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Month: May 2017

British Cartographic Society 3D Group first (informal) meet up

British Cartographic Society 3D Group first (informal) meet up

Well it finally happened!   The the very first informal meeting of the 3D Group a Special Interest Group of the British Cartographic Society took place after the Esri UK annual conference.

Both Nicholas Duggan and myself are co-conveners of the group and whilst we both work together he is based in Southampton, Hampshire and I am based in Sedbergh, Cumbria.   We often meet in the middle at conferences and the EsriUK conference happened to coincide with the formation of the 3D group.

I have to be honest there wasn’t too many people in attendance but that didn’t matter this was a social thing rather than a serious meeting.  It was good to see some familiar faces though.   We stood outside the St Stephen’s Tavern in Westminster (a couple of minutes walk from the EsriUK AC venue) and chatted about all things 3D and map related.

Nick and myself reiterated our commitment to further the world of 3D mapping and helping others with some of the challenges it presents.  We see the group as open to anyone (from anywhere) with an interest in 3D mapping whether that is scientific or artistic, professional or entertainment our feeling is that we need to start learning from each others professions and industry’s.

Here’s a quick example of what I mean by learning from each other’s industry’s…. When I started visualising our GIS data in 3D there were questions on how best to represent the non-physical world which have a location to them.  For example demographics of households or income levels.  Methods of representing this in 2D are fairly well established but I felt ability to view data in 3D somehow changed things.  For one thing the end user can views this data from multiple weird angles I would never have chosen!  I’m not saying 3D visualisation is a new thing, but it was new to me at the time.   Then I remembered someone had already done this but not as part of some professional GIS system or scientific mapping.  No, I remembered the game SimCity had been doing this for a while…

White buildings with coloured bars in 3D, a gaming company had come up with a very effective technique of visualising all sorts of data in a 3D environment over a city scale.   Ok not a brilliant example but I hope you get my point…

There are many traditional ‘professional’ companies running headlong into Mixed, Augmented, Virtual Reality, and gaming technologies all struggling with the same issues, data sizes, data visualisations, z-fighting, textures and more.   Now more than ever we need professions to come together and help each other.  We shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Next steps

We plan to have an official 3D Group meeting at the British Cartographic Society’s and Society of Cartographers Annual Conference in Durham on the 5th to 7th of September.  What day this will be we don’t know yet.   We’d also like to hold a couple of meetups in places other than the usual suspects so north and south.  If you have an idea on where to hold these drop us a line.

We’re also looking for more people to be involved!  You don’t have to be a member of the BCS (although it would be nice), so get in touch with us.  We are hoping to set up a online forum somewhere as well, but until then Nick (@dragons8mycat) and I (@elliothartley) are on twitter and will try and use the hashtag #3DGBCS 

A little bit about the 3D Group :

The 3D Group (3DG) is for anybody interested in the exciting world of 3D GIS and cartography. Real or fictional, proprietary or open, science or arts, we aim to promote discussion on the challenges and opportunities that new technologies (hardware and software) are bringing. We’re hoping to attract more than just GIS professionals, programmers, and cartographers to this group. The broad subject of 3D intertwines with several industries, we also want to bring in entertainment industry professionals, architectural visualisation specialists and more. Professional tools and technologies are blurring the boundaries between the worlds of entertainment, architecture, planning, GIS and cartography. Let’s learn from each other and provide help to those who are eager to learn. If you work with 3D software or technologies join us. We aim to hold 3D events at least a couple of times a year, provide training days and we welcome discussions online via social media through the hashtag on twitter of #3DGBCS. The Co-Conveners of the 3D Group are Elliot Hartley and Nicholas Duggan.



EsriUK Annual Conference 2017

EsriUK Annual Conference 2017

Last Tuesday (16th of May 2017) was the much-anticipated yearly geospatial event from Esri UK.   Their Annual Conference has gone from strength to strength and the venue has been at capacity for the last two years now.

I love the EsriUK conference and being based in Cumbria having an event where I can get to see all the people we work with in one location is fantastic (although I quite enjoyed EsriUK’s Perth event too!).   It used to be I went for the presentations I now go to have meetings and keep the personal connections I’ve developed through social media going.  


The opening plenary was interesting and focused (quite rightly) on the significant achievements Esri have made in developing their platform.  I cannot comprehend how complex the process is of developing a cloud presence and slowly (it feels slow to me at least in regards to stability & memory issues) developing the new ArcGISPro application whilst still maintaining the existing and well used product suite of ArcMap, ArcGlobe, and ArcScene.  I guess that’s what they use our licence and maintenance fees for!

What I noticed this time was what I have been saying for a while and told people about back in 2009 (when I started using CityEngine): Esri needs to be invested deeply in 3D to compete in the new and merging industries of ‘smart cities’ and ‘BIM’.  All their competitors are there and coming for the GIS users too.  Fortunately is Esri doing this now.  

EsriUK’s live demo this year was walking around with a GeoSlam device getting a laser scan of the venue, to fly around and measure in ArcGISPro.    Unfortunately I felt this demo was a little limited in scope this year.  We’ve worked with point clouds in ArcGISPro and whilst good there are still some issues so perhaps that’s why it was not as ‘wow!’ for me.

Looking at all their applications, it is truly crazy how many 3D capable products Esri have developed.  Yet amongst all these amazing tools, all too often, I am still meeting people who wonder what they’re going to do with these 3D technologies….

Shameless plug for our new GD3D® brand….

The obvious answer is ‘well first you need 3D data’, and that’s what Garsdale Design’s new project, our GD3D brand, is all about.  Acquiring 3D is still like acquiring satellite data in the early days, difficult and expensive, however I will write more on this soon because it doesn’t have to be.

Post plenary there was plenty of people to talk too, but I did manage to get to see a few presentations:

Mapping London’s 2050 Infrastructure Growth

Dr Larissa R Suzuki  gave a great presentation into the challenges Transport for London were facing managing development and maintenance of their infrastructure.  The mapping systems they are implementing to identify what activity is taking place in the same location (think development and road works etc..) at the same time are fantastically useful.  Let’s hope this kind of technology use gets adopted nationally not just per authority.

A journey through the airport

The Manchester Airport Group have a place in my heart, as I am a big fan of Manchester Airport to be honest.  Small-ish airport in the scheme of things owned by local authorities but punching well above its weight in terms of the region it serves and the places you can fly to.  I can get a train direct from Oxenholme straight to Manchester Airport and be in Dubai or major hubs in the USA really quickly.   Their talk by Vickie Withnell was very interesting, showing us a 3D animation of the next phase of expansion of Manchester Airport basically 4D or construction management.  As one commentator on the Esri AC app put it a “video’ gantt chart”.   Obviously being able to manage data through time and integrate your process with the planning and consultation elements of their business has paid dividends.   Vickie should have received a stand ovation for saying that their planning application for a new arrivals terminal at Stansted only took 13 weeks (supposed target processing time for major planning applications), top it all off they only had one objection.  Any planner (private or public) in the room I am sure was immediately feeling completely in awe.

SWEET, simplicity and GeoDesign

Charles Kennelly CTO of EsriUK was in top form clearly presenting one of his technology passions ‘geodesign’.  The application he demo’d was called ‘SWEET’ and his message was very simple really.  Sometimes making tools that are simple to use for defined purposes really do make sense.  The web application he demo showed off how you could program rules in to editing tools that automatically clipped polygons and stopped you editing outside areas.  Basically, taking away that process us GIS professionals always have to do when receiving someone else’s data which is cleaning up and fixing geometries (like slithers).  In the demo web application you could plot away and be sure that the data you create was clean and clipped to your areas properly.

Closing Plenary

The Customer Success Awards were back again (we won one last year hurrah!) and what a great series of entries, I am glad they keeping this going.  It is always nice to be recognised for hardwork and clearly the winners and nominees have been working hard!.


Daniel Raven-Ellison a self-confessed ‘Guerilla Geographer’ (don’t cringe) gave a very impassioned presentation focusing on his campaign to make London a National Park City .  Always the cynic living in Northern England I feel uncomfortable giving London more designations and status.  But he did give a compelling argument but perhaps instead of a National Park City a focus on making all cities green and vibrant as he wants to make London would be better?  Whatever your opinion he is a very passionate and good speaker with important things to say about our cities and environment.  I think we ignore him at our peril.

The future look at the platform was interesting the Esri inc team were represented with Chris Andrews and EsriUK by Charles Kennelly the platform is scaling well and 3D is a big part of this.   

Charles also treated us to an experimental map where the cartography was enhanced or augmented with sounds.  So moving the mouse over particular elements of a map gave a different noise.  I think this kind of approach will be ever more important when augmented and mixed reality technologies become main stream.  Not everything in GIS should be visual was my ‘take away’.


As usual I have skimmed over details at a ramble for this blog post.  As a company we had a great day talking about our new GD3D® brand and our data service for the Esri platform.  It strikes me that people still are sitting in silos of data though, hesitating to be the first to break out and hindered by restrictive licencing and pricing.  I guess that is often the nature of professions. 

Personally, I met lots of new and interesting people, so thank you if you talked to me and sorry if I don’t remember your name next we meet, it’s not personal! I’m just not very good at remembering faces. 

We gave out lots of badges and stickers which made travelling home lighter and easier too.  Coming up next for us, my colleague Nicholas Duggan will be attending the Geobusiness conference in London.  I have now booked my flights to San Diego for this year’s Esri UC I’ll be attending some 3D sessions there but am also eager to meet up and chat with anyone interested in 3D building data for the Esri platform and of course Esri CityEngine training and services.

Our presentation on Big Data!

I’ll be doing another post on our presentation at the Esri UK Annual Conference entitled “Big data! Offshore to onshore: Streaming 3D cities and point clouds” shortly…. 🙂


The Art and Science of 3D Cities – Video from the Transport Systems Catapult 3D event.

The Art and Science of 3D Cities – Video from the Transport Systems Catapult 3D event.

Transport Systems Catapult invited me to present something on Garsdale Design’s work on the 15th March 2017, they’ve now released the video of these sessions on to YouTube mine is embedded below.  I wrote about the event earlier in a blog post  “The Barriers to Building 3D Synthetic Environments” at the Transport Systems Catapult. 

People want and expect their 3D modelled urban environments to be very high quality.  Unfortunately, whilst most of us here work with 3D.  We know that without significant investment of time and money we are not going to achieve such polish easily.

A great big thank you to Ryan Johnston for inviting us and being such a great host!  We greatly enjoyed the event.


Small areas with a lot of detail or large areas with a little detail?  Despite digital 3D urban models being seen everywhere from games, to movies, planning/architectural visualisations, and applications like Google Earth.   Creating 3D urban models with a geospatial element is not as easy as some might think.   The industry is always trying to answer the question with things like meshes, point clouds and gamification but is it working?

Firstly, a detailed understanding of what is meant by a 3D model is required.  levels of detail (LOD) and accuracy need to be assessed against levels of effort as well as the equipment and method of capture available, with the end user being always in mind.   The ability to bring geographic datasets together with fictional datasets poses serious questions (legal, technical and ethical) for those in the 3D urban modelling business as the line between a scientific decisions blurs with the artistic and aesthetic choices we make.  


CityEngine, Unity and HTCVive : finally useful & accessible Virtual Reality?

CityEngine, Unity and HTCVive : finally useful & accessible Virtual Reality?

Walking around a 3D model of Birmingham which includes 3D buildings and symbology generated using CityEngine

I recently purchased an HTC Vive for some ‘out of hours’ Research and Development.   What strikes me is how quickly you can take 2D GIS data, turn it into 3D and walk around it in a Virtual Reality environment for testing out scenarios for urban planning or even visualising underlying data (think smart cities).  

like with maps and statistics you can lie with 3D visualisations

Like with most things it doesn’t have to be complicated, you need the right workflows and data but much of this is understanding requirements and matching your workflows to suit a particular need.   When dealing with GIS data you need to have an understanding of accuracy, projections and provenance of data as well, because like with maps and statistics you can lie/mislead with 3D visualisations.

Smooth terrains and 3D GIS buildings ready for your Unity developed game or tool!

This is quite incredible that we can go through multiple urban design scenarios in a day (modelling in CityEngine) analysing this data using Esri’s 3D Analyst extension (in ArcGISPro of course!) and then walking around the scenario in a fully immersive environment!   Yes most of the visuals need some polish but this kind of setup we could only dream of a couple of years ago.

3D GIS data integrated with CityEngine models in a game engine environment (Unity) how cool is this?!

We have the tools, we have the data it’s just a question of joining it all up.  If you need some guidance or help come talk to us at Garsdale Design because we’ve had the time to work on the workflows and datasets.

CityEngine 2017.0 (Beta) — sneak peek

CityEngine 2017.0 (Beta) — sneak peek

It’s that time of year when Esri start to roll out test releases of CityEngine yay!   Now that CityEngine 2017.0 has switched to a Beta release I can do some limited screenshots and discuss what’s coming in the new release.

it’s never been a better time to jump onboard the CityEngine

This is a big release and it’s never been a better time to jump onboard the CityEngine, procedural urban modelling, and geodesign train!   A refreshed interface, new scenario functions and an upgraded Dashboard for all your model metrics, to name a few improvements and additions.  For those who already use CityEngine on a daily basis, did I mention the new measurement tools, often rumoured to be ‘in development’ but now are actually here?!

It feels like they are actually now making a tool for urban planning professionals rather than the media industry.

Overall, this already as an early release is stable enough for me to do work.  The Esri R&D Zurich gang (and some in Redlands I guess) have done a really really great job of polishing this up and introducing long awaited features.  

CityEngine 2017.0 viewport, note refreshed icons and new direction compass in bottom right.

It feels like they are actually now making a tool for urban planning professionals rather than the media industry. At Garsdale Design we’re a big advocate of this Esri tool, its great for  bringing all that 2D and 3D together.  Helping you to make a cohesive analytical designs and iterating quickly through urban planning scenarios.  Did I mention we offer comprehensive training for CityEngine at our offices here in Cumbria or ‘on site’ at client offices and even at EsriUK’s offices at their headquarters? (apologies for the shameless plug but hey we have to pay the bills!)

A promising new Dashboard setup in CityEngine 2017.0!

Here is a couple of screenshots, there will be more to come but I can’ share with you everything all at once.


Area measurement tool in action in CityEngine 2017.0
Distance and Elevation measuring tool in action in CityEngine 2017.0