Playing With 3D

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This spring at GeoCon, I went to several talks about 3D visualization.  3D data isn’t just useful for elevation-based analysis – it can make really cool looking maps. Since then I’ve been experimenting with 3D data to see how I can potentially use it at work. One of the tools I played around with is ThreeJS, a JavaScript library for making 3D web applications. The QGIS plugin QGIS2ThreeJS makes it easy to put your GIS data into a 3D webapp. I downloaded some lidar data of downtown Richmond from VGIN and ran it through QGIS2ThreeJS with the OpenStreetMap basemap to create this cool, but pretty useless, 3D web map of Richmond.

Lidar data of downtown Richmond in a web app thanks to QGIStoThreeJS

You can pan around in it here.

Making this map, I realized that I liked how the basemap looked draped over lidar data. I decided to try creating a hillshade of the lidar data in Blender, then overlap the hillshade with the OpenStreetMap basemap, using the technique I learned from Daniel Huffman’s blog.

The hillshade render from Blender, before adding the OpenStreetMap basemap


Close-up view of Capitol Square with the basemap applied

A neat variation of this idea was to overlay the hillshade with the 1877 Beers Atlas of Richmond map.  With this map, you can see both what Richmond looked like in the 19th century and what it looks like today based on the shadows of the buildings and bridges that are overlayed on top of it.

19th Century Richmond meets 21st Century Richmond

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This map is very busy – it would be easier to read if the shadows on the hillshade were a little shorter – but you can make out a lot of interesting details, like how the bridge locations have changed over time and which buildings were standing in 1877.

I’ve been continuing to work with lidar data and learning to use new tools and techniques to improve the output of my hillshades. I would like to make a giant map of Richmond with lidar data – maybe I’ll have that in a future post!

Comments 2

  • Very cool Daniel. Is this technology available?

    • Hi Renee! The raw data I used are openly available. I obtained the lidar point cloud from VGINs GIS Data Clearinghouse, but similar lidar data for most populated areas in the US is available for download from the USGS National Map.
      The tools to create the final output have quite a learning curve but are also freely available. I’m hoping to create a little tutorial for my process in the next month or 2.

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