vc 015: Sketchup Labyrinth Lookout

One of the things I love about traveling around Europe is finding old castles to scamper around on.

This project, #15 of the #100videoclips project, was an excuse to use Sketchup’s animation feature to create a walk-through movie of a castle-like labyrinth that I designed in the program.

The structure is a cross between a garden pavilion, a maze and a sculpture you can climb.

It is a maze or labyrinth in the sense that it gives you an interesting path to follow, rather than trying to get you lost, since there is only a single path from the bottom to the top.

At the top, you are rewarded with a view of the complete scene, including the path you have just walked.

The stairway provides a completion of the circuit and a shortcut to the bottom — or to the top, if you prefer to just go up for the view.

What I Did

I’m not going to describe in detail the creation of the castle labyrinth in Sketchup: I’m not an expert, and I didn’t keep track of all my steps when I created it a number of months ago.

I know there are a few things I didn’t do quite right and other I didn’t do well, but I’m still amazed that it came out as well as it did.

Having the labyrinth created,  I wanted a way to simulate walking through it.

In particular, the labyrinth is created in such a way that, at the beginning, it blocks your view of everything except the walls immediately ahead of you. As you progress through, the walls get lower and lower, letting you see more and more of your surroundings.

The labyrinth is also created from a series of uniform platforms, each twice as long as it is wide, and each subsequent one a step above the one before it. As the walls around you get lower, your elevation also gets higher. At the high point, you can see not only the surrounding countryside but also your entire path from beginning to end.

The Animation

Animating a scene in Sketchup is very easy in one sense, and very challenging in another.

The basics of animation are easy: Navigate to your starting point using the navigation tools, then choose

View, Animation, Add Scene,

and you have your first scene.

Then navigate to your next point and repeat the process, adding scenes along the way.

Once you have added all your scenes, choose

View, Animation, Play

and Sketchup plays your scenes, moving smoothly from one scene to another.

The tricky part is that Sketchup doesn’t care about direction, the ground, walls, or anything else: it just goes from point A to point B in the smoothest path it can make.

For my narrow labyrinth, that meant my animation was literally walking through walls at just about every turn.

It took a lot of fine tuning to get the animation to even approximate the point of view of a person actually walking through the maze. Even so, the field of view is very narrow, and there were many turns that are too slow or too quick or something isn’t quite right.

The Video

To make a video of the animation, you just choose

File, Export, Animation

From there, I imported it into PremierePro, partly to add music, and partly to try to smooth out the animation a little more.

If I had known what I was doing, I should have been able to do the smoothing in Sketchup, but PPro is just easier for me to manipulate.

I split the video up so some parts went a little faster, some went a lot faster, and some went slower, trying to get the entire journey to seem more of an even speed, like someone walking through the labyrinth

Overall, I’m happy with the result.

What I Learned

  • Creating basic 3D structures in Sketchup is fairly easy, and there are a lot of great tools for making things look cool.
    • However, there are a number of little things that can be very hard to figure out or get right. They don’t prevent you from creating, but they do make the end results more flawed than you’d like.
  • The basic steps of making a video in Sketchup are very easy.
  • Making realistic (human) movement in Sketchup seems to be quite hard.