Geodesign and Smarter Planning – Edinburgh Earth Observatory (EEO) Seminars

Geodesign and Smarter Planning – Edinburgh Earth Observatory (EEO) Seminars

This post may look familiar as it’s a duplicate of this post here, I’m re-posting as a handy reminder for those who may have missed it!

I was massively surprised and honoured (look at the last speakers) to be asked to speak at the Edinburgh Earth Observatory and AGI-Scotlands seminar series programme for 2018-2019 on the 1st of February 2019.   I’m known for my CityEngine work and so my theme will be around geodesign, planning, and procedural modelling.

As usual with these events they want a title and abstract way ahead of the event which I’ve done.  Now I have the fear.   I read a tweet recently that sums this up (but can’t find it now) something about wanting the confidence of the person who wrote the title and abstract months ago…. except I wrote mine last week…

Anyway here’s the title and abstract, please do sign-up and come say hi if you can.   I try and make my presentations and seminars accessible, I’m not a big fan of technical terms of the sake of it so don’t be worried about the buzzwords!

Geodesign and Smarter Planning

Wake up! The built environment professional worlds are colliding, and we cannot sit in our narrow professional cells anymore. Concepts such as 3D Geodesign, BIM, and software tools like Esri CityEngine show us a collaborative future of fast scenario modelling with integrated testing, analysis and visualisation, all while collaborating online with teams of experts around the world.

With rapid advancements in software and hardware, we are able to do more in less time. Our clients will be happier, we will be happier and hopefully the planet will be better for it too.

In this seminar I will explain my professional journey and how it is indicative of wider changes and challenges in the built environment industries. I will discuss the emerging geodesign discipline as well as BIM and the dizzying array of standards to keep all this data moving smoothly. In my view the entertainment industry’s work (gaming and movies), should also be seen as part of our all our professional futures.

Where:  Old Library, Institute of Geography , University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9XP.
When: Friday 1st Feb 2019, 4.30pm
More Information available here



Sketchy London

Sketchy London

Let me start by saying I’m not a brilliant coder outside of CityEngine…. that’s why developers like Raluca Nicola from Esri who share are so important.

I’ve been playing with her newly released San Fran Art sketchy style Esri JS code on our (GD3D/Garsdale Design/CyberCity3D) London data hosted in ArcGIS Online (you can buy it if you like).

Here are some screenshots I hope to put up a live version sometime too…

London Wrapped 2018 & Season’s Greetings to all!

London Wrapped 2018 & Season’s Greetings to all!

I may have gotten carried away….

So I did a little project with EsriUK recently (don’t ask I can’t tell) but some of the outputs tested were fun and I thought I’d share….

Basically I took our London 3D Building data (based on CyberCity3D and Ordnance Survey OpenData plus some unique 3D assets created by me) and used Esri CityEngine to texture the buildings (the textures were sourced by my friends at EsriUK).

First I created a rule file to drape textures on our 3D data (imported from a file geodatabase / multipatch) and tested it in Esri CityEngine on a small section. Then I made the rule file a rule package that can be used in ArcGIS Pro. Then with the Features from CityEngine Rules GP tool I processed the mulitpatch data for London…. this allowed me to process a much larger dataset than Esri CityEngine would allow.

I always wanted a battleship for Christmas!

The results speak for themselves… a bit of fun for the festive season and yes all of these is still ‘accurate’ GIS data capable of being used in analysis (apart from perhaps the present boxes).

I could have done all of the GLA, but who has the time?

Did I mention that the baubles represent London Boroughs?

Also don’t forget there’s some Esri CityEngine training I’m conducting on the 14th and 15th of January and there are still places!

To all my followers and readers wishing wonderful seasons greetings, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

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….