Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Esri acquires Procedural

One of most interesting news I have heard from esri in a while came yesterday morning. My friend Ryan is attending Esri International User Conference and he sent me a brief e-mail:

Esri bought procedural and city engine. Just found out.

The reason why I find this exciting is in the potential of what we, GIS specialist, can do with tool like CityEngine. If you don’t know about Procedural and their product you may have seen a documentary titled Megacities from National Geographic. This was done in CityEngine and other tools for media production. To find out more read this article. If you liked Prince of Persia movie, the city was built in CityEngine. For gamers out there, Unreal, CryEngine, Unity engines are integrating with CityEngine too.

What does CityEngine do?

From Procedural’s web site:

CityEngine is a standalone software that provides professional users in entertainment, architecture, urban planning, GIS and general 3D content production with a unique conceptual design and modeling solution for the efficient creation of 3D cities and buildings.

It is standalone tool that can rapidly create large number of objects. Objects can be buildings, wall, roads, street furniture or they can be imported. Object generation and placement is based on rules. Rules can be easily created and modified and scene is easily regenerated.


Above screenshot is taken from a tutorial video. Visit Support page for access to lot more videos. For automation scripting language is the Python. Another bonus!
CityEngine and GIS

Benefits and use cases for using CityEngine in or with GIS are numerous. Firstly, it supports shapefile as input data format. Since it is now part of esri family I would expect geodatabase support in near future. Having shapefiles allows you to control or define rules from those attribute values, like number of floors, building type (residential, commercial, etc), building style/era and so on. Example can be found over here with more information and brief video is below.

ArcGIS and CityEngine

Some areas where CityEngine could be used in GIS:

  • City planning
  • Road (re)design
  • Landscape design and evaluation
  • Shadow analysis
  • Viewshed analysis
  • Intelligence and security analysis
  • Telecommunications

Map-controlled modeling feature is the one that almost every GIS user can take advantage of. An image determines type of features that will be generated or where blocking zones will be.

Map controlled modeling

Parametric modeling allows dynamic changes of features. Take streets for an example. This is very nicely illustrated in this video.

Interactive streets remodeling

There is lot more to be explored and tested but that is for another time.

Closing thoughts

Procedural and CityEngine are great addition to the set of tools esri users have at their disposal and I am really looking forward to work with it again. In addition to being great tool, support is also very good. Turn around time on the question I asked was few days (head office is in Switzerland) and answers were simple and precises. They did follow up afterwards and provided me with number of useful links.

Procedural is frequently updating the software and below are some features important to esri users.

  • Export to shapefile
  • Export to Collada
  • Mulitpatch support

Now it is waiting game to see what and how CityEngine will be offered to esri customers.

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