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Author: Elliot Hartley

I'm a Director of Garsdale Design Limited an Architectural, Planning, Urban Design and Heritage consultancy based in the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria. I'm also the Client and Technical Services Manager in the UK for CyberCity3D. I write on my blog 'GeoPlanIT' where I discuss themes related to cityengine, technology, geography, urban design and geodesign. If you're struggling to realise the potential of ESRI's CityEngine in your organisation I can help you.
What are the system requirements for Esri CityEngine? Hardware Recommendations too…

What are the system requirements for Esri CityEngine? Hardware Recommendations too…

I get asked this question a lot, I’m not sure why people can’t find the relevant sections on the Esri website!  So here it is…

I also get asked what PCs I run CityEngine myself, so here goes my list:

Laptops

  • Asus Transformer Pro 3 (i5, 4GB RAM intel graphics card) – Works okay for small projects, I like using it for creating rule files ‘on the road’.  If you want bigger city models don’t use this.
  • Razer Blade 15″ – (i7 8th Gen, 16GB RAM, 1060 GTX Nvidia) This is a fantastic games PC but also practically a desktop replacement, a new purchase for me but good for most things I would throw at my desktop.

Desktop

  • Chillblast  (i7, 32GB RAM,1070 GTX Nvidia) It’s the RAM that makes this great really and has the edge over my new laptop.  Oh and I have 2 24inch screens attached.

Accessories/Software?

  • I really recommend a 3DConnexion SpaceMouse (any of them) as well for all that 3D work
  • SketchUp is still a must have for all those fiddly details, CityEngine+SketchUp are perfect companions applications
  • As to 3D software renders?  Well that depends on you!  Small models you could use the numerous render plugins for SketchUp.  But for reall professional stuff think SideFX Houdini which has a nice open source plugin called Palladio  which you can get here on github. I hear AutoDesk Maya and 3DS Max are good too.
  • For game engines you can’t ignore Unreal Studio as there is export functions in CityEngine now.  But don’t discount Unity for its wealth of help and support communities.
  •  
CityEngine Revisiting the Complete Streets Rule

CityEngine Revisiting the Complete Streets Rule

I still love the tilt-shift… 🙂

Many who use CityEngine will have heard of or at least used David Wasserman’s updated Complete Streets Rules.  He is like me a big fan of CityEngine and fantastic at it.   Anyway I noticed an update to his Complete Streets rule and have been playing with it.   The big feature is the trees handle controls…. well worth using if you’re interested in CityEngine and street typologies.

Thanks David for the amazing contribution to the small CityEngine community!  You can download it here : https://github.com/d-wasserman/Complete_Street_Rule 

 

Sedbergh Primary: 2018 Annual Statement of Governance

Sedbergh Primary: 2018 Annual Statement of Governance

For those who don’t know this happened So I will occasionally update and blog a little about our local primary school…  

 

In other related news my DBS check came back and it looks like there are no problems there.

A new adventure for me (School Governor)

A new adventure for me (School Governor)

My blog has been a lot about CityEngine and planning workflows but I’d like to warn you that I will occasionally be posting some words about my new adventure.   A while back attending one of children’s class assemblies at the local primary school (Sedbergh Primary School) the headteacher announced a vacancy for a ‘co-opted’ governor on the schools governing body.  Now, I had been looking for a local community group to volunteer for, that took me outside my comfort zone and was unrelated to my professional career.  This seemed to fit me.    

I approached the headteacher to say I was interested and we arranged a meeting where he explained the role of a governor and gave me an idea of the challenges the school was facing.   From what I’ve now read the governors of a school can be very important, just read some Ofsted reports and you’ll see mention of them and their role.   

Leaders, including governors, have successfully steered the school through a challenging period. They have been successful in their drive to raise standards since the previous inspection.  School Inspection Report 27th September 2016

To be honest I was unsure how I could help.   I needn’t have worried too much.   The headteacher reassured me that support was available and that prior knowledge of governance was not a requirement in fact they wanted co-opted governors to bring their own skill sets to the table.  The idea was to bring my professional skills to the board rather than my parenting ability… 

Fast forward to the recent governors meeting this week which I attended as an observer.   This was a fun lively meeting discussing lots of things related to the school, I get the feeling I will have a better appreciation of just how much work teachers do across the board (I had an idea, but still!).   I’m happy to report that the existing governors took a vote to admit me.  This means I am a ‘co-opted’ School Governor of Sedbergh Primary School, this is of course subject to a criminal records check also know as a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) process. The meeting itself is strictly confidential which if you think about it makes sense when especially when dealing with a small school and children.   I will never go into detailed specifics of my role here on this blog, but I see no harm in discussing the generality of the role and my learning journey.    This is very early days I don’t know all the terminology but I’m excited to learn! 

In conclusion I’m on the start of a learning journey I guess!  So my blog will be used as I have done for my career as a place to store notes and resources as well as thoughts.  Those of you who read this site know I only started it as a place to keep notes really 🙂  I suspect the next blog post will be about educational related acronyms!

Wish me luck, please leave a comment or note if I get something horribly wrong or you can offer advice or resources!

Websites for background

 

Notes on ‘co-opted’ vs ‘parent’ governors

So apparently there are more than one type of governor (taken from this document from the Inspiring Governance website):

  • Academy Trustee
  • Academy Members
  • Chair of Governors
  • Co-opted Governor
  • Foundation Governor
  • Local Authority (LA) Governor
  • Parent Governor
  • Staff Governor

I think these are almost self explanatory but only if you are involved in school life, some of this probably relates to the type of school you are involved with.  There is also statutory guidance for local-authority maintained schools here.    I think my concern was what the difference between parent and co-opted was.   I was aware the parent governors are elected whilst co-opted are appointed.   Perhaps I best let the document from Inspiring Governance explain:

Co-opted Governor – This is an individual from the community who has the skills and experience which the governing board require. They will be appointed by the existing board, following an interview

Parent Governor – An individual who has a child of legal school age (5 – 16) and is elected by the parent body to serve as a governor. They are usually parents who have a child on role at the school, but it is not a legal requirement. It is possible to be a parent governor because you have a child of legal school age, but not attending the school at which you govern.

 

4D 3D modelling with Esri CityEngine? (poc)

4D 3D modelling with Esri CityEngine? (poc)

LICA Building at Lancaster University

Last weeks CityEngine training at Lancaster University went really well.  It was my first time doing a session at this site and I really liked it.  Good facilities and a beautiful campus, stayed tuned for more CityEngine training sessions there in the future, but if you want a session now just ask as we do training on demand.   Also did I mention Lancaster is set to launch Architecture courses and are looking for a new ‘Chair of Architecture’??
Right, on with the main purpose of this blog post!

Above is an animated GIF of a quick proof of concept for some 4D modelling in Esri CityEngine.   4D refers to the time component used in the construction industry to see the various phases of development (see “What is 4D BIM?”) think Gantt chart in 3D!  Whilst CityEngine is not truly a 4D modelling software package it can provide some elements of it after-all time is just an attribute.    I like to think of this as a nice way of 3D modelling urban planning and city master planning phasing scenarios over time.   With the introduction of Esri CityEngine’s handles feature this can make for a nicer interaction method with your model.

after-all time is just an attribute

In this example I have a days and a maximum number of days attribute (think deadline).   The slider controls the day in that timeline between 0 and 365 days for example.   Each of the 2D footprints has a field with a start day and an end day, as the slider is moved a test is performed to see whether the day is between those two numbers for each footprint.  If the condition is true the footprint is extruded based on a calculation that gradually and proportionally extrudes up to it’s maximum building height.  When it reaches and/or exceeds the finish day, the model changes to a more realistic looking building.

All of this is relatively simple in CityEngine (case statements, attributes, and handles), the nice bit is being able to report on progress in the Dashboard.  We can use this in a variety of different scenarios in CityEngine, as usual because it’s code we can copy and paste in to other projects!

CityEngine Training at Lancaster University

CityEngine Training at Lancaster University

 

You may have seen some social media posts about a 3-day CityEngine training session I will be conducting at Lancaster University next month!   All are welcome and there are special discounts for students, go to this page here for more details.  Also I make no apologies for plugging work that pays my salary ;P

CityEngine 2018.0 beta and beyond (a sneak peek?) UPDATED

CityEngine 2018.0 beta and beyond (a sneak peek?) UPDATED

Is this technically a sneak peek? – probably not

NOTE: This post has been updated to include response from Pascal Mueller Director of Esri R&D Zurich and the creator of Esri CityEngine, scroll to the end to see his response.

CityEngine 2018.0 beta has been out for a while now and is pretty much over, I’ve been lucky enough to have been using it in anger for a bit too.   Building on the CityEngine 2017.1 release there are some small improvements, new CGA code as well as a couple of new features, but essentially this feels like a minor release which is not a bad thing.  Just because it’s minor doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like progress , it will be well worth the update!   

The Confession

Firstly a confession, the title is a bit of a click-bait (hey if respectable news organisations can try it why can’t I?) I can’t show you a sneak peak this time or really talk about specifics, well because of um beta stuff and all that…. (last time I had a special agreement).  What I can tell you is that if you want to participate in the future CityEngine betas you can sign-up here https://earlyadopter.esri.com .  If you like CityEngine and are interested in where it’s going and of course helping out the team at Esri then I thoroughly recommend you sign up!

I can assure you that some bug fixes have happened and a couple of new features added which complement the analysis side of things.

Where next for CityEngine?

The real interesting thing here is how Esri CityEngine is moving very much in the direction of the urban design / geodesign space now.  As is much of Esri’s push at the moment, 3D is a natural fit for planners and planning departments.  The discussion on cities/urban (smart or otherwise) is a clear market strategy for Esri and the push towards BIM having been resolved through a ‘partnership’ with Autodesk fits nicely.   

Planning, designing and development must take the full picture into account. Create, visualize and share in 3D to make better designs and present your work more effectively. Source: Esri

This I guess poses a question for Esri, does it continue CityEngine long term with so many products that seem to tick the urban space box?  As someone who has trained many clients in CityEngine and offers consultancy services over the last 5 years I certainly have an interest in its future!  There are big questions of whether it will be just consumed by ArcGIS Pro or placed in some cloud container and interacted with via ArcGIS Online.   

I think (and I have no insider knowledge here) the answer is all of these things will happen, but also that CityEngine will continue to be a standalone product for the foreseeable future.   Esri is in the movie industry now and I don’t think it will want to leave that, but also CityEngine is a great design tool that fits Jack’s interest in urban and geodesign.

“is a simple-to-use 3D city editing and visualization tool” – “Build Flexible Scenarios Faster” – “Create Realistic Context”

The real worry for me is what form will CityEngine evolve into.  The marketing literature still talks of easy operation and high quality realistic outputs.   Sorry but it’s not easy to learn or use (from a typical planners perspective) and the high quality outputs don’t come instantly (unless you like Redlands building typologies!).   

Handles don’t help with the usability issues of CityEngine as they require coding to implement

CityEngine’s great power is it’s flexibility of format support and usage.  But it has fundamental technical issues/challenges with terrain and roads that need addressing.   Esri also needs to decide whether this is a tool for the drag and drop users among us, or some highly technical development environment for urban planning.   

One glimmer of light and a direction of travel is the ESRI.lib folder, promisingly for new users it shows a path of drag and drop produce something now.  Unfortunately this seems to have gone a little stale, anyone who does CGA coding in CityEngine knows organising and keeping up to date rule files is difficult especially if projects vary like ours do.    The ESRI.lib has some great rules I use over and over again, roads and trees, in fact the more generic the better!   Give me more of those tree assets!   These smaller rules enable a greater freedom and I can write rules that work with these easily because I know they are installed with every CityEngine workspace.   

In conclusion, and I’m not good at concluding thoughts so forgive me, CityEngine is here to stay but has some challenges to overcome.   Like all software it has to evolve as it’s users ask more of it.  Currently I worry that CityEngine as a tool is too technical for widespread adoption this means that businesses will be reluctant to invest in it if only a hand full of users (CityEngine professionals) are out there.   On the plus side CityEngine professionals like myself will probably have some consultancy work coming our way! 

Update and response from Esri Zurich’s R&D Director

(originally posted as comments on LinkedIn)

So I posted the link to this blog on LinkedIn and amazingly Pascal Muller (read a post I did called Life Changer to understand why I am honoured to get this) very kindly responded.  I have got his permission to post those comments here, these have been copied directly and no editing has been done although I have tried to keep the paragraph breaks.   What I now need to do is a follow up post to contemplating this response! 

 

Thanks Elliot, really great read!

I could answer some of the raised questions : ) hmm, maybe we should do an ‘ask me anything session’ here…

Two things:

(1) You are correct, not a ton of new features in this release. Reason is that we changed our release cycle this year and are releasing now 3 months earlier. As a result the time between CE 2017.1 and CE 2018.0 was much shorter. CE 2018.0 comes out next week and you can expect CE 2018.1 in September instead of November.

(2) Yes, CE is here to stay. There are no plans to discontinue it. In contrary: maybe you have heard about our new product initiative ArcGIS Urban which is basically a streamlined urban planning platform (on top of AGO) for the planning departments of cities. It will feature cool web apps/interfaces and it will also work great with CE. It’s all developed under the same roof here (also includes the 3D JS API 4.x team btw). In the ArcGIS Urban context, CE will (still) be required for the more advanced workflows such as for example Devin’s site plans, Bruno’s Masterplanner, or the various greenfield mega city projects of the HOKs and F+Ps.

ohh, and of course Blade Runner 3 will need these off-world cities Batty was talking about : )

Besides all this, CE continues to be one of Esri’s development platforms where bleeding edge technology gets applied before it goes mainstream, see for example the push on game engines (more about that later…).

Pretty exciting stuff and I am extremely happy that all the pieces fall into place finally, but we know that we have to keep working hard and improve things. Huge thanks for your continuous support and wise long-term thinking.

 
“The Thornsbank” (beta) Craftsman Style Rule for CityEngine & ArcGISPro

“The Thornsbank” (beta) Craftsman Style Rule for CityEngine & ArcGISPro

The interest

This all started a while back with an interest in American houses, specifically the ‘Craftsman’ style homes which you could buy from places like Sears of all places…. As an Englishman I’m not fully versed on all North American architecture but this idea of picking elements of a house from a catalogue seemed like something I should look at doing in Esri CityEngine.

Rabbit Holes

This is not the CityEngine model I was aiming for….

So that’s what I did.  In classic CityEngine professional style my first attempts got very very complicated as I added more detail (you’ve seen the nice renders of these for a while now on this blog and even the banner here, I really really like them).  The second attempt I produced an all singing all dancing rule file to create thousands of different ‘Craftsman’ style house typologies.  The trouble is, without a big PC and a good understanding of CityEngine these were only going to be usable by those of us who sort of know CityEngine in a professional capacity.  This is always a problem I have with CityEngine much like Alice I often go deep down a rabbit hole and get lost in the wondrous and slightly crazy detail (it’s not a bad thing just a bit distracting!).

Third time lucky?

Yes you can adjust the path to meet the steps….

The end result on my third attempt is something very much simpler and easier to understand and something that can be wrapped as a Rule Package.   As a Rule Package it can also be used in ArcGISPro too.   I’ve initially conceived of this rule file as primarily use on auto-generated Lots in Esri CityEngine (those are created from centre lines of roads forming blocks), but I can make it work on points and footprints too (just not on the first release).   In CityEngine you have the nice ability to use the handles feature to interact with the model without having to muck around with the attributes in the inspector.  Here I am finding it quite tricky, which attributes are important to have as ‘handles’?  If you do everything the model becomes cluttered, so I am going with a ‘less is more’ approach to see how it works.

Okay enough already! When is it released, and how much will it cost?!  

I’ve got a beta trial coming for this which I hope some lucky few will help me iron out the kinks.  Then I’ll look at selling it, my thinking is Rule Packages get sold cheaply (less than £50 probably) but if you want the source code naturally you have to pay more, and it’s this price I’m struggling with.  perhaps others can suggest an approach?

If you want to be part of the beta leave a comment below, or register on our new web forums (not just CityEngine but all 3D stuff) and head on over to the Thornsbank specific forum page.

I end this post with some additional screenshots of the rule working in ArcGISPro and a CityEngine WebScene.