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Build Terrain


Performs tasks required for analyzing and displaying a terrain dataset.


  • This tool will need to be used after initially defining the features that participate in a terrain, making subsequent modifications to the features that participate in the terrain, or modifying the terrain pyramid definition.

  • It is more efficient to make a collection of edits followed by one build rather than running a build after each individual edit.


BuildTerrain_3d (in_terrain, {update_extent})
ParameterExplanationData Type

The terrain dataset to process.

Terrain Layer

Recalculates the data extent of a window-size-based terrain dataset when the data area has been reduced through editing. It is not needed if the data extent has increased or if the terrain dataset is z-tolerance based. It will scan through all the terrain data to determine the new extent.

  • NO_UPDATE_EXTENT The extent of the terrain dataset will not be recalculated. This is the default.
  • UPDATE_EXTENT The extent of the terrain dataset will be recalculated.

Code sample

BuildTerrain example 1 (Python window)

The following sample demonstrates the use of this tool in the Python window.

arcpy.env.workspace = 'C:/data'
BuildTerrain example 2 (stand-alone script)

The following sample demonstrates the use of this tool in a stand-alone Python script.

Name: Create Terrain from TIN
Description: This script demonstrates how to create a terrain dataset using
             features extracted from a TIN. It is particularly useful in
             situations where the source data used in the TIN is not available,
             and the amount of data stored in the TIN proves to be too large
             for the TIN. The terrain's scalability will allow improved
             display performance and faster analysis. The script is designed
             to work as a script tool with 5 input arguments.
# Import system modules
import arcpy

# Set local variables
tin = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(0) # TIN used to create terrain
gdbLocation = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(1) # Folder that will store terran GDB
gdbName = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(2) # Name of terrain GDB
fdName = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(3) # Name of feature dataset
terrainName = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(4) # Name of terrain

    # Create the file gdb that will store the feature dataset, gdbName)
    gdb = '{0}/{1}'.format(gdbLocation, gdbName)
    # Obtain spatial reference from TIN
    SR = arcpy.Describe(tin).spatialReference
    # Create the feature dataset that will store the terrain, fdName, SR)
    fd = '{0}/{1}'.format(gdb, fdName)
    # Export TIN elements to feature classes for terrain
    arcpy.AddMessage("Exporting TIN footprint to define terrain boundary...")
    boundary = "{0}/boundary".format(fd)
    # Execute TinDomain
    arcpy.ddd.TinDomain(tin, tinDomain, 'POLYGON')
    arcpy.AddMessage("Exporting TIN breaklines...")
    breaklines = "{0}/breaklines".format(fd)
    # Execute TinLine
    arcpy.ddd.TinLine(tin, breaklines, "Code")
    arcpy.AddMessage("Exporting TIN nodes...")
    masspoints = "{0}/masspoints".format(fd)
    # Execute TinNode
    arcpy.ddd.TinNode(sourceTIN, TIN_nodes)
    arcpy.AddMessage("Creating terrain dataset...")
    terrain = "terrain_from_tin"
    # Execute CreateTerrain
    arcpy.ddd.CreateTerrain(fd, terrainName, 10, 50000, "",
                            "WINDOWSIZE", "ZMEAN", "NONE", 1)
    arcpy.AddMessage("Adding terrain pyramid levels...")
    terrain = "{0}/{1}".format(fd, terrainName)
    pyramids = ["20 5000", "25 10000", "35 25000", "50 50000"]
    # Execute AddTerrainPyramidLevel
    arcpy.ddd.AddTerrainPyramidLevel(terrain, "", pyramids)
    arcpy.AddMessage("Adding features to terrain...")
    inFeatures = "{0} Shape softclip 1 0 10 true false boundary_embed <None> "\
             "false; {1} Shape masspoints 1 0 50 true false points_embed "\
             "<None> false; {2} Shape softline 1 0 25 false false lines_embed "\
             "<None> false".format(boundary, masspoints, breaklines)
    # Execute AddFeatureClassToTerrain
    arcpy.ddd.AddFeatureClassToTerrain(terrain, inFeatures)
    arcpy.AddMessage("Building terrain...")
    # Execute BuildTerrain
    arcpy.ddd.BuildTerrain(terrain, "NO_UPDATE_EXTENT")

except arcpy.ExecuteError:
except Exception as err:

Licensing information

  • ArcGIS Desktop Basic: Requires 3D Analyst
  • ArcGIS Desktop Standard: Requires 3D Analyst
  • ArcGIS Desktop Advanced: Requires 3D Analyst

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