For those interested in 3D modeling, SketchUp provides quick access to a suite of tools that allow you to create 3D designs and drawings. The modeling software, formerly known as Google SketchUp, is quick and easy to use, providing a useful tool for beginners or professionals.
There are a number of potential applications for this tool; constructing 3D representations of buildings to visualize space and relationships, to be thoughtful about perspective and proxemics; constructing 3D models for public-facing projects, art displays, or museum spaces, visualizing flow and foot traffic in meaningful ways.
Begin by downloading the software: SketchUp
Note: we’ll be using the free, beginner package (Make). Upgrading to the Pro version gives you access to additional features (converting your model to PDF or CAD files, and allowing you to export animations, for instance).
Upon opening the application (after the download is complete) a prompt screen will ask you to choose a template. Templates establish the units of measurement. For our purposes, Simple Template – Feet and Inches is most useful. Click Start using SketchUp.
A new SketchUp Make file opens with “Steve” and our blue, green, and red guidelines. Next we’ll walk through each of the tools.
Use the Rectangle tool to draw a box on the “ground”. Use Push/Pull to lift the box. Use Zoom, Orbit, and Pan tools to look at the box from multiple angles. Draw shapes and specify dimensions. Again note guides that appear as reference points to orient your shapes. Spend time using each of these tools. Delete items and recreate them. Use guides and make notes. Use Fill to set colors and textures.
After you’ve mastered these techniques, the next step is to build something intentionally. As seen above, 3D models can be made from blueprints or floorplans. We might also reconstruct items from maps. One thing to remember: the more modeling you do, the more you’ll notice that some information is missing. Height, widths, depths are often unrecorded. Sanborn maps, for instance, establish the size of the building, but frequently, not the height. You may need to do additional digging to create 3D models that are as accurate as possible.
One way to approach modeling with a map or blueprint is to import the file. Click to create a new SketchUp Make file. In the new window, click to import and choose your source file. This Acropolis Map (Library of Congress) is a good sample to play with. Select all supported types and use as image (note, you’ll need .jpg or .png. GIF will not work).
Click to place it.
You may use the measuring tape to scale the map/floorplan. Simply choose something with a known length – in the case of our Acropolis map, we have a handy scale at the bottom. Choose the Measuring tool, click one side, then the other. Type the length (in this case 500′ ) and hit enter. SketchUp will ask if you want to resize the drawing, click yes.
After it is resized, you can now draw on top of the map to scale.
You are now free to incorporate 3D modeling into your toolkit as needed! One brief caveat: be thoughtful about the application of SketchUp. it is easy to get lost in the creation process. It is important to weigh the adoption of the skill/technique against the limitations.
There are a remarkable number of tutorials available online. The best place to start is at Sketchup.