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Advanced 3D Worlds with ArcGIS Data Interoperability

I think we can all agree that 3D is quickly becoming a dominant data type. Drones and LiDAR scanners are widespread. 3D cameras and printing are all the rage at...

I think we can all agree that 3D is quickly becoming a dominant data type. Drones and LiDAR scanners are widespread. 3D cameras and printing are all the rage at tech fairs these days. Augmented reality is… well, a reality. And don’t even get me started on what people are doing with Minecraft.

Esri users looking to embrace this trajectory are well equipped. In this post we’re going to focus on Data Interoperability, an FME-based ArcGIS extension that lets you work with over 100 Esri and non-Esri data formats. If you’re unfamiliar with Data Interop, check out my last blog post for an overview of its functionality and the top 6 ways data pros are using it. For a deeper look into everything we’re about to cover (including demos), tune into our LiDAR, 3D, and BIM webinar on August 12th.

Convert and process point cloud data

Esri natively supports the most common point cloud format, LAS, and the compressed version zLAS. Of course, point clouds come in a wide range of formats. With Data Interop it doesn’t matter if your data is in XYZ, Oracle Spatial, RIEGL, ZFS, TerraScan, ASTM E57, or otherwise. You can import any data for LAS use in ArcGIS and automatically generate the necessary .lasd file. Data Interop also makes it easy to export your data to any of these formats.

Using the range of transformers available, you can apply reprojection, clipping, tiling, thinning, and many other processes to your point clouds. Check out my post on working with LiDAR to see some examples of what’s possible.

Point-by-point calculations were applied to this LiDAR dataset to determine flood risk.

Extrude 2D GIS outlines to 3D

Converting 2D data to 3D is a common scenario. Maybe you want to extrude building outlines, or maybe you want a full surface model of a particular area. This workflow usually involves extracting the object heights from somewhere, like a point cloud or DEM, adding a third dimension to create solids, generating a TIN, then defining the appearance of the 3D surface.

converted 2d to 3d surface model
This 3D SketchUp model was created by extruding DWG building outlines using height information from a LAS point cloud.

Bring complex BIM into GIS

BIM data is quite dense, consisting of detailed 3D geometry and descriptive properties. GIS data, on the other hand, is much “lighter”, using simpler geometries and attributes. It focuses on the geography of an area on a larger scale. This difference can present a problem when GIS professionals need to work with BIM.

The key: keep the information you need and discard what you don’t. This gives your data the rich detail of BIM within the spatial context of GIS.

simplifying bim for gis
This 3D SketchUp model has many detailed features that are not necessary to bring into a GIS.

A notable BIM-GIS integration project is the historical preservation of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Data Interop was used to bring a rich BIM model of the home into GIS—and revealed some interesting findings along the way.

Some common BIM workflows we’ve seen include georeferencing, converting a floorplan to GIS (e.g. Geodatabase), controlling complex IFC hierarchies, reducing data volumes, and updating the data from a spreadsheet. For these demos and more, check out our webinar on GIS and BIM interoperability.

Virtual worlds in Minecraft

We’ve been talking a lot about the real-world implications of Minecraft. We’ve seen successful urban planning projects, a virtual Stockholm, hypothetical scenarios for lava flow, forest fires, rising sea levels, and exploding goats. No wonder Minecraft workflows are becoming more popular.

Technically, a Minecraft world is just an evenly spaced point cloud. This means you can import a Minecraft world into any GIS (or other data type). You can also export any data to Minecraft—digital elevation models, 3D buildings, etc.

bim 3d minecraft
This BIM model was exported to Minecraft using a spatial ETL workflow.

Like setting components on a LAS point cloud, exporting to Minecraft involves setting blockID and blockData components to define what kind of block we’re placing into the world. Our in-house Minecraft expert, Dmitri, wrote a great tutorial with several examples of how to create powerful Minecraft workflows.


To learn how to do all of this, register for our upcoming webinar, which will cover everything we just talked about in more detail. Download a trial of this ArcGIS extension to try it out yourself, and get support for over 100 Esri and non-Esri data formats. As always, please share your thoughts on 3D in the comments!

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