Ask A Cartographer

Extruded Building in Oblique Map

August 13 2009 | 9 comments
Categories: 3D Mapping, Cartographic Design

The campus map for Penn State is featured in Cynthia Brewer's Designed Maps: A Sourcebook for GIS Users. The map has "small, generalized, three-dimensional buildings." The map can be found on the Penn State website here:

We have building outline polygons with height information to extrude the polygons and we also have highly detailed 3D models for about half our city. How can we use these data to produce a with building similar to the Penn State map?

Mapping Center Answer:

First, that level of graphical depiction doesn't happen by simply extruding the building footprints.  My guess is the closest thing to what you're after is using Sketch up to create such buildings.

We've got a technical article that will help you get started:

And see some other options in an earlier Ask a Cartographer question:

Last on the Other Resources tab of Mapping Center is a paper some of us did at the NACIS conference a couple of years ago on making Landmark Maps which gives some of the how to information.

Additional map details posted by Chris Lewis on Aug 17 2009 2:21PM
The map referred to above was created by Erin Greb Cartography, using Adobe Illustrator CS3 and MAPublisher 8.1. See

Although ArcView has improved vastly over the years, this kind of intricate detail is still not achievable using ArcView. Take a look at the high resolution PDF:

The floor and window detail the cartographer added to the buildings required a good deal of work in Illustrator and was not achieved by simply extruding the building polygons.

This is something all cartographers should remember, that while ArcView allows for a great deal of automation, there's still no substitute for the hard work required to add the intricate details that makes great maps stand out.
Clarification posted by Brian Sims on Aug 17 2009 3:49PM

Thank you for the follow up. Was Illustrator and/or MAPublisher required for the oblique extrusion or just the intricate detailing of the windows etc?
Building Extrusion posted by Chris Lewis on Aug 18 2009 7:38AM
Brian - the buildings were created by hand in Illustrator, using photography and architectural drawings for reference. To achieve the extra level of detail shown on the Campus Map, there isn't really a quick automation/extrusion process. The newer versions of Illustrator do include some 3D tools, which may be useful. If one had a building footprint, it may be possible to create the basic 3D shape and then add the additional building details such as windows, roof features, towers, etc. by hand. Good luck!
my methods posted by Erin Greb on Aug 18 2009 7:42AM
Chris is correct, I don't use any automated extrusion method to create the buildings on the Penn State maps. I use a series of steps within Illustrator:

1) Acquire Shapefile/AuoCAD .dxf data (architect draft of new building, site plan, etc)
2) Import Shapefile/AutoCAD data into Illustrator with MAPublisher plug-in
3) Footprint is placed onto geo-referenced campus map.
4) Using the floorplans, ground photos, etc I "build" by hand using a variety of Illustrator tools.

I am not as familiar with ArcGIS than I am with Illustrator/MAPublisher, so I am not sure of what tools may be available with Arc, but I'm sure that whatever is out there wouldn't show the level of detail that I can do by hand (balconies, pillars, domes, arches...). Probably just the footprint and highest elevation of building at certain points.
Thanks! posted by Brian Sims on Aug 18 2009 8:16AM
Chris and Erin,

Thank you both for the detailed responses. Erin I have no doubt you are able to achieve higher levels of detail when building the models by hand. However when you have 16 sq. km. of building models, creating models by hand really isn't an option. So either there is an automated way to make the map or there is no map. :)

There are tools within ArcGIS to extrude 2D building footprint polygons (creating essentially a 2.5D building). This results in what you correctly characterize as a "footprint and highest elevation of building at certain points." We have highly detailed, architecturally correct, 3D models of about half our buildings. These models also have photo textures from oblique imagery.

Through some testing we have been able to create buildings that look similar to the buildings in your map with automated processes. However the entire map is oblique. We are still at square one looking for a way to display a 3D building at an oblique angle in an orthogonal 2D view, and so the quest continues...
Please keep us updated posted by Chris Lewis on Aug 18 2009 9:29AM
Brian - I hope you'll keep us updated as you progress on this tricky subject. This is a unique situation and I think your experience could help benefit others.

Would you mind explaining how you've currently created the 3D buildings and what program you're using to display them?
3D Building posted by Brian Sims on Aug 18 2009 10:04AM

We contracted with Pictometry to have models built buy Precision Light Works (PLW). The detail in the models is exceptional and the photo textures using 4" Pictometry oblique imagery is stunning.

The largest draw back at this time is size of the models. We are having to upgrade the graphics cards on our GIS workstations to a minimum of 512MB and 1GB in most cases. We are working closely with the ESRI 3D team to optimize the data and their software to work with a dataset as large as we have. We never thought when we started this project we would be on the bleeding edge of technology.

For display we are using a combination of ESRI ArcGlobe, ArcScene, ArcGIS Explorer (now build 900, which is a major step forward), Google SketchUp and Google Earth. There are other, potentially better, software on the market for working with 3D data. Due to budget and knowledge base we are currently only working with the aforementioned software.

Settling on a single data format, editing environment, and display environment is still a moving target. I suspect we will standardize on ESRI multipatch and KML as ESRI moves to extend support of it's own multipatch data format and the open source KML format. Time will tell.
Other Ideas posted by Chris Lewis on Sep 8 2009 11:07AM
I recently came across a couple of different examples of oblique 3d maps and oblique buildings in a 2d view in the Google Map style. Thought I'd share these so you could see different possibilities for your map.

See: (There are many other rendered Chinese cities as well)

This blog post has some additional information:
WOW posted by Brian Sims on Sep 8 2009 11:14AM

All I can say to that is wow! Thank you for the links. I will share them with others in the office.

If you would like to post a comment, please login.

Contact Us | Legal | Privacy |