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Using City Engine (on the way to the Esri User Conference)

Esri, the biggest player in the Geographic Information System market, held its international users conference last week in San Diego. As usual, it was a very impressive event.

Many of us in the Modeling, Simulation & Training industries use, or have used, Esri’s ArcGIS tools to prepare geographic information for use as source data in our terrain database generation workflows. Well, this year Esri stepped into the 3D site model generation business by acquiring Procedural and their City Engine technology for building 3D urban environments.  Those of you who know me, know I’ve been a proponent of procedural terrain generation for years, I even authored an I/ITSEC paper on the subject in 2004.   So, on the flight to San Diego, I took the opportunity to give City Engine a try.

I found the design approach to be just what you expect from a procedural tool: fast and creative. The product comes with several sample projects that let you experience the scope of the rule-driven approach. After playing with the sample projects for a while, I felt like I understood the approach and wanted to try it out with my own data. So, I loaded a shapefile of road centerlines and was pleased to find that it automatically found all my intersections, buffered the road, created sidewalks, blocks between the roads, and lots within the blocks. All this because of default rules. I then tweaked the parameters to make lots the sizes I wanted and I’m off. There’s lots more gems to be found in the rules they have set up in the sample projects.

I was most impressed with the way the parameters for the rules can be set and modified. You can have the heights of the buildings, for example, be explicitly defined by attributes in a shapefile, or specified explicitly for all shapes, or applied to the selected shaped or - best yet - applied based on a raster map. So the idea is that you can *paint* in an image and use it as a modifier to any of the rule parameters. Pretty cool.

That’s as far as I’ve looked at, so I don’t know how it holds up on big jobs, but it seems to be a pretty snazzy tool for quickly standing up a city.

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