3D Parametric Modelling

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The 3D Parametric Modelling Project at Edge Hill University is developing applications that enable people who have no special skills in 3D modelling to create quickly complex, realistic and dynamic models and visualisations. This work builds on the earlier Church Builder application  that enables non-specialist users to create rapidly complex, realistic models of churches.



Temporary home for downloads and further information

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Bradshaw Railway Timetable Visualisation

As we develop our project to visualise the operations of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway we have undertaken the transcription of the relevant pages of Bradshaw’s Railway Guide of 1906. You can see animations of them here.


Here are some example screenshots and videos from our Unity 3D viewer (ScenarioViewerU3D) of  3D visualisations we have created and used in primary schools. Click on the screenshots to enlarge them.

Schooners and paddle steamer on Liverpool waterfront

Schooners and paddle steamer on Liverpool waterfront

Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Atlantic approaching Ormskirk in the early 1900s

Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Atlantic approaching Ormskirk in the early 1900s

Video of model of Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway lines between Burscough and Ormskirk

Video of  schooners and paddle steamers in Liverpool Docks

Why build 3D models

Some people just like building 3D models. However, there are a number of very good reasons for building 3D models. These include:

  • Visualising history and heritage
  • Education
  • Creative arts

Visualising history and heritage

History and heritage are regarded as  very  important to this country and to the world. They preserves a memory of the past and can inspire future generations. Modern technology offers the opportunity to enhance understanding of heritage and history and to dramatically improve its accessibility to the general public. The 3D Parametric Modelling Project aims to explore the possibilities in ways that make the ability to create and view visualisations of history and heritage as widely available as possible. Our approach includes data models that enable the actions performed by the artifacts to be recorded and observed as well as their appearance.  Our first focus is on industrial heritage . We are currently working with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society on modelling the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in the Edwardian period.


Creating animated models provides many opportunities to engage primary and secondary school children in reinforcing their learning in many aspects of the National Curriculum. We have carried  a number of sessions with Year 5 and Year 6 children as described in our education section.

Creative modelling

The 3D Modelling Project tools provide the ability to create 3D models without a steep and arduous learning curve or the need to buy expensive, commercial tools. They can also be used to build rapid prototypes that may be imported into commercial tools for further refinement or used as the backdrop to 3D objects created with commercial tools.


The problems the project aims to overcome

Standard 3D modelling tools such as 3D Studio Max and Maya are generic tools that enable the user to build models of anything they like from geometric primitive components such as boxes, cones, and extruded shapes. Professional users are presented with infinite creative flexibility. People new to their use are faced with a very steep and arduous learning curve, making the use of the software for the general user largely impractical.

3D models are increasingly used to visualize objects for presentation in schools. Children are sophisticated consumers of 3D worlds and engaging creatively with ICT in the classroom is recognized as beneficial to developing multiple intelligences in children. Historically, the creation of 3D models by children has, however, been considered too difficult a process to master. Part of the problem has been the reluctance of all but the most enthusiastic teachers to employ modelling software that they do not feel competent to use and teach successfully.

The 3D Parametric Modelling Project is an attempt to overcome this reluctance. Its software tools are  designed for use by children, are fast, fun and easy to learn and have modest system requirements. The tools treat the underlying data of the 3D models as a tree structure of nodes, consisting of parameterized representations of the components of the objects being modelled.  The tools automatically generate graphics primitives that enable the visualization of and interaction with the object, allowing children to rapidly build sophisticated model church structures

“What should I build” instead of “how should I build”?

The core design concept of the Builder tools has been the creation of  3D modelling tools which children could “get the hang of” after a brief demonstration and 15 minutes of coordinated practice. The aim has been that the tools should become ‘transparent’ technology, subsumed in the act of building, just as the technology of pen and paper is subsumed in the urge to set down a story on paper. Consequently, the Builder tools appear unique in their simplicity and approach to task accomplishment compared with its peers. Just as the child begins to think, “Now what should I write?’ the Builder tools aim to stimulate the question, “Now what should I build?”

The 3D Parametric Modelling Project is exploring the embedding of the creation of models in the context of National Curriculum aims and objectives. A number of very successful trials have taken place with Year 5 and Year 6 classes and development continues in collaboration with primary schools.

Original software


cb_example1The first tool developed was ChurchBuilder. It enables non-specialist users to create rapidly complex, realistic models of churches. ChurchBuilder has been used successfully in a number of primary schools by year 5 and year 6 children. The image on the left  shows the model created by a boy and girl pair in Year 6 at St Anne’s RC Primary School Ormskirk. (Guess who built the church and who built the heavily fortified surrounding wall). This model was built in the course of a single morning session in which the children:

  • were introduced to the concepts of church building structure (nave, chancel, crossing tower etc)
  • saw a demonstration of the use of the software
  • spent an hour or so using the software.



Software under development


Paddle Steamer in ThingBuilderThingBuilder is used to build dynamic models of objects such as ships, and harbours. A screenshot is shown on the left. ThingBuilder was trialled with Year 6 at St Anne’s RC Primary School in Ormskirk in June 2013. The session followed a similar structure to the ChurchBuilder session but an emphasis was placed on mathematical aspects. The children were able to create models of paddle steamers within 10 – 15 minutes.

thingbuilder_loco ThingBuilder was extended to add railways, locomotives and wagons. This version (version 0.19) was trialled with Year 6 at St Anne’s RC Primary School in Ormskirk in June 2014. The session structure was as follows:

  • introduction to the vocabulary and operation of steam locomotives
  • recording of measurements they made on engineering drawings of a Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway steam locomotive.
  • application of the measurements to build an accurate model of the locomotive in ThingBuilder.
  • running the locomotive, pulling a train in ScenarioBuilder.


scenariobuilder2ScenarioBuilder is used to create 3D simulations from narratives using the models created with ThingBuilder.  In the June 2013 trial at St Anne’s the children added their models to a scenario containing 15 other sailing ships and paddle steamers in and around the port of Liverpool. They were able to see their ships sail under narrative control or sail them manually.

scenariobuilder_loco2In the June 2014 trial at St Annes the children added their locomotive models to a scenario containing another train. They were able to see their locomotive pulling its train as the other train passed in the opposite direction.


Manual locomotive ScenarioViewerU3D is a scenario viewer that we have developed using Unity 3D game development platform. The aim is to develop richer, higher quality visualisations. We first used ScenarioViewerU3D with Year 5 and 6 at St John’s RC Primary School In Burscough in June 2015 then at St Annes RC Primary School in Ormskirk in July 2015. The children used it to learn about the origins of the railway and drive trains between Burscough and Ormskirk.



Time Map Background

This project is derived from an earlier project back in the early 2000s in which we developed animated 2D time maps. Examples of these can be found here.

Your browser will need Java enabled to view these examples.



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