How To: Import 3D models when the model format does not have a defined coordinate system


It is oftentimes advantageous to create detailed 3D models in CityEngine or other modeling applications and import these into the ArcGIS 3D environment.

While the Import 3D Files geoprocessing tool can be used to import 3D Studio Max (*.3ds), VRML and GeoVRML 2.0 (*.wrl), SketchUp 6.0 (*.skp), OpenFlight 15.8 (*.flt), COLLADA (*.dae), and billboards, GeoVRML is the only format that has a defined coordinate system. More often than not, when other 3D formats are imported, the multipatches created are placed in the exact same x/y/z location in ArcGIS.

This workflow assumes that the 3D Analyst extension is licensed on the machine in question.


This workflow excels at importing 3D models on a feature-by-feature basis. It is not recommended for importing and/or replacing large numbers of 3D models.

1. Use either an existing point feature class or create one through the ArcCatalog window, assigning the desired coordinate system: Creating a new shapefile

2. Begin an edit session on this feature class and digitize a point in the location where the model is to be placed: A quick tour of editing

3. Convert this point(s) to a multipatch feature class. There are a number of ways in which to achieve this, among these methods are the Feature to 3D by Attribute and Layer 3D to Feature Class geoprocessing tools: Creating 3D feature data

4. Add this multipatch to ArcScene and begin a 3D edit session. Select the point created above through use of the edit placement tool.

5. Navigate to the 3D editor dropdown and select Replace with Model. Select a previously created model from the list of supported model types: Using the Replace With Model tool for multipatches

This workflow allows for the use of the 3D editing shortcuts in order to move, scale, and rotate the imported 3D models. This is particularly advantageous when models are imported, as the need for spatial adjustment can be averted.

Alternatively, if a multipatch feature class has been created the 3D model can be placed interactively using the insert tool: Placing 3D models using the Insert tool

Attention should be given to the complexity of the model being imported. Highly detailed models with complex geometries may not import into the ArcGIS 3D environment properly. Simplifying these models such as through the CityEngine export dialogue for .dae files may be advisable.