Creating Heightmaps ArcGIS Pro

This documentation is provided courtesy of Glenn Ingram, Graduate Assistant of Kiri Carini in the Main Library Data Cooperative. His personal information can be found at

LiDAR Raster for Blender 3D

This tutorial illustrates how to use ArcGIS Pro to prepare a raster suitable for Blender 3D out of .laz Lidar Data. This is also an illustration of the first step for a workflow that will utilize Blender Command Line Rendering.

ArcGIS Pro is utilized because all the steps can be completed in a single software - if you do not have access to ArcGIS Pro, a similar process can be achieved using LASTools and QGIS.

Step One: Finding Data:

The University of Arizona provides a .laz Lidar Dataset for Arizona. To start:

  1. Find the corresponding tiles to your area of interest on the Index Map.
  2. Select as many tiles as needed, but make sure to use a square or rectangular grid of tiles.
  3. Record the tile labels.

Using the tiles labels, find the LAZ Files in CyVerse here (Make sure you download the .laz file format)

Step Two: Convert LAZ

Unlike LAS (.las) files, LAZ (.laz) files cannot be opened or added directly to ArcGIS Pro to display point cloud data on a map. However, it is possible to convert the LAZ files to LAS datasets to show on the map. 

Open ArcGIS Pro. Under geoprocessing, use the Convert LAS tool to convert each .laz file to a .las. Fill in the tool parameters as required and complete this step for each .laz file.

For additional information or help, refer to Convert LAS.

Step Three: Create LAS Dataset

Once files are converted to .las, we can build a dataset. Use the Create LAS Dataset tool found in geoprocessing. Refer to Create LAS Dataset for more information.

Step Four: Dataset to Raster

The dataset can be converted to a raster once all .las files are collected in the dataset. Use the LAS Dataset to Raster tool. More information here.

Step Five: Project Raster

Once the raster goes into Blender, it will lose any coordinate data and any projection occurring in ArcGIS. Reprojecting the raster will ensure that the relief produced in Blender aligns with any other vectors or imagery being used in the project.

Determine which projection is best for your project and reproject the new raster. The rest of the project will have to remain in this projection to stay aligned.

Step Six: Raster Calculator

Your raster likely included decimal values, which Blender will not process well. Use the Raster Calculator and the “Int” function to change raster values to whole numbers.

While using the Raster Calculator, we need to rescale the raster for use in Blender. A raster pixel can hold a value between 0 and 65,535; we will have to use the maximum value to create the highest quality render in Blender. The Raster Calculator can be used to rescale the raster.

The equation we will be using is 

(Pixel Value – Lowest Value) ÷ (Highest Value – Lowest Value) * 65,535

In the Raster Calculator, this will look like

(“raster” – Lowest Value) / (Highest Value – Lowest Value) * 65535

Step Six: Copy Raster

With our raster rescaled, it is time to export. We will use the Copy Raster tool. Set the Pixel Type to “16 bit unsigned” and Format to “Tiff.” and output to a location on your computer.

Bonus Step: Open in Photoshop

Opening the raster and resaving as a tiff is an easy step that “cleans” the file and reduces the file size without losing quality if you have access to Photoshop. You can also use photoshop to view your rasters pixel size - a needed input for Blender.

Final Step: Blender

Cartographer Daniel Huffman has an extensive and detailed tutorial walk-through for setting up Blender for creating shaded reliefs. Use these steps for creating your Blender file. When the Blender settings are complete, save the file as a package, and you are ready to use the HPC!

Remember, your raster has already been prepared for Blender in ArcGIS Pro, so some early steps in the tutorial will be redundant. 

Good luck!