Esri CityEngine: Generating Global Urban Landscapes
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Esri CityEngine: Generating Global Urban Landscapes
23 August, 2016

During SIGGRAPH 2016, we’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of the people from Esri. This company has a lot of wonderful products, including a very interesting tool ‘CityEngine‘. As you must have guessed from the name of the middleware, it could be used to build massive urban environments. Although it is mainly applied in architecture and city planning, there’s a way to use this technology in game development. Woody Hynes from Esri explains the features and pricing.


Esri is a company that develops software for users of geographic information systems. This includes mapping, spatial analysis, and spatial-data management.  Esri has been in business since 1969 and has over 350,000 customer organizations world-wide. CityEngine is our 3D modeling software for the creation of urban environments.  We have many customers in the VFX and gaming industries. Customers such as Pixar, Disney Animation, Double Negative, Turn 10 Studios, EA, Atypical Games, and many more. 

Here is an example from a movie: 


CityEngine is a procedural 3D modeling tool for creating massive urban environments.  The main feature is to take a conceptual idea for a fictional city or the re-imagining of an existing city and quickly turn the idea into functional 3D models. These environments can be used as the background element for movies and games or even as characters as was described in this article.

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How does Esri CityEngine actually work? How does it manage to transform 2d GIS data into 3d models? How detailed are these elements? Where can we use it in?

CityEngine can take real-world data and transform it into 3D models. For example you can grab an area of the world that you are interested in, import the 3D terrain data from Esri and the OpenStreetMap data to quickly create a 3D city that you can further modify to fit your needs.  This is all done procedurally and these modifications can be as detailed as you want them to be.  

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How do you believe this software could be used in game development?

CityEngine can be used to rapidly create a massive urban environment for games.  You can bring in models that you have already created in other software such as Maya and 3ds Max and then you can quickly model the entire environment around them.  Once you have finished your modeling, you can export your models either individually or all together back into those same software or on into the game engine of your choice. CityEngine just fits into your current pipeline.

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Could you discuss some of the ways you are working with the planning of cities and how Esri could help you build better and more intricate models of the urban environments?

CityEngine is used by actual urban designers and city planners to help visualize the as-built environment and new developments.  It is very successful because it is used to create many design iterations and provide information on community impact.  Here is a video about this: 

There is a free 30-day trial for anyone, who is interested.  Pricing requests are available on our website.

Woody Hynes, Product Marketing at Esri

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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