The imaginatively titled ‘Esri CityEngine Training Course’

Well it finally happened I conducted my first full CityEngine training session in conjunction with my good friends at GISTEC in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).   I have done workshops and presentations before on CityEngine and conducted SketchUp training sessions for clients but not something like this.

Sharjah, near the GISTEC Offices

I was staying in Sharjah a smaller emirate within the UAE, where GISTEC have their offices.   My two days consisted of being collected at 5am and driven from Sharjah across Dubai to Abu Dhabi which took close to two hours!  Fortunately I had the company of two GISTEC colleagues who provided me with excellent and interesting conversation.

If you are looking for CityEngine training sessions come talk to me, or if you are located in the Middle East contact my friends at GISTEC directly (tell them I sent you).

Dubai Skyline from the bypass
Dubai Skyline from the bypass


A large part of business for me is about enjoyment and personal connections so the two hours was too short not too long!   My companions (including our drivers) on the drive were of different backgrounds and religions and we talked at length about everything it seemed from work to family, from cricket to football you name it we seemed to talk about.

The GISTEC office in Abu Dhabi was very impressive in one of the many new office blocks, their offices also included a training suite with a great view.

The Training Room, with excellent views
The Training Room, with excellent views

As I arrived I was quite nervous, preparation is key to a successful training session and I’ve got to be honest I thought I hadn’t got enough material for two solid days of CityEngine.   I needn’t have been worried, it turns out I know more than I care to admit and had probably got too much material.    As I stood in front of the trainees (9 people) my nervousness disappeared my breathing calmed down and we got down to business.

The first day I think in hindsight really was a bit cruel for the trainees.   You see, after I did a small presentation I got them to hand code the Computer Generated Architecture (CGA) rule files, all day.  I had given out a course handout that was basically code and I talked them through the process.

Part 1 - The Basics
Part 1 – The Basics

In my opening presentation I explained that coding in CityEngine is difficult and a successful coder of CGA ideally requires knowledge of design, GIS and coding.   It’s rare to find people who are generalists, but I think a lot of GIS professionals may fit that bill.    You see coding in CityEngine is like playing with Lego, you can’t teach someone how to build a specific building, but you can teach them the how the building blocks fit together and you can show them nice techniques.   It turns out that this is how I have taught my daughters to play with Lego.

What this training session will do
What this training session will do, is teach you Lego?

Anyway onto the training, I was lucky all the GISTEC equipment worked pretty much flawlessly, we had laptops with discrete graphics cards and for the work we were doing this was perfectly acceptable.   Those of you who have used CityEngine know that to do large complicated models you need a big gaming PC.   Small portions of code were entered until we got ourselves simple building models and streets.   Unfortunately I had planned more but had run out of time, this is where being flexible helps.  I realised the trainees were getting how difficult CityEngine is, but also how flexible and powerful it can be.

I asked them therefore to write down what they wanted to learn in Day Two, when the list came back (everyone had contributed) I was pleased to see they wanted to know about workflows.   I had prepared for this, it’s all very well knowing some CGA coding but these were GIS professionals and needed to know how to get their data in and use it.

The View
Dirty window but the view was quite good (Abu Dhabi)

On Day Two I gave the trainees all the CGA rule files for the session including assets and maps (textures), my main thrust of this session was how to pick apart a rule file someone else wrote and understand it.   My secret you see is that I don’t know everything about CityEngine, but I do know how rule files work and how to make components fit together.   It’s the workflow that’s important you see.   We went through the various rule files I had given them picking out important aspects like reporting and various random variation strategies.  I also talked them through a rule file to texture roof tops based on a satellite image.    We then went into how to import datasets like satellite imagery, File Geodatabases and OpenStreetMap.  I really did run out of time at the end of day two, there is so much to cover in CityEngine you can’t possibly cover it all.  I suspect each training session I do will be different and based on the backgrounds and needs of the trainees.   This isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ training course.

The feedback I’ve gotten was positive and very complimentary clearly there are some areas I need to improve on, perhaps these can largely be fixed by making it a 3 day course, maybe…

This was really enjoyable for me though, the trainees from different backgrounds really challenged me in a good way.  Asking questions and interacting with me to maximise the value from the course.  I don’t mind being pushed (as long as it’s polite) it shows they got CityEngine and what it’s capable of and why people are enthusiastic about it.

My friends at GISTEC

I’ll finish by saying thank you to the trainees and my UAE Partners GISTEC.  I hope to do more training session like this in the future.

Garsdale Design Logo
My company is Garsdale Design Limited (we do more than just CityEngine stuff)

If you are looking for CityEngine training sessions come talk to me, or if you are located in the Middle East contact my friends at GISTEC directly (tell them I sent you).

I know I keep talking about it but there really is training texts coming, I can’t give these away for free, but maybe I’ll release extracts of it for free and sell the complete text at some reasonable fee.



  1. Hi Elliot – this was a really good read. I hope to be in touch with you in the near future about CE training. I am supporting Urban planners and landscape architects and really want to add The CE string to my bow. I have convinced many that GIS is a great way to save time, improve accuracy and undertake analysis, next is to visualise all this effectively!

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