Part One: Google SketchUp Topographic Model
The complex SketchUp model and extremely large aerial perspective I created for a proposed residential project in China challenged me far more than most visualization projects I’ve ever done. I was asked to produce an aerial perspective for a residential/golf course development located on a mountain side. The steep terrain and multiple neighborhoods demanded that my drawing be sized large enough to illustrate the detail of more than 450 villas and reflect the hilly topography of the mountain setting.
The project was so large and complicated that I split this blog post into two parts: Part One showing the SketchUp modeling process, and Part Two (April 22, 2011 Blog Post) revealing the process of illustrating the aerial perspective. The modeling of this project was made possible by the expert work from my friend, super modeler and author Daniel Tal, who spent an afternoon building the topographic model and draping both the illustrative plan and villas onto the 3D model. My process was as follows:
Photograph taken from the ridge overlooking the general site area.
Illustrative Plan. I was given this composite plan of the site which showed the proposed villa plots, surrounding 27-hole golf course, roadways and satellite image. I used this plan as the base for developing the SketchUp model.
Consultant's SketchUp Model
Avoid Strategic Modeling Mistakes. A consultant in China built the first Google SketchUp model of the development without first thinking through certain modeling strategies involving the creation of very large and complex models. His fundamental mistakes were 1) the individual villa prototypes were overly detailed, 2) the model topography was too exaggerated and unrealistic, and 3) the entire model was not coordinated with an AutoCAD base. I found this model to be completely worthless and started over with a new model.
New SketchUp Components
Simplified Model Components. I copied the four original villa prototypes and replicated them with simplified massing and windows. I constructed additional models for two small retail centers in the development. Note: simplify components to basic shapes and avoid unnecessary detail that will slow your computer’s processing ability.
My First “Throw-away” Flat Model. I imported the illustrative site plan into SketchUp and placed the villa prototypes on site, rotating each component to face onto the street. My intent was to try and establish the aerial perspective from a "flat model" without the need for a 3D topographic model. As you can see from this flat model, the terrain was not evident and the perspective was unrealistic. The next alternative was to build an accurate 3D topographic site model and “drape” the plan and villas onto it. I needed an expert’s help with that process!
3D Topographic SketchUp Model
Step 1- Contour Model. Daniel Tal imported the AutoCAD contours into a new SketchUp model and recreated the mountain terrain (shown above). He then went through a lengthy process of smoothing out the contours and saving an accurate base model which he then draped the plan and components onto the surface.
Step 2 - Drape Tool. Daniel used this SketchUp tool to place the illustrative plan directly onto the smoothed contour model. Working with poor site information, he was forced to position the plan over the model base by eye rather than with guides that could have been setup in the original AutoCAD file. It took Daniel many attempts to accurately match the plan onto the base. Note - this process requires advance knowledge of AutoCAD and SketchUp modeling!
Step 3 - Drop Ruby. With the illustrative plan safely draped onto the terrain model, Daniel then selected the entire group of 450 villas and “dropped” them onto the model surface using a Drop Ruby script. Each villa was placed onto the terrain surface but needed individual vertical adjustment to “fine tune” its location on the hill side.
Step 4 - Google Earth View. I located the project on Google Earth and saved a series of images of the site at different elevations. The preferred view showed the site in the foreground with a lake in the distance. I matched an aerial view of the SketchUp model with the Google Earth view (this took several attempts) and finally made a composite image that merged the aerial photograph with the model view.
Final Model View. This is the client approved aerial view that I enlarged to 24” x 60” and used as the basis for my hand drawn perspective. The delineation process and final rendering of the project will be published in a future blog post (date to be determined). Many thanks to Jeff Lakey, West Li and Hill Guan of LLGInternational for the use of their project in this publication!
NEW! - The 2010 Blog Collection , a 116-page catalog of my best blog posts from 2010 is now available on Blurb! http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1963744