A new CityEngine release is always a reason to celebrate for me, especially on a ‘big’ version release day. So here we are at the end of May beginning of June and we finally have the 2021 version of ArcGIS CityEngine (Esri Partners get access to release a little early if you are wondering why the download option isn’t available to you yet).

None of this is secret you can see on the ArcGIS CityEngine help site that these features are now listed. Should you download it well read on! Remember CityEngine versions can be installed alongside each other so there’s no reason not to install it. The usual warning about keeping workspaces for CityEngine versions separate still applies and also copy CityEngine projects into the 2021 version workspace (using the import project tool) is the best way to do it. Okay on to the good stuff.

Shameless Plug: Well you know I like CityEngine, do you also know I am a CityEngine Instructor? I deliver a range of 3D GIS CityEngine related services too! To find out more visit GD3D (Garsdale Design’s 3D geospatial brand).

Five major updates for me here (there is more than this but I like these the most), a new tool, a new format support, two new CGA operations, and finally a useable 360/VR export option and viewer.

Terrain Brush!

Erm…. probably not the greatest example I could have used for terrain brush…

I think the biggest headline for me here is a new tool called the Terrain brush. Yes, that’s right a feature most of us have been hoping for has come true a way of modifying terrain easily with a tool rather than fudging it with polygons. This will make some people’s work easier I’m sure. Be sure to check out the elevation picker option in the recently introduced tool options pane.

3D DWG Support

I always maintain that CityEngine is a great ‘swiss army knife’ for 3D and 2D data, and with this release we have support for 3D DWG files. No it won’t stop those issues of DWGs needing tidying up, but it will potentially mean one less conversion step for some. Unfortunately the support is not as interesting for many as this is just DWG for 3D geometries. “The Autodesk DWG Importer only imports 3D aspects of the file. It silently drops all 2D elements”. Well it’s not that big a deal, if you want to bring in 2D CAD data, use the dxf importer that CityEngine has had for ages…

CGA footprint

Making a footprint out of a complex 3D model…

Give CityEngine a 3D multipatch building a get a footprint? In ArcGIS Pro you need to run a GP tool. This brings in new possibilities like making lower detailed models for games etc… think LOD1 from an LOD3 model. A nice shortcut to help figure out metrics without worrying about all the detail here.

CGA roofRidge

Okay I may like this a little too much, more control over roof ridge placement, I can make better looking traditional barns with this operation. Yay!


A much improved export to 360 imagery option and hosted in ArcGIS Online. This is going to be very useful for planners I think!

The 3VR export has been updated to support additional VR headsets based on WebXR tech. This export option was originally for certain VR headsets. Not anymore ArcGIS Online now has a dedicated viewer for these 360 images ‘bookmarks; with options for scenarios. This is fantastic for showing clients scenarios who don’t have PC specs for real interactive 3D views. I expect to be using this a lot in the near future.

The other stuff…

SLPK improvements that increase performance have been implemented. Scenario support for Unreal. Also enhanced visualisation of multiple terrains (where they are overlapped ) good for mixing resolutions.

Scenarios have been changed in regards to their behaviour. They’re now unified and based on layers. I must admit to not using this too much. But for those who have been working with scenarios I suggest you read up about this as the operation has been simplified it should still support the previous setup.

Transformation tools have had an upgrade so you can interactively set where your rotation points are or where the scaling centre is. This is a great improvement.

Further consolidation and use of the tool options window pane, I notice this time the polygonal editing tool buttons have been moved off the main tool bar to here now.

2D arrays have been improved in the inspector for editing. Having arrays in CityEngine is useful and so this improvement is very welcome.

There seems to be some bug fixes and additional CGA for materials. In python the code seems to have some improvements in import and exports as well as interaction with scenarios.

Lastly it looks like they’re about to retire the CityEngine Webscene export and viewer (it now has ‘deprecated’ after the option). I think the developers need to look seriously at this again, I’m aware of many clients who love that swipe tool for scenarios and it isn’t really replicated elsewhere.

Also finally they’ve changed Current mouse Scheme that I use from ‘Google SketchUp’ to ‘Trimble SketchUp’ that has been annoying me for ages, at least someone listened to me finally 😊

So, should you download it?

Of course you should, this is the best release of CityEngine yet, with plenty of new features/improvements for longtime users like myself. For the newer users this additions and improvements make CityEngine a much more versatile product to use.
Do I want more? Do I want more consistent menus and terminology across the interface? Do I want Esri to think about using something other than Eclipse to rewrite CityEngine too? Are there areas I would improve? Do I wish the help was better? Do I want them to either improve or replace the functionality in the now ‘deprecated’ CityEngine WebViewer? Yes sigh, I do. But I still have a soft spot for the ever-quirky CityEngine, it’s a great tool and still very useful.

The usual links (in case you need proof)

Changelog CGA

Changelog Python

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