The Pope Puts 3D Technology to the Test


3D technologies are known for doing a lot of things. Planning major Catholic events is not one of them… yet.

While opening Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference in London, CEO Greg Bentley explained how his company’s software was used for an unexpected purpose. It started when ESM Productions, the company who was tasked with planning the logistics for the Pope’s visit to the US, produced one of Bentley’s CONNECT Edition introduction events.

As Mr. Bentley explained, “The ESM people who were there had a look at some of the technology we were showing, in particular our reality modeling technologies,” and were intrigued. Since ESM had only a few months to plan the Pope’s visit, they were on the lookout for possible solutions, and as Bentley explained, “they thought there might be a potential for us to help, but they didn’t have any time to experiment with that and figure it out.”

More than 30 employees and former employees of Bentley volunteered their time and expertise with the company’s software to help plan this event. The visit was a large undertaking, requiring coordination with Philadelphia’s public services, the US Secret Service, Pennsylvania state agencies, and the local Philadelphia Catholic Diocese. In short, the event presented a large number of logistical challenges as well as a short timeline and extreme security requirements.

ESM credits Bentley’s software and the reality modeling process as key to the event’s success.

That process involved three steps. First, the team used Bentley’s ContextCapture software (which incorporates the recently acquired technology from Acute3D) to build a “detailed, photo-textured 3D “reality mesh” using over 28,000 digital photographs. The imagery included base imagery from Pictometry and high-res aerial photography from AEROmetrex, as well as ground footage captured by volunteers.

The team populated the resulting 3D model with 2D and 3D maps and engineering designs. This accounted for the entirety of the temporary structures to be built for the papal visit, including 56,400 temporary structures, stages and seating, and 33 miles of security barrier. The model also incorporated US Secret Service security requirements, measurements of impact to local traffic, and so on.

Lastly, they used Bentley’s LumenRT product to simulate natural conditions and crowds. The team used the software to supplement the model with realistic looking crowds of people, vehicle traffic, sunlight conditions, and even trees and plants.

As Buddy Cleveland, a former VP at Bentley who volunteered his time to lead the team, explained, “The most expedient way we could add value to the project was to create, just in time, a comprehensive highly detailed 3D model of Philadelphia that was visually realistic and dimensionally accurate, and then seamlessly integrate that model with engineering models produced by our tools.”

“In the end,” explained ESM Productions executive producer Scott Mirkin, “we experienced dramatic risk reduction, better decision making, exceptional timeliness, and greater efficiency.”

The process worked so well for ESM that they are planning to offer the virtual reality model to clients in the future.


About Author


Sean Higgins is the former Managing Editor of and the SPAR 3D weekly newsletter, which continues to highlight relevant news and information for 3D-scanning professionals. Sean continues to work in the industry, and may sometimes be spotted in attendance at SPAR 3D Expo & Conference. Follow @spar_editor to connect with and learn more about the current voice of


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