Walkthrough Tools within SketchUp 7.1

The same principles for stills and animation

Creating moving images, or movies for architectural visualization, takes a slightly different but related mindset to still images (stills). That's because an animated sequence shows off more of the scene than in a still. For example, you might see the back of a building which you wouldn't have bothered modeling for a still. Now you have to model it.

Here's a recap

  • If you can't see it, it isn't there (don't model it)
  • If it's in the background, make it low poly or a 2D cutout
  • Use interesting and varied camera angles

But this time, all this has to be kept in mind for the duration of a 30-second, 5-minute, or even feature length presentation made up of many views of the model. This can quickly become an overwhelming premise. So, we need to do it like all good movie producers do it. And guess what? You already know what that is, and practice it just about every day, because we're simply talking about breaking it down into bite sized chunks.

Rome wasn't built in a day

Some architect didn't sit down one day and start sketching Rome, starting with the Coliseum and working outwards until he'd finished the whole city. It took ages (literally) and involved many different designers and designs. So, Rome was made up of component parts, and each component part was made up of individual bricks. Just like you do every day with other design projects, home DIY, life goals, or even a holiday itinerary, you're going to break down your animation scene by scene and shot by shot.

Making a start: Sketch it out

Even if you already have a fully detailed model that you can quite happily view from any angle, you need to start by planning what you want to see in your animation. Actually, that's a complete lie. Why would the client want to see what you want to see? You're interested in buildings for pity's sake! So, we must start by filling the boots of the client or "audience" and from now on only think in terms of their wishes. If there wes a switch to turn them on, what would it be?

Time for action – write out your itinerary

If you were to visit the quaint English village of Bourton-on-the-Water, what would be the absolute "must sees" of your trip? If you have travelled for 17 days to get there, you knew you could never go back there again, and you were the last one to go with a film camera before it was leveled by hungry bulldozers? So, write out your itinerary. There's a method of doing this that's completely easy and foolproof. You can do it when you're on the train or eating your cornflakes:

  1. Take an A3 sheet of paper.
  2. Start at the centre of the page and write down a feature of the building you're "selling" to your audience.
  3. Rotate the page randomly and write another somewhere in a blank space.
  4. Do it again and again
  5. Go completely crazy and write down whatever pops into your head (such as "dishwasher", "great drainage", or "south facing").
  6. When you've filled the page, collect them all up in a list.
  7. Put three columns down the right-hand side, labeled Quality, Desirability, and a blank column.

    It doesn't matter if you spell desirability wrong. That's the point of the exercise, no wrong answers, don't worry about spelling or getting the best stuff down. Just get the flow going. When you're done, in the Quality column give a rating 1 to 5 for how "nice" this part of this particular development is:

  8. Now do a valley fold to hide the first column.
  9. In the Desirability column, give a rating 1 to 5 for how desirable such a building feature is to your audience. You need to divorce this from your particular building completely. Rate it purely on how your audience would view this feature on any building. Does anti-vandal paint on a bin store make someone want to buy a property?
  10. When you're done, multiply the first and second column and put the total in the third.

What just happened?

Without knowing it or finding it remotely difficult, you have written the itinerary for your animation. Easy wasn't it? You probably don't think you've achieved much, but you have. By using this method you were forced to be dispassionate about your design or model. You were also forced to separate out what you like (as a building feature lover) and what your audience wants (as the ones wanti ng to be in it!). What you have in the third column is a definitive rating of the impact of each feature on your audience. Go ahead and label it "impact" now.

Generating the story board

You are now ready to sketch out the storyboard, because you now know what to include in your animation and what to leave out. Take a pink marker and highlight everything with a score of 20-25. This is your prime real-estate. Take an orange marker and highlight scores of 12-16. And take a yellow marker to all the nines. Nines are just about tolerable. What you now have is a color coded scene allocation system. When deciding what to put into your animation, you should get all the pinks in as many times as you can. You should get the oranges in the rest of the time. And you should use the yellows to pad the content out where necessary and give an overall context to the presentation. And guess what? Anything you've not colored will actually detract from the presentation and stop people buying the property.

Don't you dare even model them!

Dealing with detractions

As you've discovered, anything in your list that didn't get colored could easily detract so much from your presentation that someone who would normally be enamored with it is left cold instead. So, these areas should be minimized if possible, but what do you do if they're a central feature and have to be included for context (or honesty)? For example the electricity enclosure, the bin store, or the plant room? Here's a quick list of ways to overcome this problem:

  • Leave non-critical areas blank and un-textured, giving the context but not the detail
  • Cover or mask with entourage
  • Leave unfocussed in the background (with moving images this only possible when using professional level compositing software)
  • Use viewing angles that obscure these features

Probably as much of your effort should be spent in minimizing bad features as promoting good ones. You should aim at showing the development in its best light and greatest potential.

Time for action – the storyboard

Now that you've decided what needs to be included and what needs to be left out, you need to decide how long to allocate to each, and what the camera views should be. Do the following on paper with sketches.

  1. Split up your list into scenes, including wide views and close-up views.
  2. Decide how long the whole animation should last. Add a couple of seconds for cutting out later.
  3. What about transitions? Are you going to travel from one scene to the next, or cut to it?
  4. Work out how long to spend on each scene, each transition.
  5. Create a rough sketch for the start of each scene.
  6. Scan them into your computer.
  7. The following steps are shown specific to Windows Movie Maker, but are similar to all basic video editing software (Adobe Premiere Elements, Final Cut Express, iMovie, or similar)

  8. In Windows Movie Maker or similar, import each picture.
  9. In Import Pictures hold Ctrl to select more than one then click Import.
  10. The pictures will open in the Collections area.
  11. Drag them one by one into the StoryBoard in the sequence you want
  12. Click Show Timeline. Drag the edge of each image out to the correct time-length.
  13. Press play on the preview viewer.
  14. Keep adding scene sketches and editing the timing until you're happy.
  15. Add voice or music to the audio channel if you want to key the scene transitions to that as follows:
  16. Click Import Audio or Music. Navigate to the file, then drag into the storyboard as before.
  17. Remember to save the project.

What just happened?

You just storyboarded your whole animation so that you now know exactly where and what you need to go and model. You did this in Movie Maker or something similar, creating place markers so you can easily import your moving clips later. This saves an enormous amount of time in the long run because you will only model, texture, animate, and render what you're going to see, not what'll get left on the cutting room floor. If you already have your SketchUp scene completed, you could take screenshots from that instead of sketching it out. You can use this later, as a template to insert the actual animations into.

When you're doing a complex project such as an animation, it's vital to get a second or third pair of eyes onto it early on. Use your rough and ready movie to talk it through with a colleague, tutor, or a "clued up" friend. It's important to do it at this early stage because you haven't invested lots of time and emotion into it yet.

Animating in SketchUp

Now comes the really fun bit! We're going to look at the main ways you can get animation out of SketchUp. And don't forget, whatever you animate in SketchUp can be turned into a render in Kerkythea. So, SketchUp is a pre-visualization tool for rendering as well as a visualization tool in itself.

Time for action – a simple walkthrough

  1. Create the simple scene illustrated here in SketchUp. The tallest object is about 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall.
  2. SketchUp 7.1 for Architectural Visualization: Beginner's Guide

  3. Texture all the faces differently so that you can recognize where you are at any time.
  4. Now go to View | Toolbars | Walkthrough.
  5. Select the Walk button.
  6. Type in your Eye Height and hit Enter (see the following screenshot).
  7. SketchUp 7.1 for Architectural Visualization: Beginner's Guide

  8. Click the Look Around button to move your eyes around.
  9. This can be the start of your walkthrough. Go to View | Animation | Add Scene.
  10. We're going to walk in between the boxes and look what's on one of the surfaces we can't see.
  11. With the Walk button selected, click on the screen, hold the left mouse button, and move the mouse forward. You start to walk! Move the mouse from side to side to steer.
  12. Walk in-between the boxes. Now add another scene.
  13. Use the Look Around function to turn on the spot and look directly at the right hand box. Add another scene.
  14. To see how you've done, go to View | Animation | Play.

What just happened?

You set up a simple scene and told SketchUp you wanted to view it from eye level. Using the Walkthrough tool bar you simulated a person walking through your SketchUp model. This in itself is a highly effective presentation tool. You used the Look Around tool to change your view without altering eye height or camera position. It's important to use these tools to change views rather than your usual Pan and Orbit, in order to maintain a level eye height. You then created scenes to act like key-frames for the animation.

When you viewed it, you will have noticed the animation paused, flew quickly in-between the boxes, paused again, and then rotated the camera to the right. The settings that control the speed of a scene transition's length of pause are in the View | Animation | Settings dialog box. Go there now for a look.

Use your laptop for real time walkthroughs
The walkthrough tools you've seen right here are really useful for helping people visualise a design. There's nothing better than interacting with an environment and viewing it as you would see it in real life. Why not take your laptop to meetings and allow people to see your models first hand?

Animation settings

The animation settings dialog box looks like this:

SketchUp 7.1 for Architectural Visualization: Beginner's Guide

You'll notice there are very few settings here and it's not possible to control individual scene timings. That's a pity in one way, but it does help keep everything simple. You'll look at how to control individual scene timing using a plugin a little later in the article. Here's what each setting does.


What it does


Scene Transitions

Controls the time it takes to travel from one scene to the next

Enter a number (seconds)

Enable Scene Transitions

Allows travel from one Scene to the next

Un-tick to operate as a slideshow

Scene Delay

Sets the amount of time dwell at each scene

Set it to zero to go directly from one transition to the next without pausing

For now, you're going to add some intermediate steps to your walkthrough to smooth out the movement, and also slow things down a little.

Time for action – getting the timing right

  1. Still in the settings dialog, change the scene transitions to 2 seconds.
  2. Change Scene Delay to 0.
  3. Close the dialog box.
  4. Click on Scene 1.
  5. Walk half-way between Scene 1 and Scene 2.
  6. Right-click on Scene 1 and select Add Scene. Scene 4 appears between 1 and 2.
  7. Play the animation again and note the difference.
  8. Click to go back to Scene 4 and now move your position or eye view, then update Scene 4 (right-click and select update).
  9. Play the animation again and repeat until you get a smooth timing between scenes.
  10. Now create further scenes as you walk around the back of the cylinder and back through to where you started.
  11. Click on each scene tab to view, edit, and update as necessary.

What just happened?

You just learned how to adjust animation properties and create a regularly paced animated walkthrough. You set up the scenes and were able to go back and tweak each one to get the desired effect. You will have noticed that the animation can still be a little jerky, and we still want to alter individual transition timings. Thankfully, there's a plugin for that and we're going to look at it now.

Time for action – adding individual timing to scenes

  1. Get scenes_transition_times.rb from http://morisdov.googlepages.com.
  2. Drop the plugin into your plugins folder and restart SketchUp.
  3. Go to Plugins | Scenes Transition Times.
  4. Type values (in seconds) into the boxes (-1.0 leaves it as default).
  5. Play the animation again to see the difference.
  6. Now find the scene in which you're turning your head to look at the box. Type 4 here.
  7. SketchUp 7.1 for Architectural Visualization: Beginner's Guide

  8. Play the animation again to see the difference.

What just happened?

You installed a plugin that allows scene transitions to be adjusted individually. You then increased the scene transition time to four seconds when you turn to look at the box beside you. You may have worked out that the value goes in the box relating to the scene after the one you need to edit.

Note that the animation is still jerky. This may be good enough for your current project, especially if you stitch together different scenes into a collage of moving views in your video editing software. You just cut out the dodgy transitions. But for an altogether smoother animation there are some further techniques that you can work on now.


In this article, you learned:

  • How to create walkthroughs
  • Planning your animations the easy way

You've been reading an excerpt of:

SketchUp 7.1 for Architectural Visualization: Beginner's Guide

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