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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



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. 
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….

A helping handle & visual cues for my rules in Esri CityEngine

A helping handle & visual cues for my rules in Esri CityEngine

Sometimes in CityEngine it can be hard to figure out what’s going on.  Whether that’s understanding scope (CityEnginers understand this can get complicated) or just simple metrics.  

Down the CityEngine rabbit hole I go again…..

I’ll often use a combination of ‘print’ and ‘report’ to give me a better understanding of my code at any given point.  What I also do is use bright colours (which have simple RGB/hex colour codes) to indicate whether a part of the code has been reached.  once I’ve confirmed it works I continue the code.

Bright colours can show you interesting metrics but also when you’ve screwed up…

Recently I’ve been working on some code where an understanding of the orientation of an model is important, not just as a world orientation but also relative to the initial shapes scope.  As is the case with most of my work in CityEngine I start to wonder, how would I go about making something more visual for me?   Thus I decided to spend some (okay probably too much!) time creating a procedural protractor.  This allows you to switch between displaying an angle relative to the shapes scope, or the world.

Any excuse to use an animated GIF…

I’ve used the Handle features in CityEngine to make interacting with the attributes associated with this rule simple.  I’m starting to use ‘handles’ in CityEngine to expose attributes for users in a friendlier way.

To sum up for me I’ve found that programming language in Esri CityEngine called Computer Generated Architecture (CGA) is easier to pick up than traditionally programming languages because it is a visual one and by that I mean you create geometries.

What are the system requirements for Esri CityEngine? Hardware & Software Recommendations

What are the system requirements for Esri CityEngine? Hardware & Software Recommendations

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.

Virtual

  • For a client I’ve been working with CityEngine installed on Amazon Workspaces alongside ArcGIS Pro this seems to work pretty well so far but I haven’t push the limits (yet)!

Accessories/Software?

  • ArcGIS Pro!  If you working with Esri software anyway this is essential you can use it to publish easily your 2D and 3D layers.  You can also use CityEngine to create Rule Paackages which can be used as advanced symbology in ArcGIS Pro.   Users who only have ArcGIS Pro can use CityEngine rule packages which gives you more options to share your hard work.
  • ArcGIS Online for those looking to publish quickly an seamlessly to the web geospatial 3D data/models created in CityEngine you need to be using this.  Obviously other platforms can be used, if you they can work with the CityEngine export formats.
  • I really recommend a 3DConnexion SpaceMouse (any of them) as well for navigating around all that 3D work.  It’s not a replacement for your regular mouse but does compliment it greatly.
  • 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.

If you have any recommendations hardware or software comment on this article and I’ll add it to the list.

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!