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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 first BCS 3D Cartography Award and 3D SIG Meetup 2018

The first BCS 3D Cartography Award and 3D SIG Meetup 2018

Well it had to happen eventually, we’ve got our first British Cartographic Society 3D Special Interest Group (or 3DGBCS) meetup coming at the end of March, hosted at the Ordnance Survey offices.   Nicholas Duggan has been leading this and will have finalised the details shortly, be sure to keep an eye out for it on social media as well as here.

Now on to more news: we’ve had tremendous support in setting up the 3D Group and we want too extend this.  As such we have setup an award specifically for 3D cartography of any sort from any industry or profession.  This bit is important really as the term 3D can be all encompassing and we didn’t want to limit who entered, you don’t even need to be a member of the BCS.   In our work we’ve seen representations of the world in 3D from many industries just look at the entertainment industry for a wide range of 3D technologies and let’s be honest mapping/cartographic techniques.   In urban planning and architecture 3D representations of the world around us provide important context for proposals.  With smart cities a 3D basemap is considered integral to the bringing all this city data together.

3D Cartography Award 2018

The first annual 3D Cartography Award Sponsored by GD3D® the 3D geospatial brand from Garsdale Design, is a new exciting award open to everyone in any industry creating interesting, informative, exciting 3D cartography (real or imagined) using any technique and/or medium!

Currently we find 3D representations all around us, whether it is a web map, a survey plan, a planning visualisation, or even a computer game. This can come in many forms from a simple isometric drawing through to full haptic virtual reality.

We don’t care what industry you are in or what software you use, whether you are a surveyor, cartographer, GIS user, artist, engineer, data scientist, or other, we just want to see your amazing 3D representations and hope the entries will challenge everyone’s perception of what 3D cartography is!

There are many interpretations of what 3D cartography is, so we don’t want to limit entries. We propose an award for an overall winner based on communication of the intended message, legibility, simplicity, visual impact, and composition. There will also be commended awards for those we see as having merit in particular areas, science, statistics, visualisation, urban, natural environment, fictional, and other.

Entries will be considered by a panel of judges, appointed by the GD3D® team at Garsdale Design and the BCS Awards Committee. The panel will include a range of people from different areas of expertise in the 3D data industry. The panel will judge the quality and design of the map in relation to the purpose for which the map was produced.
The winning entry will be announced at the BCS-SoC Conference in September 2018. The award comprises a crystal trophy to be retained by the winner and a certificate. The winning entry will be put forward for the BCS Award. Those commended will receive a certificate.

All entries will be exhibited at the BCS-SoC Conference and the winners will be published in The Cartographic Journal and on the BCS website following the Awards Ceremony.

We don’t want to limit the entries but as guidance below is an example list of entry types. This list is not exhaustive, and the judging panel will consider other formats as appropriate:

  • Web map
  • 3D print
  • Game executable
  • VR formats compatible with HoloLens, HTC Vive, Apple & Android
  • GIS format
  • PDF
  • Paper
  • Mobile Application (Android or iPhone)

The entry form is available here.

Our GD3D data service

Our GD3D data service

You will have seen recently news of our (GD3D) new data agreement with our friends at CyberCity3D.  Not only for data sales but also a data streaming service on the ArcGIS Marketplace.   This means a subscription fee for access to city datasets for use in ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Earth or ArcGIS Online, we’re calling it ‘Context as a Service’.   We’ve had so many interactions with clients who want the 3D context for a proposal site but are looking for cost effective ways to get it without paying per square kilometre large sums of money.    We’ll also be adding extensive UK coverage of our baseBuildings 3D datasets a low cost alternative to LOD2/2.5 buildings in addition to the CyberCity3D library.

I’ll write a longer post soon about it all and how it fits with our CityEngine work!  In the meantime you can read our ‘press release’ here.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Warm wishes to all our readers out there! 2017 was a bit of a challenging year for many reasons, but with a new year ahead of us and big plans in the works 2018 should be interesting at least!

On the horizon finally, a proper launch of GD3D not just a 3D data service on the ArcGIS Marketplace but also a seller of the occasional rule files for CityEngine and ArcGISPro use (the craftsman style is coming!), please stay tuned or sign up for updates here.

Procedural modelling the UK high-street

Procedural modelling the UK high-street

Some of our latest CityEngine work is looking at the high street and in particular here at home the UK high street.   Commercial buildings in a typical UK town are a mixed bag of traditional older buildings with some often badly maintained concrete buildings and the odd brick built modern monster designed and built in the 1980s.  More recent buildings like glass a lot …  We’ve been creating rules to describe building frontages, not all are pretty but that’s kind of the point! 

This set is early work for a project that we’re helping on for the Transport Systems Catapult based in Milton Keynes who are helping out the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) creating simulated virtual environments to test out way-finding technologies.  Stay tuned for some more outputs! 

City 3D GIS Building Renders

City 3D GIS Building Renders

Further to my CityEngine Quick Render post I thought I’d put through some of our GD3D buildings (sourced from CyberCity3D and processed for use on the ArcGIS platform sold via ArcGIS Marketplace) through the same process.  I think they look quite nice!   My next task will be to start showing more than pretty renders of buildings, I hope to add some metrics in and the do more nice imagery.

All this rendering of 3D models whilst not new to me is something I do very rarely, other people can do better but as with everything it is nice having some skills ‘in-house’!