CityEngine 2016: Model an Entire City in a Collaborative Environment

Multipurpose city design and modeling tool includes collaborative map sharing and importing.

A CityEngine-generated map of Vancouver, British Columbia. (Image courtesy of CityEngineTV.)

A CityEngine-generated map of Vancouver, British Columbia. (Image courtesy of CityEngineTV.)

Designed to be used independently or as a part of existing workflows, Esri CityEngine has been a useful tool for professionals ranging from architects and urban planners and even to those in Hollywood looking to create 3D cities and buildings with relative ease.

The cloud-based design and modeling tool is intended to enable quick generation of 3D terrain and city models using imported satellite imagery. It allows users to trace existing 2D or 3D GIS data and build up streets and buildings with 3D extrusion tools before applying various design elements to simulate true-to-life architectural styles—which is a useful feature for project pitches. Users can then work collaboratively to update and maintain cityscapes as projects evolve.

This month, Esri has released the latest version of CityEngine in the form of CityEngine 2016.

While the new release sees a number of notable workflow and efficiency improvements, one of the more significant new features is integration with Esri’s ArcGIS, a collaborative online tool for building, storing, and sharing georeferenced maps. To make this content easier and faster to view, Esri is also introducing support for scene layer packages for viewing the 3D content at any scale and with unlimited extent.

CityEngine is used in multiple industries for generating 3D terrain and city models in minutes.

While the support for data via ArcGIS will be useful for many users, those handling large or frequent renderings will be happy to know that in an effort to speed up the production pipeline, an Alembic exporter has been added to handle and batch generate geometries. More recently, CityEngine was used in the production of Independence Day: Resurgence, to create high-quality, large-scale 3D cities.

“CityEngine has clearly become the standard for designing high-quality, large-scale 3D cities in feature films. It has proved itself again as an invaluable tool during the demanding production of Independence Day: Resurgence,” said CityEngine user Matthias Buehler. “CityEngine 2016 impresses with major new features: The Alembic exporter allows for an efficient integration of CityEngine in state-of-the-art VFX pipelines, while Get Map Data provides an excellent tool to load real-world, georeferenced satellite imagery, terrain and streets directly from the web into CityEngine for quick design iterations of shot layouts.”

CityEngine 2016 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. A free 30-day trial with full export capabilities can be downloaded at

Simon Martin is a writer and industrial designer in New York City.