Using SketchUp to Create Models for Wonderland

By Nicole Yankelovich

Today was the last in our series of Back to Basic Wonderland Wednesday summer sessions. The focus of the final two sessions was on using SketchUp as a modeling tool for Wonderland worlds. For those of you who were not able to make the sessions, I thought I would provide a quick recap of the material that we covered.

Using VNC, DropBox, and Screen Sharer to Collaborate

Even if you’re not particularly interested in SketchUp, the tools we used for the workshop can be applied to many other teaching and collaboration scenarios. To support the workshop sessions, WonderSchool generously donated the use of their VNC server. The server was running Windows with SketchUp and DropBox installed. I added a VNC Viewer to the world so everyone in workshop could watch as I demonstrated how to use SketchUp.

Sketchup and DropBox running in a VNC session

At the beginning of each session, I shared the shared DropBox folder with each participant. I seeded the folder with a set of textures that we used during the session as well as a sample script to open and close a house door. As I demonstrated how to create models in SketchUp, I was able to save the models into the DropBox folder so each person in the workshop could have the models on their own computers as a reference. Some of the participants also shared the models they created in the DropBox folder.

When someone in the session needed extra help, we added a Screen Sharer and had them show us their screen. That way, we could pinpoint where they were having trouble. It’s a lot easier to understand a problem when you can see the remote person’s screen.

SketchUp Basics

Since there are lots of fantastic tutorials on the basics of how to use SketchUp, I won’t cover that in this article. Here are few resources to help you get started:

Introduction to SketchUp – this self-paced tutorial from Google is an excellent place to start.

Creating and Importing Artwork for Non-Artists – this tutorial on the Wonderland web site shows how to use photographs to texture models in SketchUp and reviews the process of bringing the model into the world and adding capabilities.

SketchUp Training – this page has links to hundreds of tutorials and video demonstrations so you can learn the specific skills you need for your particular project.

Wonderland Specifics

In the workshop, we covered a few tips for using SketchUp specifically for Wonderland. Here’s a summary of the important points.

Wonderland only supports a single texture per surface.
In SketchUp, you can apply different materials to the front and back face of a single surface. Wonderland, however, only supports a single material per surface, so when you are modeling for Wonderland, you should always apply the same textures on both sides of a surface. This means that if you wish to make a house that has a brick exterior and a wallpaper interior, you need to make the walls double thick. That is, you need to give them just a little bit of width. If you do that, you can safely add different textures to the inside and outside walls.

Use textures not colors.
When you add materials to your surfaces, be sure to use textures and not the plain colors. SketchUp does not come with a very good selection of textures, but you can find many excellent free ones on other sites such as ShareCG, CGTextures, or WebTreats. The best textures are ones that are marked as “tilable” or “seamless.” Be sure to reduce the file size of any large texture before using them in SketchUp. Large texture files can significantly impact performance in Wonderland. You want the texture size to be as small as possible and still look good.

Export to Google Earth (.kmz) format.
When you have finished your model, save it, and then use File –> Export –> 3D Model to save the file in the Google Earth (.kmz) format. You can then drag and drop the resulting .kmz file into your Wonderland window and your model will be imported into the world.

Fix the lighting.
When you import a .kmz file into the world, you almost always have to fix the lighting to brighten up the model. To do this, right click on your model and select “Properties…” In the Object Editor window that opens, click on “Model Component” in the Capabilities list and uncheck “Lighting Enabled.” Once you Apply the changes, the model will more like it did in SketchUp.

During the workshops, each participant created a simple house. We made the door a separate file so that we could bring that into Wonderland, align it with the door opening in the house, and animate it using EZScript. One tip for helping to align models is to always axis-align the models before you begin to position them. That is, make sure the Y-rotation of all the models you wish to align is set to 0, 90, or 180 degrees. You can parent the objects after you have them aligned and change the rotation, but it is much easier to work when all the models line up exactly with the world axes.

Houses made by Wonderland Wednesday workshop participants

Simple houses made by Wonderland Wednesday workshop participants

What’s Next?

Today was the last in the series of Back to Basic workshops. What other topics are you interested in having covered during future Wonderland Wednesday sessions? Leave comments here or post a message on the Wonderland Forum with your ideas.

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