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Category: SketchUp

3D London & Terrains

3D London & Terrains

I’ve been working on the latest CyberCity3D London coverage today, using the terrain map we have and experimenting with the terrain colours.   Sometimes a satellite imagery overlay on terrain in CityEngine just doesn’t seem to work…

Here are some screen shots from ArcGIS CityEngine and the Webscene viewer.

Webscene view of London Bridge –> Click on image to find out more about London Bridge!

Data courtesy of CyberCity3D, who I am providing CityEngine consulting for.


CityEngine model videos – Middle East City Part 1&2

CityEngine model videos – Middle East City Part 1&2

I’ve been working away on SketchUp and needed to do some test urban/residential areas in a fictional Middle East city… For some reason the videos are better quality on my PC to what has been uploaded and processed by YouTube. YouTube seems to have squashed them…   I’ll try and fix it when I get time (my upload speeds aren’t great so I don’t really want to do it again just yet…)

So they are two different models using the same road layout but different rule files.   Both use CityEngine to place or build the city model and Lumion3D to render and make the video (with a little edit from Windows Live Movie Maker).   SketchUp has been used for a few of the elements (a villa, cars, sign posts and the tram!).

Middle East City Part 1 : 

Middle East City Part 2:

CityEngine 2012.1 New Features & I was right…

CityEngine 2012.1 New Features & I was right…

Okay please excuse me whilst I engage smug mode …. perhaps I should ask for more in my blogs!  If you’re not sure why I said that, read this: “Will you SketchUp your CityEngine, please?

The new 2012.1 CityEngine!

Okay so I was asking for it to be made easier to use, not to just put in some rudimentary 3D modelling/editing tools into CityEngine (like SketchUp’s…), but it’s a start!

Push/Pull tool anyone?

As this screenshot from the Mid-Morning Plenary at this years ESRIUC in San Diego shows that’s what they’ve done.   I hope they made it so that the model you create is described as a CGA rule so you can use it elsewhere but I doubt it..

Looks like there might be some distance measuring capabilities in there too at last, as it’s a much needed feature.   When a manual model is created it seems that the length of the line is displayed.

There are some other icons also along that toolbar as well so I’m very curious to know what they are.

One thing that puzzles me is the lack of a beta program for CityEngine, I’ve asked and been told there isn’t one.  However the guys at Honolulu seem to be getting the latest releases… is this a government customer thing?

I’ll be posting more on this later and perhaps some thoughts on what the guys in Honolulu are doing.  I’m particularly interested in there public consultation ideas…

Will you SketchUp your CityEngine, please?

Will you SketchUp your CityEngine, please?

You’ll see my recent blog posts have been mainly about CityEngine and more recently Lumion3D.   Exciting stuff is being done by the people at Digital Urban (UCL) as well!   Both have been talked about as being ‘game changers’ but why?

  • Is it there advanced capabilities?
  • Or is it because of their 3D visualisation possibilities?
  • Perhaps it’s because they work nicely with other file formats?

The answer is in part yes to all of the above, but there is something more fundamental going on and it is in part due to a tool called SketchUp.

When you work in three dimensions everything becomes a little more complicated, yes you can visualise your buildings nicely and see what you are designing, but there is an added layer of complication, for myself it is viewpoints.

I know what a building should look like and all its component parts but you have to be able to view how everything interacts behind other features.   Understanding how a building will look from a 3D model is easier, but understanding how all the component parts fit together (services, floor levels etc..) can be harder to understand.

Working in an architectural practice two dimensional black and white drawings provide a good snapshot of how things fit together and work.   Now that virtually every client wants a 3D model and to walk around it like a computer game, has given us a problematic transition.   UK planning departments still want properly measured 2D black and white drawings, whereas clients would often prefer 3D models.

Historically we have worked with AutoCAD LT, as we’re too small to require AutoCAD (and wouldn’t use many of the advanced features) as well as the various Building Information Modelling (BIM) solutions.   However our clients do want 3D models so we have been creating models for a while now using SketchUp (even prior to it being purchased by Google and now Trimble).

SketchUp is amazing, no that’s not correct, it’s an incredible piece of software.    In fact I regard its development as being one of the most important things to have ever happened to our industry (architecture and urban design).    There are two main reasons for me giving such importance:

  • It fits into our existing software/workflows nicely
  • It is easy to use

That’s it, no really!   The learning curve as anyone who has used SketchUp will know, is very small.   I can guarantee most first time computer literate professional users (with no reading of a manual) can produce a good looking useful 3D model with ease.

Lumion3D is also not the most powerful of visualisation packages but after a couple of minutes of using it I realised I could with relative ease create beautifully rendered models and all within my existing workflows. Like SketchUp the real utility of this tool is how easy it is to create a good looking useful product with minimal training.

But what about CityEngine? It certainly is very powerful and the learning curve is quite steep for anyone without a background in programming.    However it does fit in with my existing workflows just like SketchUp and Lumion3D.   I’m certain that the ESRI CityEngine team is working on usability so I’m asking nicely ESRI, will you please SketchUp your software too?

ArcGIS – CityEngine – SketchUp – Lumion3D – A workflow

ArcGIS – CityEngine – SketchUp – Lumion3D – A workflow

I’m quite partial to a good workflow, so here’s the result of one I’ve posted on GeoPlanIT’s YouTube channel:

Lumion3D is a great rendering/visualisation tool I hope to be using much more in the future.   It might not give you full control over everything but if you want quick and easy renderings of your models it’s brilliant.   A word of caution though, you might want to upgrade your graphics card… (or like me your entire PC).   You can download a free (limited feature) trial now from here.

CityEngine to SketchUp Keeping your Circles

CityEngine to SketchUp Keeping your Circles

I’ve been playing around with the export settings for placing models in SketchUp, but there has been a problem.   Basically, circular elements of my models are having their vertices merged so they look like they’ve been crushed:

Something is not right here....
That's better!

Turns out you just need to check the tickbox “Create Shape Groups” I don’t know why so if anyone knows just post a comment after this post…

Just check the box....
CityEngine, SketchUp and Kerkythea: How to make them play nice.

CityEngine, SketchUp and Kerkythea: How to make them play nice.

My first rendered (albeit simple) CityEngine model

I’ve been looking at ways to import properly my GIS to CityEngine models into SketchUp, the trouble is that when I’ve opened them in SketchUp the model looks weird. In that I mean it doesn’t draw properly and doesn’t display properly. It sort of flashes on and off when I move around the model. Then when I’ve tried to render it in Kerkythea (a great and free renderer) it doesn’t work either.

I looked for a solution and it appears the answer lay in this forum post “obj export to Lightwave – problems with scale”.  What’s happening is that I’ve been importing my ArcGIS Shapefiles as “‘Cartesian'(disable projection)”.   This way I can easily export the results back to ArcGIS.   I’ll freely admit I’m not so good with projections and map systems!  Anyway while this is great for back and forth between CityEngine and GIS, the models produced (obj or 3DS, in my case) have an issue.

Basically the models are exported with origin points far to far away from the actual model.    CityEngine at this time does not seem to be able to sort this problem out.  Their solution is to import all shapefiles and centre the data by offsetting, but of course getting back to your GIS is not as easy as my preferred method.

My model is displaying a bit weird in SketchUp...

I’ve decided that I like too much the ability to go between ArcGIS and CityEngine so the solution lies for me where the problem manifests itself in SketchUp:

  1. Import your model into SketchUp (3DS or OBJ)
  2. Double click on the imported model so you are working inside the ‘component/group’ no right click off the mode to bring up the menu with ‘Change Axes’
  3. Now position the axes were you want it within the model you’ve imported.*UPDATE: Alternatively use the ‘Move to Origin and Center’ plugin tool which you can download from Smustard
  4. Close the component/group
  5. Viola! you should have a properly displaying model now.
  6. Now for getting the model into Kerkythea you need to download and install this SketchUp Plugin
As a footnote if you want the model to sit correctly in Google Earth, use SketchUp’s Geo-Location tool under the File menu.  Then just manually position your model.   It’s not a perfect solution but Google Earth for most people isn’t about millimetre accuracy!



Digital Elevation Models – OS OpenData to SketchUp : A workflow

Digital Elevation Models – OS OpenData to SketchUp : A workflow

Update: Geolocating the DEM in SketchUp has been solved see at bottom of page!

So you have SketchUp and you’ve heard wondrous things about the UK’s Ordnance Survey OpenData?!    In particular you hear there maybe some contour/elevation models out there for free as well!   This quick workflow guide shows you how get that elevation model into SketchUp so you can plan horrible developments in undeserving places (I’m a planner so I know…).


  1. Windows Vista (I’m sure XP, Windows 7 etc.. all work as well)
  2. SketchUp Pro (although you can import DEMs with the free version)
  3. MicroDEM – follow the install guide to get yourself up and running
  4. OS OpenData, in particular the Land-Form Panorama dataset, select the download option enter your details (it only requires your email address) and then wait for  523MB zip file to download
  5. Google Earth (to check your DEM is georeferenced properly)
  6. You need a basic working knowledge of MS Windows, SketchUp and some file management skills. 

Once downloaded you need to know what OS Grid square you want to import.   You can read the wiki article or I have used StreetMap and once you’ve searched for your location you can look just below the map and it says “Click here to convert coordinates” on this page LR seems to relate to the OS grid.

The Walkthrough

Double click on the ‘’ file and navigate to this directory ‘\DTM\ASCII\data’.   Yes there are other types of data (contours as DXF and DEM as NTF) but this is what worked for me.

1 – Extract a tile from the directory name corresponding to your chosen OS tile.  In this case we’re going to use Sedbergh, Cumbria tile which is under ‘\DYM\ASCII\data\sd\sd68.asc’.  You can copy it to any directory but in this instance I tend to copy it to the ‘mapdata\DEMs’ directory created by your installation of MicroDEM (you did install it right?)

2 – Load up MicroDEM and then click File –> Open DEM now navigate to the ‘mapdata\DEMs’ directory and select the ‘sd68.asc’ file.

3 – MicroDEM will ask you to pick its projection parameters as its OS OpenData my guess is that these settings are okay and then click ‘Mercator’ instead of ‘OK’

4 – The DEM should load up and look something like this :

Nice Colours?

5 – If you want to get rid of the legend and scale bar and any grid that may appear right click on the image and select ‘Legend/marginalia’.  Uncheck the boxes and click the ‘Grid’ button and select the option ‘neither’

6 – Click ‘OK(Close’ and say ‘yes to redraw… I often get errors and warnings at this point which I ignore….
Now click on the menu heading file again and save this as a DEM and in particular a USGS ASCII one:

7 – Once it is saved close MicroDEM and open up SketchUp…  I’m assuming you will import into a fresh new SketchUp Model, so click on the File menu and select import.

8 – Choose the file type DEM (*.dem, *.ddf) and find that file you saved in MicroDEM, before you click open click on Options:

9 – Here you can see I’ve entered 20000 points to import the lower the number the less detail for this tile 20000 as suggested by Chris Fullmer’s tutorial seems good.  I suggest you experiment with this to get what you want though!  Also I’ve check ‘Generate gradient texture’ this is entirely up to you, I suggest you first try with and then without.

The DEM should be imported and the axes, click the zoom extents button to check it’s all there:

10 – Now to get rid of all those lines, double click the DEM (to edit component) and select all of the DEM (keyboard shortcut : ‘ctrl-a’).   Now right click the selected DEM and  click on ‘Soften/Smooth Edges’:

11 – As per Chris Fullmer’s suggestion slide to around 90 degrees and check both boxes (Smooth normals and Soften coplanar)

12 – Et voila! You now have a terrain model for placing your models on!

mmm smooth elevation model!

13 – One important thing to note this is not GeoReferenced.  I haven’t figured out why SketchUp doesn’t load the DEM in the correct place.  If anyone has any suggestions please tell me (via Twitter or otherwise) and I’ll add it to this tutorial.

Geo-Reference (or Geo-Locate) your DEM

14 – First you need to know where your DEM is in Latitude and Longitude you can do this by going to Coordinate Convertor and putting in your OS tile number (in this case SD68), I suggest you select output as Coordinate Conversion only:

15 – You are now going to copy the Lat and Long coordinates into SketchUp so leave this webpage open and….

16 – In SketchUp click on the menu ‘Window’ then ‘Model Info’ and select ‘Geo-Location’

17 – Give the Country name and location something meaningful…. and copy and paste your latitude and longitude’s full number (and letter after) in the appropriate places.
Now to test it press the Preview in Google Earth button:

18 – If you’re computer is up to it you should see the DEM appear in the correct location in Google Earth, it may take a while to load though so be patient!

DEM Placed in GE