do, but simple focused rules (like trees, signs and simple streets) is much easier and in the end more useful.

oh crikey I think I just advocated some kind of ‘standard’**

Not this type of daisy-chain | Source: Wikipedia

The ability for us to ‘daisy-chain’ rules means and a consistent perpetual Esri CityEngine ‘ESRI.Lib’ directory means I can write rules that reference simple tree visualisations easily.

Now a very cool gentleman from Esri called Geoff Taylor has created a new rule package (for ArcGISPro 3D users) and CityEngine project that has done some hard work for you.  USA street signs!  Yes we’ve had signs within the Streets rules before, but this one is far more useful.

It contains the start of something that I’m sure will only expand and become more useful for those of us doing 3D modelling in the USA (some of this may be useful in Canada too).  It also looks like this may end up linking up with the awesome Complete Streets tool from David Wasserman (you can get that here on github)

Some nice rendering of the street signs and unusually for me I’ve not used any ‘depth of field’ ’tiltshift’ effects..

** I joke about standards, but perhaps I need to talk sometime about the Esri CityEngine integration work I’ve got going on with BIM and things like Uniclass 2015….

Loading the OS Open Zoomstack Geopackage into ArcGISPro (with OS styling).

Loading the OS Open Zoomstack Geopackage into ArcGISPro (with OS styling).

OS Open Zoomstack in ArcGIS Pro with symbology created by the Ordnance Survey

This is a quick write up that’s related to the blog series I’m doing on custom symbology in ArcGIS Pro.  Well sort of, it just so happens to be the perfect dataset to use to use for UK based mapping projects where you don’t want to use a costly licenced dataset (maybe the forthcoming Open MasterMap may change that?).   Now, I know I normally write about 3D and CityEngine related stuff but I do love a good 2D map as well!  This post assumes a simple working knowledge of ArcGIS Pro.   I’m considering making this a video as well so you can see the entire process.

First you need to download the OS Open Zoomstack as a ‘geopackage’ don’t worry whilst ArcGIS Pro doesn’t support direct editing of a ‘geopackage’ it does support native reading of it. * there’s some discussion in the comments at the end of this post, if you’re reading on the front page click here to view

Fun fact: the GeoPackage is an ‘open format for geospatial information’

You can read about it here.

A word of warning this is a UK national dataset, so naturally the size is large (10.1 Gigabytes!).

To help as well I suggest you download the Ordnance Survey’s custom symbology for this dataset which you can get from github.

As you can see there are some instructions on what to do with style sheets if you’re an ArcMap user in that PDF linked above… well I do not use ArcMap much anymore more so I’ve pretty much made a complete transition to ArcGIS Pro so here’s what you do next.

Step 1: New ArcGIS Pro project and then ‘insert’ a new ‘map’.

Step 2: Convert the Geopackage into a File Geodatabase… as far as I am aware you don’t need an Advanced licence or FME or the Data Interoperability Extension (if I’m wrong comment below on this post) you can drag in each layer manually into a Map in ArcGIS Pro and then right-click the ‘export data’ function.  Or better yet, you can use the copy features GP tool (using the Batch function). *I’ve created a toolbox with two tools that simplifies this process for me.  I will share this as a separate blog post soon…

Step 2: Remove the prefix ‘main_’ from all the feature classes you imported into the new file geodatabase, otherwise you can’t use the lyr file on them….

Step 3: Find your “OS-Open-Zoomstack.lyr” (link to download it here) and drag it in to your Map, notice all those red “!” marks, this means it can’t find the data these symbols are linking too.   Click on one of these red “!” to fix them all.   It will ask you where the data layer is located ( in this case ‘names’).  Find the data in the new file geodatabase you created.

Step 4: Well it should all work and all those “!” should have gone and you have a nicely symbolised OS Open Zoomstack data set courtesy of the nice folks at the Ordnance Survey.

A final note this workflow unbelievably helped me find where Esri hid the ‘repair data’ function went, basically they built it into the “!“… d’oh.

Coming up in a future blog post: How we can use OS Open Zoomstack with our hand drawn custom symbology.

CREATING AND USING CUSTOM ARCGIS PRO SYMBOLOGY – PART 2: Image Preparation and Processing

CREATING AND USING CUSTOM ARCGIS PRO SYMBOLOGY – PART 2: Image Preparation and Processing

This is the second part in a series of posts on my journey to create custom symbology in ArcGIS Pro. Inspired by John Nelson this post is primarily a reminder to myself about how I did it.  Actually this whole blog is my personal notes made public (so yes you can do this differently and achieve the same results), I’ve done on more than one occasion a Google Search for a solution only to find a post I did about it ages back…. doh.

So you have the kit because you read my previous post, so now what?  Well we need to do some drawing and painting!   Then we will process those drawings by scanning them modifying them in a image editor (like GIMP or Adobe Photoshop Elements) and saving them in a nice and organised way.

The next part of this blog series will deal specifically with each symbol type (lines and points) and I will also cover watercolour swatches I’ve created.  This post will get your drawings and sketches to an image editor ready for use in ArcGIS Pro.

Inspiration doesn’t have to come from specific texts or Cartography books (but it helps)

There’s two steps to my process (you can of course do it differently!), first read some books and get some inspiration.  The I have a scrap page which I start doing test runs on symbology and lines a bit like the image below…

doodles can turn into something more digital later…

Once I’m happy with something I will add it to my grid paper I’ve created which you can download here (below).

Don’t be afraid to experiment, don’t think it’s not good enough!  Lots of people say they can’t draw, what I think they mean is they’re not confident enough to draw for other people.  Besides which some mistakes or badly drawn things might look just right in the correct context.

Some look okay, some I’m embarrassed about to be honest, I’m trying to learn not to care too deeply about what others think!

So we have a paper grid of hand drawn symbols (no you don’t need to till them up).  Notice I’ve used white paper for this the whiter and cleaner the paper the better I can edit them later.

Now I would scan them or take a photo, just be warned that take a photo you need really good light, no shadows and try and make sure them are photo’d flat so you don’t have distortions to fix later.   I recommend scanning them if you can as this will keep things nice and consistent.  As a rule I scan at 200dpi or more as a minimum, I do scan as colour even if black and white scans just so I can choose later what’s done with the image also not all pens are black!

I scan the whole A4 page (sorry people from USA we’re metric around here!), and it will look like this in Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Ready to process!

Step 1: Duplicate the layer 

Step 2: Delete the background layer

Step 3: Use the crop tool and choose your symbology

Step 4: Use the Magic Wand selection Tool (uncheck contiguous and adjust the tolerance to adjust) to select all the white space on the image.

Step 5: Go to Edit menu and select ‘Cut’ or use the keyboard shortcut ‘Ctrl-X’, now you have a small image with a transparent background! Use the crop tool again to adjust the image size to your requirements (I tend to crop just to the image, but some like to make it precisely square)

filename “draft_v1_v2_final_final_v0.png”

Step 6: Save in a folder with a nice file name but save as a PNG file which supports transparent backgrounds.

So that’s it! The next blog post in this series (coming soon) will take you through symbology a types (lines or points) and show you how we get it working in ArcGIS Pro.  I will also do a separate blog in the series for coloured scans of my watercolours swatches…

Creating and using Custom ArcGIS Pro Symbology – Part 1: Stuff I use to help me.

Creating and using Custom ArcGIS Pro Symbology – Part 1: Stuff I use to help me.

You’ll have seen on social media I’ve been ‘playing’ with techniques to create custom mapping styles.   This is a direct result of me attending EsriUK’s Perth conference and getting all inspired by John Nelson.

Firstly if you haven’t read or seen John Nelson’s blog, go look at it now (I’ll wait): adventuresinmapping.com There’s more obviously around but I’ve been using ArcGISPro for all our 3D GIS and Esri CityEngine content.  However I’ve wanted to do something more artistic, more in-depth and one that pushes my comfort zone a little.   John Nelson’s cartography using ArcGIS Pro are a master class in the art of what’s possible.

So this is the first blog post in a few and maybe even a video (yes I do that occasionally) on the lessons I’ve learnt from using ArcGIS Pro to make some unique maps that look hand drawn (and sort of are).   Can you do this in a product like QGIS?  Yes I think you probably can, can you apply some of what I write here to QGIS, I hope so!

Equipment and preparation

I’m aiming to make this repeatable and consistent, therefore I’ve done some preparation which I will share with you here.  You don’t have to purchase anything of course! I just wanted to record what I had done here.

The glorious Staedtler triplus® fineliner 334

Pens. While we will be using ArcGIS Pro we will also need to do our own drawing, and no I don’t believe you have to be very good at drawing just consistent and willing to try new things.  I’ve settled on the Staedtler triplus fineLiner 334-9 a nice pen with a good line quality. Unsure?  Go to a good pen shop and try some out, for me we’re doing symbology of lines and symbols so it needs to be crisp and good for scanning.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box set of 12… is nice to have and small!

Paints.  Well I like watercolours and I also wanted to replicate some what John Nelson has done, so I’ve chosen a simple set we got my eldest child from Winsor & Newton.

Paper. Honestly 80gsm everyday paper for simple pen work it has a nice crisp white perfect for scanning.  If I was to improve it so you didn’t see anything on the back or to stop it curling, 90gsm is better.  For watercolour work obviously you need watercolour paper (190gsm to 300gsm) just ensure any scanner can handle it, if you intend to use a scanner!

The grid. I wanted to inject some consistency in to the process and left to my own devices just sketching on a piece of paper will get messy pretty quickly so I created a series of A4 grids for the different symbols.  I’ve made this a PDF which you can download below (see resources heading below).

Scanner or Camera. I’m using an iPhone 7 camera and the dropbox app to quickly upload to my PC (you could equally use a cable or other app).  For the most part I would recommend to use a scanner this allows for clear distortion free scans/images of your drawing.   If you use a camera I find without amazing light quality when taking it you will end up doing additional processes to clean and brighten your image.  The scanner i’m using at home is an Epson Stylus Office BX610FW, I can scan directly to a memory card or via wifi straight to my PC using their Windows program.

Sedbergh-on-sea created with hand drawn elements placed using ArcGIS Pro

Software. Well I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop Elements, but you can also use GIMP (which is fantastic!).  Oh yes and ArcGIS Pro….  

I like it.

Books and inspiration. Well John Nelson and his blog I’ve already talked about but I’ve been looking at a wide variety of books and maps to see what works.  I don’t 100% want to copy (especially if newer material!) but also you don’t have to re-invent the wheel..  From my perspective I really like “Great City Maps”, but then I’m a sucker for urban mapping, I recommend finding a style your’re passionate about and trying to replicate elements of it.

Other publications are available (this is not an endorsement)

Conclusion. So that’s what I’ve been using, I haven’t finished everything yet but Part 2 of this series will look at a workflow for the various elements of a map in ArcGIS Pro you may want to replicate.  I haven’t decided whether to do one giant post about all types of symbology creation or do individual posts for points, lines, polygons etc…

RESOURCES: