Create 3D data from 2D imagery

Explore the imagery

The drone's mission is complete, and you've received a series of images of the Wörthsee office building development. The images that the drone captured are stored online in a zipped file folder. You'll download the folder and look at some of the images.

  1. Download the Drone_images zip file.
  2. Locate the downloaded file on your computer.

    Depending on your web browser, you may be prompted to choose where the file will be downloaded. Most browsers download to your computer's Downloads folder by default.

  3. Right-click the file and extract it to a location where you can easily find it, such as your Documents folder.
  4. Open the folder.

    Contents of the Documents folder

    The folder contains 36 images. You'll take a look at a few of the images before proceeding.

  5. Double-click the first image, DSC00153, to open it with your computer's default image viewer.

    New office building

    The image shows the office building that is being developed. The building's construction appears to have been completed, which means you can show the building's stakeholders a fairly close representation of the finished structure.

  6. Close the image. Open some of the other images to see what they show.

    Multiple angles of the office building

    The images show the same building from different angles. These images are of the oblique type.


    Drones can typically take two types of images: straight down (nadir) or at an angle (oblique). You can use both types of images for GIS mapping, but they produce different types of datasets. You can use nadir images to create 2D orthoimages, which are aerial photographs that show an area with consistent scale and minimal distortion. You can stitch together orthoimages into larger orthomosaics, from which imagery basemaps are created.

    You can use oblique images, like those you downloaded, to create a 3D point cloud, which uses thousands of points to depict surfaces in a 3D space. You can then use a point cloud to create a 3D mesh, which connects the points with triangles to form a realistic-looking 3D diagram of the area. The end result is a navigable 3D scene.

  7. Close any open images.

In this section, you downloaded and explored oblique images produced by a drone.

Create a project

Now you'll create a project in ArcGIS Drone2Map and add the drone images to a map.

  1. Open ArcGIS Drone2Map.

    If you don't have Drone2Map, see options for software access.

  2. Sign in using your licensed ArcGIS account.

    If you don't have access to ArcGIS Pro or an ArcGIS organizational account, see options for software access.

    The application opens.

  3. On the template drop-down menu, click the 3D Products Template. This template generates point clouds and textured meshes. It is the template you'll use in this tutorial to create a navigable 3D scene of the building.

    Select Project Template

  4. For Give Your Project a Name, type Building Development Project.

    Give Your Project a Name

    You can also choose the location on your computer where the project data will be stored. You can change the default location by clicking the Browse button. Next, you'll add images to the project. You can add images individually or by uploading a folder.

  5. Click Add Folder.

    Add Folder

    The Browse for Image Folder window appears.

  6. Browse to the Drone_Images folder that contains your images, and click it to select it. Click OK to add the folder's images to the list of images.

    List of images added

    Each image has Lat [Y], Long [X], and Alt [Z] attributes, which correspond to their latitude, longitude, and height. These geographic attributes were stored by the drone when it captured each image, allowing the images to be located on a map.

  7. Click Create.

    After a few moments, the project is created and the images are added to the map, with each image represented by a blue point.

    Project with blue points showing flight path

    The points are connected by an orange line. These lines represent the flight path that the drone took to capture the images. The flight path and images indicate that the drone traveled in an orbit around a building.

    Depending on your organization's settings, your basemap may be different. You'll change the basemap to match the example image above.

  8. If necessary, on the ribbon above the map, on the Home tab, in the Layers group, click Basemap and choose Imagery Hybrid.

    Change the basemap.

    The drone images themselves do not display on the map. The imagery that you see is from the Imagery Hybrid basemap, which is at a much lower resolution than your drone images.

    To make sure the images were properly located on the map, you'll zoom out and view the surrounding area.

  9. Use the mouse wheel button to zoom out until you see Etterschlag and Waldbrunn labeled on the map.

    Etterschlag and Waldbrunn labeled on the map

    If you zoom out even farther, you'll find Wörthsee labeled on the map. Etterschlag and Waldbrunn are communities within the municipality of Wörthsee. The images appear to have been located correctly.

  10. In the Contents pane, under Project Data, right-click Image Centers and choose Zoom To Layer.

    Zoom To Layer

    The map zooms back to the circle of blue points.

In this section, you created a project in Drone2Map and added drone images to a map.

Generate 3D products

Now that your project is ready, you'll process the images to create a 3D Mesh and a point cloud. First, you'll specify the processing parameters you want.


Because the drone images overlap partially, Drone2Map can do some computations on the back end to derive 3D information. This process uses the structure from motion technique.

  1. On the ribbon, on the Home tab, in the Processing group, click Options.

    Processing Options button

    The Options window appears. You'll review the three parameter tabs that are relevant to your project: 3D Products, Adjust Images, and General.


    Depending on the parameters that you specify and your computer's resources, processing time can take between about 5 minutes and 1 hour. When working with your own data, you will generally want to use the highest-quality processing to generate your final data product. However, to complete this tutorial faster, you'll choose parameter values that reduce processing time.

  2. In the Options window, click the Adjust Images tab.

    Keypoints are points that are generated during image processing and represent a unique location in an image. Generally, thousands of keypoints are generated for each image. Keypoints that represent the same area in different images, known as tiepoints, are matched to determine where images overlap.

  3. In the Tie Point Options section, make sure Initial Image Scale is set to 1/4 (Quarter image size) and Refine Adjustment is unchecked.

    Keypoints Image Scale set to Rapid

  4. Click the General tab. Change Point Cloud Density from High to Low.

    Point Density set to Low (Fast)

  5. Click the 3D Products tab.

    First, you'll choose the file type for the point cloud output. LAS is the standard file type for point clouds in ArcGIS. It is the one you'll pick.

  6. For Create Point Clouds, confirm that LAS is checked and the other options are unchecked.

    Create Point Clouds with LAS checked

    Next, you'll choose the output file types for the 3D textured mesh. You can open the scene layer package (SLPK) file type in ArcGIS and share it to ArcGIS Online, making it the appropriate choice for your goals. The next format, OBJ, is a widely accepted file format for 3D graphics and can be opened in a variety of applications. It's also a key component of the scene layer package, so it must remain checked for you to create the scene layer package.

  7. Click OK.

    The parameters are applied. The imagery is now ready for processing.

  8. On the ribbon, in the Processing group, click Start.

    Start button

    The process runs. It may take about 5 minutes to complete. The status bar at the bottom of the application tracks the progress of the processing while it runs and informs you when the process is complete.

    Status bar

In this section, you processed the drone images to create 3D products.

Explore the 3D products

You'll now take a moment to explore the 3D products that you generated.

  1. Click the 3D Map tab in the map viewer.

    3D Map tab

    On the 3D Map, you can see the textured 3D Mesh.

  2. Review the Point Cloud that appears on the 3D map. When the LAS output format is checked within the 3D processing options, the output LAS files will not appear on the map by default. They are stored in the project folder under the following path: <project name>\Products\3D\PointCloud\LAS.

    Point cloud displayed in 3D.

  3. Zoom in with the mouse wheel button to better see the building of interest.

    3D mesh of the building

  4. On the map, in the Explore tool, click Show Full Control to expand the tool.

    Show Full Control button

  5. Explore the mesh. Use the inner ring of the Explore tool to tilt and rotate. Drag with the mouse to pan.

    Inner ring of the Explore tool.

    The 3D mesh contains an accurate representation of the building as shown in the original drone imagery. When zoomed in closer, the textures become more noticeable, but using the processing parameters for higher accuracy may smooth these textures out. The mesh will give the building's stakeholders a much better indication of how the building looks in a 3D setting, as opposed to a series of images.

    Next, you'll explore the Point Cloud in the 3D view.

  6. In the Contents pane, under 3D Products, turn off 3D Mesh and turn on Point Cloud.

    Point Cloud option

    On the 3D Map tab, the 3D mesh is replaced with the point cloud.

  7. Move around the point cloud with the mouse or the Explore tool to explore it.

    Explore the point cloud.

  8. Zoom in until you can see the individual points of the point cloud.

    Individual points of the point cloud

  9. Click a few points to view information about them in the pop-up window, including their elevation and coordinates.


  10. Close the pop-up.

    The point cloud format won't be directly useful for a demo to the building's stakeholders. However, it can be the point of departure of countless analyses in GIS applications such as ArcGIS Pro.

    Next, you'll locate all 3D products on your computer.

  11. Open your computer's file browser and browse to the Building Development Project folder.

    This folder was created when you created the project. By default, it was placed in your Documents folder, under Drone2Map and Projects, or you may have chosen another location for it.

  12. In the Building Development Project folder, open the Products folder and then the 3D folder.

    The 3D folder contains all the 3D products that you created in the Building Development Project. Mesh contains the SLPK and OBJ products, and PointCloud contains the LAS point cloud files.

    The 3D folder containing Mesh and PointCloud

  13. Close your computer’s file browser and go back to Drone2Map.
  14. In the Quick Access Toolbar, click Save to save the project.

    Save button

In this section, you explored the 3D products you had generated and visualized them in 2D and 3D.

Share a 3D scene layer online

You'll now publish the scene layer package from Drone2Map to ArcGIS Online. This will allow you to share the data easily with the building's stakeholders.

  1. On the ribbon, on the Share tab, in the Share As group, click Scene Layer.

    Scene Layer button

    In the Share Scene Layer pane, you can choose which data product to share, and change the metadata and sharing properties.

  2. In the Share Scene Layer pane, enter the following parameters:
    • For Layers, check 3D Mesh.
    • For Title, type Building Development Project and add your name or initials to the end of the default name to make sure the name is unique within your organization.
    • For Folder, you can choose which folder in your ArcGIS Online account you'll save the scene layer to (the default is My Content).
    • For Description, type The newly constructed Worthsee office building.
    • For Tags, add Bavaria, Germany, office building to the list of tags, and press Enter.
    • For Groups, choose to share the scene layer with everyone, the members of your organization, or the members of a specific group.

    Share Scene Layers window

  3. Click Share.

    The scene layer package and a corresponding scene layer are published to your ArcGIS Online account. After a few moments, a message appears, confirming the publication is complete.

  4. Click Clear Finished.

    Clear Finished button

  5. Press Ctrl+S to save the project.

    You'll now view the published 3D scene in ArcGIS Online.

  6. Go to ArcGIS Online and sign in. On the top bar, click Contents.
  7. Browse to the Building Development Project Mesh scene layer, and click it to open the information page for the scene.

    Building Development Project Mesh scene layer listed in Contents

  8. Click Open in Scene Viewer.

    Open in Scene Viewer button

    The 3D scene appears with the layer in it. You'll explore the 3D scene layer.

  9. Use the navigation tools to switch between Pan and Rotate. Alternatively click, right-click, drag, and use the mouse wheel button to pan, zoom, tilt, and rotate.

    Pan and Rotate buttons

    The web scene allows you to zoom in and see the details of the building in 3D. You can now share it with the building's stakeholders.

    Details of the building in 3D

    As next steps, you can add more layers and information to your scene, create built-in slides to highlight interesting aspects of your scene, and more. See the Get Started with Scene Viewer tutorial to explore these capabilities.

In this tutorial, you generated 3D data products from drone imagery. You then published a scene layer to ArcGIS Online to share with interested parties. You also have a LAS point cloud dataset, which you can open in ArcGIS Pro or other applications for further analysis.

You can find more tutorials like this on the Introduction to Imagery & Remote Sensing page.