Maps are representations of reality and include information to enhance your understanding of the world around you. Maps can incorporate the third dimension through contours, hillshading, and profile view elements, but ultimately, maps are limited in how much vertical information they can convey.

In cases where the vertical axis is important, ArcGIS Pro includes the ability to tilt up your 2D map and view spatial relationships in a 3D scene. This makes the data more understandable and helps reveal new insights in the process.

Working in 3D can incorporate real-world elements with your content, highlighting influences such as the undulations of the terrain and the 3D extent of features such as trees, buildings, and subsurface geology. Additionally, the display of quantitative GIS content, such as population, temperature, or relative occurrences of an event, can often be communicated more effectively in a 3D view.

View modes for scenes

There are two viewing modes for scenes:

  • Global —Used for large extent, real-world content where the curvature of the earth is an important element
  • Local —Used for smaller extent content in a projected coordinate system, or in cases where the curvature of the earth isn't needed

Global view
Global view of flight paths and a hurricane track
Local view
Local view of buildings within an area of interest

When you import an ArcGlobe or ArcScene document, the .3dd file opens by default in global mode, and the .sxd file opens in local mode. Any new blank scene view defaults to global mode. You can, however, customize the default settings for new maps and scenes.

To open a new scene, you have the option to create a new global or new local scene directly. On the Insert tab, click the New Map menu and choose either New Global Scene New Global Scene or New Local Scene New Local Scene. Optionally, right-click Maps in the Catalog pane to create a new scene in either mode.

To change the current view mode for your scene, click the View tab and choose either Global 3D Global View or Local Local. The existing scene changes to the updated view choice. If however, you want to view the same scene in both local and global views side-by-side, you need to open a second view of the same map. To do this, click the Catalog pane, under Project expand Maps and use the context menu for your scene and choose to open it as a new global or local view. The original scene remains unchanged and a new scene is added to the project. Each view tab is labelled with its respective icon distinguishing the view type. Arrange the views by dragging on a view tab and choosing the placement location.

Perspective and parallel drawing modes

Scenes can also be rendered in either perspective or parallel drawing mode. Perspective drawing is the most common drawing mode in 3D, where features in the foreground are shown larger than those off in the distance. This matches the way we see the world in our day-to-day lives, and the result is a realistic representation of 3D content. Parallel drawing, on the other hand, renders the 3D view using a parallel projection, where features of the same physical size are rendered on-screen identically, regardless of their distance from the viewing camera. Parallel drawing is useful for architectural drawings (for example, building construction designs or campus overview maps), as well as for representing statistical data in a 3D view, such as extruded shapes symbolizing numeric values (for example, population or income).

All scenes open in perspective viewing mode. You can switch between Perspective Perspective and Parallel Parallel viewing modes using the Drawing Mode drop-down menu in the Scene group on the View tab. The settings will be stored with open views when the project is saved.

Make a 3D scene

The capability of having an integrated 2D-3D environment allows you to work with your data, maps, and scenes alongside one another. You can quickly switch between maps and scenes as well as link them together for a synchronized viewing experience.

2D draped content is shown in the 2D Layers category in the Contents pane, and all 3D layers are in the 3D Layers category. KML layers have their own category in scenes, KML Layers, because a KML layer can contain both 2D and 3D nodes in the same file.

Convert a map to a scene

When creating a 3D scene, you may often start from a 2D map you've already authored. To convert an existing map to a scene, use the Catalog pane, expand the Maps node, right-click the map you want to convert, point to Convert and choose To Global Scene Convert or To Local Scene To Local Scene. If you have the map currently open as a view, you can also click the View tab, and in the View group, click Convert to choose which scene mode you want to convert to.

When you convert a map to a scene, the existing map remains unchanged, and a new scene item is created in your project. All of the layers within the new scene were copied from the map and can now be viewed as updated within the 3D view. For tips on what to expect when you convert from 2D to 3D, see Common questions about maps in ArcGIS Pro.

Add 3D symbology to 2D layers

By default, some layers initially display as 2D layers within the scene. These layers drape on to the ground surface of the scene, such as aerial imagery, and will not have any 3D symbology. The Contents pane lists these layers in the 2D Layers category.

To apply 3D symbology to a layer, such as building footprints or showing lines as tubes, drag the layer into the 3D Layers group in the Contents pane.

For more information, see Extrude features to 3D symbology.

When first displaying any layer in 3D, it's important to set the elevation properties so the features appear at the correct height within the view. The primary options are: on the ground, relative to a surface, or at an absolute height. Elevation settings are available on the Elevation tab on the Layer Properties dialog box.

Link maps and scenes together

You can view 2D and 3D representations of your data at the same time by docking a map view and a scene view side-by-side. For tighter integration, link the navigation of the views together by enabling the Link Views option on the View tab.

Note that a map and a scene are actually separate items in the project, even if they reference the same source data. This means that changing the layer visibility in a map or a scene will not impact the layer visibility in another view. Feature edits, on the other hand, update all views of that data.

Illumination properties

A unique element to authoring scenes is that you can also define illumination properties. This includes properties such as the time of day, whether or not the sun casts a shadow, and how much ambient light is used. In global mode, you can also simulate atmospheric diffusion.

You can access these illumination properties for maps and scenes by right-clicking the scene in the Contents pane, clicking Properties, and clicking the Illumination tab.

Elevation surfaces

Scenes also support the definition of one or more surfaces upon which to place other content. Every scene has a default elevation surface called Ground, and you can define as many other surfaces as you need—for example, Geology 1, Geology 2, Ozone, and so on. Each surface can have multiple data sources that describe it, including rasters, TINs, and elevation services. You can even create thematic surfaces from analytical results, such as crime severity or sea surface temperature, and drape other layers on them.

You can configure elevation surfaces for a scene, such as create, update, and remove, as well as control above and below ground navigation. To add an elevation source to the ground surface, use the Add Data menu Add Data from the Map tab, select Elevation Source Add Elevation Source and browse to the desired elevation data. This adds the elevation source to the ground and makes it visible in the Contents pane. You can optionally use the context menu for the Elevation Surfaces group in the Contents pane to add a new custom surface and configure its source. Any appearance or behavior settings for elevation surfaces, such as navigation underground, are on the Appearance tab for the selected surface layer.

Interactive 3D analysis

Scenes can be analyzed for visibility results. The 3D exploratory analysis tools create temporary objects in a scene and provide a direct way to get immediate feedback about 3D analysis questions. You can perform calculations for line of sight, viewshed, and view dome. The Slice tool visually cuts through the display to reveal hidden content. All objects support interactive adjustments, providing on-the-fly feedback for the analysis results. The analysis results can be converted to features to be reused as part of your specific workflow.

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