Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Getting Started with InfraWorks (2015 version) - Part 1: Building the Existing Terrain

Note: This series of posts is an updated version of the same posts I did last year for version 2014 R2. It has the same content as those posts, but updated to address the new user interface and any applicable feature changes. If you're still on the older software, you can try out this series of posts.

Autodesk InfraWorks is a a super great tool for building amazing proposals and sharing design ideas and concepts in a stunning 3D environment.  If you've never used it before, like many software programs, the toughest question to answer is "Where to begin?"  Hopefully this will help.

Now the current version of InfraWorks has the Model Builder preview which makes what I'm about to show you about 100 times quicker and easier. I highly recommend checking that out, but for this series of posts I'm going to stick to "official" features in the software to accomplish our goals.

Before showing any design ideas in InfraWorks, you first need to establish some existing conditions.  Probably the simplest way to do this is with an aerial image draped over some terrain information.  But where do you get such information?  There are tons and tons of sources, but one that you can use that is free and covers the entire USA is the National Map Viewer  Here you can zoom in to an area and then choose the data that you want to download.  There is lots of data here and I haven't experimented with much of it, but I will show you the sources I have tried that have worked for me.

The area of study that I'm going to use is a beautiful overlook near my home town.  I always thought the hilltop above it would be a great location for a ski resort.

Once I've zoomed in to the area, I click the Download button and then use the bounding box option.

Then I draw a box around the area that I'm interested in....

And select the types of data that I want, in this case - elevation and imagery

The actual sources of data can be a guess and you may need to go back and get other/more data if what you choose is not adequate coverage or quality.  Here I'm choosing an IMG file for elevation data and a GEOTiff and JPG2000 for aerial imagery.  Not sure which will work but it looks like a good semi-educated guess.

Once you click the next button, you'll be taken through a Checkout procedure (don't worry it's free) where you'll be asked to provide your e-mail address.  

You'll receive an e-mail with links to download your data.  It will come in the form of zip files that you'll need to extract to get to the underlying data.

Now that I have the raw data, I will open Infraworks and Create a project.

Again, note the Model Builder (preview). Definitely check that out!

I'll give the project a name and choose where I want it stored.  InfraWorks creates a ton of files and folders so don't point this to your Desktop!

Once you're in InfraWorks, click the Data Sources icon to open the Data Sources panel. Choose Raster.

Then browse to the IMG file that you downloaded from the National Map Viewer.

Once you see the data source listed, click Refresh.  I was really surprised that it didn't ask me to configure it first - maybe because of the XML files included with the IMG it knew what it was supposed to be and georeferenced itself.  Typically you have to configure a data source before you can see it in your drawing.

The refreshing process may take awhile, maybe several minutes.  This should be a one-time investment.

After it's done, you may see something weird like this...
Turn the model on its side and zoom in to trigger the generation of the graphics.  You should start to see some terrain features come into view.  Click on the image below to see it full size - it is impressive!

Be patient and allow the software time to generate the graphics.  You may not be pleased with the performance - don't worry about it.  It will get better when you set the limits of the model.  You'll need some frame of reference to do that, typically an aerial photo.  We'll look at how to do that in Part 2!


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  2. Eric,
    Your contributions to engineering training over the years, no doubt, is deeply appreciated particularly in African continent.
    My comment to you sir is this: as a Nigerian engineer who is deeply interested in learning how to use Infraworks for road design, how can we have access to data from satellite imagery for nigerian terrains or other sources you know are easily accessible to Nigerian engineers?

    Or is it possible to use Google imager for a project expected of this degree of accuracy in road design?

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