Category: 3D GIS

Authoring layer packages that look great in 3D

Often the author of layer packages is using ArcMap and 2D symbols that drape, instead of billboard, when viewed in 3D mode in ArcGIS Explorer. Here’s some great information from Mark Bockenhauer in a recent ArcGIS Desktop blog post about how to author layer packages that work well in both display modes.

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Using ArcMap to create layer packages with 3D point symbols!

OK, so the title is a bit misleading, but we have been hearing from a few of you in regards to getting layer packages to display with 3D points in ArcGIS Explorer, and there is a way to do this using ArcMap.  The quick answer is to use a Layer or Layer Package that already has the desired 3D layer properties. Simply, add a layer with 3D properties to ArcMap and reset the data source for the layer to your point feature data.  While you cannot set 3D properties for a layer in ArcMap, if the layer already has 3D properties, ArcMap does not remove them.

For those of you that know how to reset the data source on a layer in ArcMap, you are set… you just need a point layer that already has 3D properties.  I have made one that has the basic settings for 3D points that most people want and you can get it here. The 3D properties will work well for general visualization of points in 3D and 2D.  A full explanation of the details follows below…

The issue:  points from an ArcGIS Layer appear flat (draped) and are too big in ArcGIS Explorer 3D
For an example we will take a look at a default layer from ArcMap.  In this case I have added point features representing cities in the United States (orange points).  I also have a shaded relief basemap loaded in for reference.


If we create a layer package (see help for creating packages) out of this layer and open it in ArcGIS Explorer we will see the following:


In ArcGIS Explorer 2D, it looks pretty good.  The layer has 2D properties and ArcGIS Explorer displays it as it is seen in ArcMap.  If we switch to 3D in ArcGIS Explorer we see that the points are displayed in a larger size.

 If we zoom in on the map we also see that the points are too big and they are draped on the surface.


This occurs because the layer does not have good 3D properties for this ArcGIS Explorer use case.  Using the layer package referenced above this can be corrected. Open this layer from in ArcMap.

The layer package contains a single point, but that is not important – because we just want the 3D properties from the layer. You are using this layer as a template for your point data.

Right Click on the layer and open the layer’s properties…


 On the Source Tab click the ‘Set data source’ button and browse to your point data.


Click OK and see your data displayed with the template layers symbols.  Pictured here is the same cities point data used above.

If we create a layer package from this layer and open it in ArcGIS Explorer 3D, it looks like this:


The symbols have better sizing for this use case and they display in 3D.
In ArcMap we can adjust the layer properties further, changing the layer name, symbol, symbol renderer, turn on labels, set HTML popup etc…  While 3D marker symbols like those in the ArcGIS_Explorer style work well, you can also use ArcMap’s character marker symbols .  For example, I changed the layer name, chose the ‘Hospital’ symbol from the ESRI style and changed the size from 18 to 14.

In ArcMap it looks like this:

In ArcGIS Explorer 3D it looks like this:


If you have a 3D Analyst license you can use the layer as template in ArcGlobe.  Of course, you can also use ArcGlobe to adjust the layers 3D settings and do more advanced 3D display.

Content for this post provided by Mark B. (ArcGIS Explorer Team)

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A virtual city look ahead: ArcGIS 10 and ArcGIS Explorer 1500

ArcGIS 10 is close to being released and along with ArcGIS 10 will be a new release of ArcGIS Explorer (build 1500). We’re not going to list the new features in the 1500 release yet (and there are some surprises) but we thought it would be interesting to visit one of them – the enhanced capability to visualize virtual cities. Here’s an example that team member Mark Bockenhauer shared.

Shown below is what may have been considered state of the art a while ago – extruded building polygons based on height attributes with a little creative color shading thrown in. While not the ideal, this method was low-overhead and complete cities could be authored and served quickly, and viewed efficiently using ArcGIS Explorer.


Using automated capture of building facades and heights and draping them onto buildings is a much more realistic approach that’s been possible to do in ArcGIS for while, but has also been somewhat constrained by the overhead of displaying all that data and service throughput.

Shown below is the result of some work that’s gone into the ArcGIS 10 3D Analyst (ArcGlobe) and ArcGIS Server globe services. These improvements, coupled with enhancements to ArcGIS Explorer 1500, make it easier, faster, and more efficient to create and view entire virtual cities from 3D ArcGIS services using Explorer.

In the example below facades were captured using oblique aerial imagery (through Pictometry) and then draped onto 3D shapes. The geometry and textures were automatically generated from the imagery, building footprints, and LIDAR (via Pictometry’s partner, Precision Lightworks).


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ArcGIS 10 Demos

Check out these videos from the recent CAHINV Regional User Group meeting.  Some great demos showing the new capabilities for the ArcGIS Desktop 10.

Seems like there is something going on with the links below so go to the ESRI Proceedings site to view the videos.

2010 and How Is GIS Changing as a Result [14:34]

Clint Brown and Rupert Essinger

New Capabilities in ArcGIS 10 [12:12]

Craig Williams

Editing in ArcGIS 10 [14:00]

Doug Morgenthaler

Geoprocessing in ArcGIS 10 [9:33]

Ashley Pengelly

Timestamps and Dynamic Map Display [7:19]

Hardeep Bajwa

3D Display in ArcGIS 10 [11:00]

Nathan Shephard


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3D Vector Analysis

High-quality 3D data visualization is mainstream now thanks to Google Earth and Bing Maps (Virtual Earth). Users expect to see geospatial data in 3D. However 3D GIS users are now beginning to move beyond just visualization and need to do true 3D analyses, solving problems that can’t be solved in 2D.

ArcGIS 3D Analyst offers a range of 3D vector analysis tools enabling users to solve these 3D problems. New functionality includes the following:

  • A suite of 3D set operators, including Intersect 3D, Union 3D, Inside 3D, Is Closed 3D and Difference 3D, perform geoprocessing tasks using closed multipatches and 3D features.
  • Geoprocessing tools that expose 3D vector analysis specifically for virtual city workflows, such as Skyline and Skyline Barrier.
  • Enhancement of existing geoprocessing tools to work better with 3D. For example, the Select by Location dialog box uses 3D distances, and multipatch objects can participate in the Line of Sight tool.
  • Network datasets with full 3D connectivity.
  • Interactively measure in 3D using the Measure tool to display distance along a surface, height of 3D object, distance between two points in 3D, distance from observer (that is, how far away is an object?).

Benefits of 3D vector analysis
3D Vector Analysis3D vector analysis allows city planners to analyze their 3D city model and determine impact of newly proposed projects on the city environment.

Skyline and Buildable volume          Volumetric Shadows                Line of sight

Geoscientist can create cross-sections and fence diagrams using the new Intersect3D tool.

Cross-sections                                    Fence diagrams

Facilities managers can analyze 3D transportation networks to find the best route between locations.

Best route allowing use of elevators       Best route with stairs only

Mission planners can analyze flight paths / routes through hostile territory with regards to threat levels.

Initial analysis of threat levels                More accurate result using 3D vector tools
within range of AA gun            

Gert van Maren
3D Product Manager

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Editing in 3D

The standard editing environment is now available inside both ArcGlobe and ArcScene, allowing for the creation and maintenance of z-aware GIS features. You are able to:

  • start editing, stop editing, save edits, use Undo and Redo functions, and do other standard edit management tasks in 3D. The classic Snapping environment is also supported as are precision-creation options such as parallel, perpendicular, deflection, absolute XYZ.
  • create and delete individual features. This includes the creation and storage of vertical lines in the geodatabase.
  • move, rotate, scale and replace feature geometry (higher level geometry edits to features). This includes the ability to place 3D models (e.g.: COLLADA files) directly into the 3D view as new multipatch features, and then move/scale/rotate them on the landscape.

There are also additional tools for creating and maintaining Terrain datasets (particularly when working with LIDAR data sources) and editing TIN datasets (TIN editing toolbar in ArcMap).

Benefits of editing in 3D

Editing in 3D allows a city planner to drop in a new building, position it to exactly the correct location and instantly see the impact on the city environment.

Before view       
                 Before                   Placement of proposed building                   After

Geoscientist can interactively edit stratigraphic layers to get rid data anomalies and add local knowledge such as fault lines to the model.

Create subsurface horizons                           Manage subsurface well points

Facilities managers can create and maintain 3D transportation networks directly in 3D.

Easily add an extra transportation “floor”         Add a vertical line to the network (elevator)

Civil engineers can effectively manage billions of LIDAR points as multipoints and create a scalable terrain (using the terrain dataset). Also new profile tools and the ability to edit TINs allow for greater quality control of surfaces.

          Scalable terrain                 Lidar point profile tool                 TIN editing

Gert van Maren
3D Product Manager

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What is 3D Analyst at 10?

3D Analyst 10 makes ArcGIS a complete system for 3D GIS.

That is a big statement so let me explain. Not only can you view your geospatial data in 3D Analyst, at 10 you can edit your data in 3D and analyze your data in 3D. Now that is pretty huge. Most companies focus on 3D visualization of geospatial data and some are very good at it. However you can only look at your data on a globe for so long. After awhile, the WOW factor starts wearing off and you’ll want to edit and analyze your data in 3D. This is what makes 3D Analyst different from 3D viewers.

So what does that mean: Edit in 3D and 3D Analysis?
We have enabled the standard ArcGIS editing environment inside both ArcGlobe and ArcScene. You can create and delete individual features, move, rotate, scale and replace feature geometry. This includes the ability to place 3D models (e.g.: COLLADA files) directly into the 3D view as new multipatch features, and then move / scale / rotate them on the landscape. All the standard editing options – Undo, Redo, Edit Templates, etc – are supported, as is the classic Snapping environment.

We’ve also made huge improvements in the analysis of 3D vector features. We have added 3D boolean operators such as Intersect 3D, Union 3D and Inside 3D to be used with closed multipatches, new GP tools that expose 3D vector analysis specifically for virtual city workflows, such as Skyline and Skyline Barrier and enhanced existing GP tools to work better with 3D – ‘Select by Location’ dialog uses 3D distances, multipatch objects can participate in the Line of Sight tool.

Edit in 3D                 Maximum building height Analysis

Click here for a video of editing in 3D.                           Click here for a video of 3D Analysis.

Note: please download the .WMV file for optimal video quality.

So what does this all mean?
It means that 3DAnalyst 10 is a big leap forward for the handling of 3D GIS data. Not only can you view huge volumes of your data in 3D, you can edit your data in 3D, analyze it in 3D and easily share it with your colleagues or the public.

That sounds great but what can you actually do with it?
I’ll get into that in more detail next time.

Gert van Maren
3D Product Manager


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Lakers vs. Nuggets – A tale of two 3D Sketchup stadiums

So the Lakers beat the Nuggets to advance to the finals, and we decided to take a look at both sports venues in 3D to show how you can use Sketchup to add 3D buildings to your maps.

First we went to the Google 3D Sketchup Warehouse where we can find lots of Sketchup models, many published as KML/Z files which can be used directly in Explorer. Sketchup models have long been supported in ArcGIS Desktop in ArcGlobe, part of the 3D Analyst extension. Google acquired the company on March 14, 2006.

We went to the NBA Arenas collection at the 3D Warehouse


and located the Staples Center and Pepsi Center models, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets respectively. Note that there’s a link to “View in Google Earth” (highlighted in yellow below with a red arrow) but obviously we can view these in Explorer too.

If you’ve let the file association for KML and KMZ be registered to ArcGIS Explorer all you have to do is click the link and the KML/Z will open in Explorer. If the KML/Z file association is registered to Google Earth instead of Explorer you’ll see the following dialog when Explorer first starts which lets you choose which application should open the files.

A similar dialog will display from Google Earth if you’ve set the KML and KMZ file association to Explorer.

You can also right-click the link and save the KML/Z file locally using Save Target As…

And then choose File > Open and click KML to browse for the file.

 Here’s the Pepsi Center in Explorer:

And here’s the Staples Center. Note that the model author has added additional information about the arena which can be viewed by clicking the model.

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Authoring and Publishing Your Own 3D Buildings for Explorer

We’ve recently had a couple of questions regarding how to author and publish your own 3D buildings that you can use in Explorer. It’s simple to do –  author your map using ArcGIS Desktop, publish/serve it using ArcGIS Server, and then connect to the service to begin using it in Explorer. Here’s how it’s done:

Step 1: Author your map

Since what we want to author is a 3D service, we’ll choose ArcGlobe as our authoring environment. ArcGlobe is part of the ArcGIS Desktop 3D Analyst product. Here we’ve started ArcGlobe, and have added our shapefile of building footprints, which in this case covers downtown Boston. We’ve zoomed in to those buildings, and removed the Continents and World Image layers (which are part of the ArcGlobe startup data) since we won’t need them.

Next, we’ll change how the buildings are symbolized. One of the buildings layer attributes is elevation. A handy technique to come up with some interesting visualization effects is to shade the buildings using the elevation attribute and using graduated colors. You can experiment with various color ramps and schemes. The more subtle light-to-dark single color ramps are perhaps more realistic, but here we’ve chosen a wilder color scheme for added drama.

Since we want to publish a 3D service, next we’ll click the Globe Extrusion tab in the layer properties and extrude the buildings, using the elevation field again as the extrusion values.

We’re now finished authoring, and will save our map which we have called “Boston Downtown.3dd.”

Step 2: Publish your map

The next step will be to publish our newly authored map using ArcGIS Server. Your exact procedure for doing this may differ (due to firewall configurations or whether you have to work with other departments – like your IT group – to publish something) but in the simplest case you’re literally just a mouse click away from publishing a 3D service.

Here we’ve started ArcCatalog directly from ArcGlobe, and navigated to our previously saved ArcGlobe map (Boston Downtown.3dd). To publish this map we simply right-click it and chose Publish to ArcGIS Server.


A wizard will allow you to specify the server, the name of the service, and it’s folder. Here’s we’ve just accepted our defaults. After this step, click Next to review your results, and we’re finished.


Step 3: Connect

We’ve now completed both the authoring and publishing, all we need to do now is connect to the server and add the service to our Explorer map. Here we’ve started Explorer, and zoomed in to the Boston area using the Place Finder task. Next we choose Open, then Servers, and enter the URL to connect to the server that is now publishing our new Boston Downtown 3D buildings.

And here’s how things look in ArcGIS Explorer. 

We’ve taken the simplest path to authoring and publishing a service, but as you can see it’s easy to do and took less than 10 minutes. You may want to refine your map service by adding scale dependencies or other layers during the authoring process, or by generating Server cache at specific scales. Refer to the ArcGIS Server documentation for more information on these topics.

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