CityEngine and ArcGIS Pro: Which One Do We Use and When?

Starting to work in ArcGIS Pro. I just had to experiment with visualizing my tall building database.


When I started working with ArcGIS Pro last week, things felt familiar in a way I hadn’t experienced in 7 years of working with ArcMap.  Now ESRI was really talking my language, the one I learned over 20-plus years of writing, producing, designing and telling stories with web sites.  For me, Pro is a marriage between data and media and it requires all of my GIS knowledge to make it work.  It can transform 2D data to 3D more or less immediately.  It is a tool designed to work with CityEngine in a way that supports rapid iterative design, an important aspect in Geodesign.

To date, I have largely concerned myself with analyzing code in this blog.  Well, how long does it take to learn CGA?  According to ESRI, “If you have programming experience and 3D knowledge, you should be able to learn CGA in about a week.  If you are a beginner, expect between one to two months to learn CGA.”  I fall into the first category and thanks to the work documented in this blog, I can look at a CGA script and tell more or less what’s going on.  I can recognize the code, but more importantly, I am starting to think like a CGA programmer. That is the real battle.

To that end, I am now wanting to grasp is how Pro and CityEngine work together to support rapid iterative design and design scenarios that lie at the heart of Geodesign.  Both of these tools work in 3D, but they are designed to do different things.  So let’s start to get a handle on when to use CityEngine and when to use ArcGIS Pro. I've been combing the 'net for explanations.

Much on this topic can be found on the CityEngine FAQ page.

A Power Point entitled "ArcGIS Pro and CityEngine: A Deep Dive" by Deepinder Deol and Eric Wittner touches on how procedural modeling "provides a flexible 3D design environment supporting a rapid and repeatable process" through CGA rules, generating multiple design scenarios and then evaluating alternatives". They directly address the issue of when to use ArcGIS Pro or CityEngine:

  • While both can render 2D data in 3D, only CityEngine has interactive design tools, rule authoring and dynamic streets and blocks in 3D.
  • Pro can work with LiDAR data, CE cannot.
  • CE can work with "Multipatch" features, where textures are be imported and assigned to scene shapes.
  • Pro does animation and geospatial analysis, CE does not.
  • Pro can work at all scales from global to local, CE is for city/local scale only.
  • Only CE is used to author CGA rules, but interestingly enough, Pro can render features from CGA rule packages

This is only the beginning of understanding, but it is obvious I should be working ArcGIS Pro into my efforts with CityEngine.

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