December 15, 2015

Going from 2D to 3D Using Infraworks 360 and Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D with Raster Design

Have you ever thought about the difference a 3D model would make when compared to a 2D sketch or plan?  Using Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D and Infraworks 360 can take you from 2D to 3D in a matter of minutes, and it’s probably much easier than you think.

Recently, while researching a project for one of our customers, I came across a 2D proposed site plan on the internet and wanted to show that in 3D context using Infraworks 360.

Basically, I wanted to turn this:

into this:      

Although it seemed like an easy option, considering images can be used as an Infraworks data source, it did not go as smoothly as planned.  Because Infraworks 360 is a geographic coordinate driven database, data sources need some type of location data in order to understand where they belong in a model.  With most standard images, these coordinate files are not provided.

My first step was determining an accurate position for the standard non-coordinate based image.  The second step was then creating the coordinate file for the image that provided Infraworks 360 with the data it needed to use the image in my model.  I also wanted to use tools that were readily available in my current Autodesk products rather than going to an outside source to generate any additional data.

After a little bit of thinking, I realized that the combination of Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D, along with Raster Design and the new Geolocation feature would provide me with everything I needed to geolocate the image and generate a supplemental world (.TFW) file for the TIFF (.TIF) image that I wanted to use.  Once I had the world (.TFW) file, the image had all of the data it needed to be a valid Infraworks 360 data source.  This also works for JPEG (.JPG) files by generating the accompanying world (.JPW) file.

The project started out with a small planned development in the corner of two intersecting streets.  Locating and generating a preliminary model took about five minutes using Infraworks 360’s Model Builder feature.
 Preliminary Infraworks 360 Model Builder Data
I also had a preliminary site plan of the proposed development in .PDF format found on the internet (
Park Plaza Shops (Main Street Property Services, Inc).
Converting the .PDF to an image file was not difficult to do.  Attempting to use the image as a data source is where I ran into the first issue.  Without a world file, attempting to use the image as a Raster data source in Infraworks 360 produced a quick (and very limited) error that simply said “Failed to Import Data.”  Not a lot of information is given there, but the reason is that the “Raster” data sources are organized into rows and columns that contain values (data) representing information associated with those cells.  Without the data, the plain image file did not meet the requirements of being a “Raster” image source.

In order to fix this, I needed to create the data that went along with the image, and for that I used Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D with Raster Design.
Because I had limited information on the project itself outside of the address, I started out with a blank Civil 3D drawing and an assigned coordinate system.  From there I used the Geolocation feature to download an aerial image of the project site in my drawing.  This gave me a geolocated visual reference of where the sketched image needed to be.
Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D Geolocation Aerial Image.
Once I had the aerial image in Civil 3D, it was relatively easy to insert the image, scale and rotate it into place using the ALIGN command.  One thing to note here is that it is an approximate location based on visual references.  Since my intent was to use this as part of a preliminary model in Infraworks 360, this level of accuracy was acceptable for that purpose.
Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D Drawing with Overlaid Tiff Image.
Now that everything was in place, all that was left was to export the Raster data from Civil 3D.  Using the ISAVEAS and IWORLDLOUT commands allowed me to save a new image and export the associated world file for that image containing the coordinate data provided by Civil 3D (this came from the coordinate system that was assigned to the drawing file).  These two files now provide the necessary data for the image to be used as a Raster data source in Infraworks 360.

Image (.TIF) and World (.TFW) Files Exported from Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D

Back in Infraworks 360, I went through the same process of importing Raster data, and this time everything went as expected.  After configuring the data source to assign the proper coordinate system, the image appeared as Ground Imagery in the model.

 Infraworks 360 Model with Custom Ground Imagery.
...And with another few minutes in Infraworks 360, I added some 3D features for more visual impact...
Infraworks 360 3D Site Plan
Using Infraworks 360 and Autodesk AutoCAD Civil 3D, I went from a 2D Site Plan to a 3D conceptual model in just a matter of minutes.  Next time you’re looking for something to take your proposals to the next dimension (2D to 3D!), consider Infraworks 360.

For more information on training and consulting for the various products Ideate services, visit our website at

Ideate ENI Manager & Senior Application Specialist

Matt is an ENI Manager and Senior Application Specialist in Ideate, Inc.’s Seattle office. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and is a licensed Civil Engineer. Prior to joining Ideate, Matt worked as a civil engineer, using Civil 3D on a variety of projects including site development, roadway improvements and infrastructure design. With over 10 years of experience in the civil engineering industry, Matt now provides training, consulting, technical support, and implementation strategies for organizations transitioning to Civil 3D. Matt is an Autodesk Certified Instructor (ACI), as well as an Autodesk Certified BIM Specialist: Roads and Highway Solutions. Additionally, Matt is and Autodesk Certified Professional for AutoCAD, and AutoCAD Civil 3D. He can be found on twitter as @MattM_PE

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