Not very long ago, creating a 3D perspective view or a 3D fly-through of a scene in GIS was an arduous task. Today, it is nearly taken for granted that 3D views, animations, and analyses can be quickly and easily created and shared in posters, presentations, and with numerous web-based applications. Blending imagery and terrain in shaded relief is a standard feature of many interactive mapping tools, and these renderings are delivered to desktop and mobile platforms in the blink of an eye. However, the student of this course should, at this point, have an appreciation for both the data and computing infrastructures that are efficiently working behind the scenes. Without the availability of consistent, seamless, high-resolution imagery and elevation across nations and continents, there would be a limited market; the broad availability of high-quality data made available by publicly-funded programs at the federal and state level has made it worthwhile for private companies to invest in software and platform development. Recent leaps forward in data storage and dissemination capability make it feasible to serve these vast amounts of data to hundreds, even thousands, of simultaneous users.
Students who are taking this course are likely familiar with the concepts of 3D visualization from the end user's perspective. They may also be interested in learning to create effective 3D visualizations that blend imagery, terrain, and even detailed above-ground features for decision-making. The tools to create these visualizations are included in ArcGIS 3D Analyst, as well as in many other popular commercial GIS and CAD packages; they are not difficult to master. The quality of a visualization will depend largely on the informed selection of appropriate data using knowledge and skills presented in earlier lessons of this course.