1A: SketchUp 101

Since we will be telling stories that take place in versions of Carleton College that no longer exist, one of our primary collaborative efforts will be attempting to recreate elements of the college as it once was using 3D visualization and simulation techniques.  We will be discussing the theoretical implications of such a project throughout the term, but since the skills required to model in 3D are complex, we will begin practicing in week one.

SketchupLogoThe 3D software with the gentlest learning curve is SketchUp.  Formerly owned by Google, it puts an emphasis on ease of use and compatibility with other popular platforms like Google Earth.  This is the software that many of the 3D buildings you might have seen in Google Earth were created with. Despite the user-friendly goals, SketchUp is a powerful program used by industry professionals and will let you start making impressively detailed models very quickly, which can be exported in a variety of formats.

We will eventually be modeling buildings as accurately as possible, but it is useful to start with more free-form projects to get a feel for the various drawing, transformation and navigation tools SketchUp has to offer, so that’s what we will focus on here.


In class, we modeled a simple dog house to get a feel for the software.  (If you’d like to review that project at your own pace, you can watch a tutorial video of it here.)

Your assignment is to use the techniques we employed to make a model of the house you grew up in.  Don’t worry about photo-realistic accuracy, just try to get the basic features, colors and textures in place, so that someone who knows the house (your parents, say) could recognize it.  If you grew up in a ranch house, then your building should be long and contain only one row of windows, whereas if you grew up in a bungalow or a cape cod you’ll have a taller building with a half or full second row. You get the idea. And don’t worry about the inside!  We’re just focusing on the external features for now.

When you are happy with your model, export it as a 2D graphic and save it to the Google Drive shared folder.

During the next class we’ll set up blog access, and you’ll use this image to write your first post along with some thoughts on your process.  As you model, think about how easy/hard it was, what elements particularly bogged you down, what compromises you had to make, etc.  Also think about a technique or tool that you wish you had figured out sooner, so that you can provide a tip for other novice SketchUp users and share your knowledge.


There are millions of SketchUp tutorials available online (just google SketchUp + what-you-want-to-do and you’ll be overwhelmed with options), but here’s a targeted list of resources to get you started.

  • If you haven’t already, download and print out a Quick Reference Card, so that you can start using keyboard shortcuts to switch between tools and get good fast.
  • Watch the Getting Started with SketchUp tutorial videos.  The first two are particularly useful for exteriors, but the third and fourth will give you more advanced techniques and tool tips, if you’d like to explore further.
  • SketchUp has also put out a couple series of videos that let you watch pros at work and give you great advice.

Lynda.com is a paid service, so not open to everyone, but you can access its tutorials by logging in with your Carleton ID.  If you want a more structured course, their SketchUp Essential Training is a great place to start.


Feel free to leave a comment if you’re having trouble, or if you discover something really great, and feel free to respond if you know the answer to a question.

Happy modeling!