AECBytes Architecture Engineering Construction Newsletters  

AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue #47 (November 24, 2009)

Visualizing Architecture with SketchUp Scenes

Scott Onstott
Book & Video Author

SketchUp has a feature called Scenes that allows you to take snapshots of specific camera positions and easily recall them later; they are a lot like AutoCAD views in this respect. While transitions between scenes is handled automatically by SketchUp, these can be fun to watch, especially in the way that section planes magically slide into place. Scenes can help you tell a visual story and by exporting an animation of a series of scenes, you can make SketchUp produce a 3D slide show/movie that helps the viewer visualize architecture.

I'm using a model of the Roman Pantheon made by Albtraum found in Google's 3DWarehouse. I toggled X-ray mode here to show that this is one of a handful of buildings modeled inside and out in the warehouse. If you'd like to follow along, here is the file. I've put the building into a group and separated the floor onto a different layer.

Most beginners create exterior-only building models in SketchUp and this is natural. As your skills grow in SketchUp, it's possible to make very detailed inside-and-out architectural models.

Toggle X-ray mode off by going to View > Face Style > X-Ray. I've set X as the keyboard shortcut for X-ray mode to save time.

Double-click the group to open it for editing. Choose Tools > Section Plane and hover the cursor over a vertical plane perpendicular to the red direction as shown above. Click and you'll instantly have a section.

Choose Tools > Move and slide the section plane over to the building's centerline. You have to eyeball this.

Right-click the section plane and choose Create Group from Slice. This will create edges where the section plane intersects the building and encapsulate these new edges in a group.

Choose Window > Styles, click Edit and then click the Modeling button. Change Section Cut Width to 1 and uncheck Section Planes to hide them. Click the Update Style with Changes button. Click off to the side to close the building group for editing.

Select the new group you created from the section edges and choose Window > Entity Info. Type SectionCut in the Layer box and you'll create this new layer and place the group onto it.

Choose Window > Layers and toggle off the Building layer. Double click the edge group on layer SectionCut and draw any lines necessary to create closed shapes. SketchUp automatically fills closed shapes with surfaces. Choose Tools > Paint Bucket and paint the shapes black to neatly define what has been cut by the section plane.

Once you've created a section plane and hidden the cut area with black surfaces, you have an attractive perspective section view, as shown above. Save this as a scene by choosing Window > Scenes and clicking the Add Page button (the + icon). You'll see a new tab appear at the top of the screen.

In much the same way, repeat the process to create a section in the horizontal dimension. Create a section within the building group, make a new group from the slice, place it on a new layer and fill in any gaps to create surfaces. Paint the surfaces black and save it as a scene.

Click the tabs at the top of the window to have SketchUp animate the transition between camera viewpoints.

I've added additional content to this model to tell the story of the Pantheon's symbolism as I see it. When I was finished adding scenes I chose File > Export > Animation and saved a Quicktime MOV file.

Get Quicktime here if you don't see the resulting embedded video below. The Pantheon and much more is explored in my forthcoming feature documentary, Architecture of the Universe, to be released in 2010.

I invite you take advantage of the ease and power SketchUp scenes to tell the visual story of your projects.

About the Author

Scott Onstott has a degree in architecture from UC Berkeley and worked in several prominent architecture, engineering, and interiors firms in San Francisco. In addition, he taught AEC software to thousands of students at several Bay Area universities.

Scott has written and edited scores of books, magazine articles, and video tutorials. He can be reached via

If you found this article useful and have not yet subscribed to AECbytes, please consider doing so. Subscription is free, and more subscribers will allow this publication to provide more of such content to you.

Tips & Tricks
> Visualizing Architecture with SketchUp Scenes > Printer-friendly format

© 2003-2009 Lachmi Khemlani, AECbytes. All rights reserved.
Site design by Vitalect, Inc