SketchUp is often used to create massing models for urban planning, in which case the program's geo-location feature using Google Earth and Google Maps is a definite plus.
When we search for an urban site in Google Maps we are presented with 45 degree imagery and a lot more detail than we have in Google Earth. The Pegman, however, is a great feature of the latter. We simply select and drag him into the central image whereupon we are presented with some snapshots of the buildings from the Street View. These will greatly assist us in our later modeling and texturing of our buildings.
To import terrain from Google Earth into SketchUp, the easiest method is to go to the Window drop-down menu and choose Modeling. Here we have various settings for our model, including Units, etc. It's very easy here to switch from meters to millimeters, or vice versa. We also have on the left-hand list a label for Geo-location. Here we can either add the Latitude and Longitude manually, or we can choose Add Location. Another way to do this is open the Google toolbar in SketchUp from the View, Toolbars menu. Here we have an Add Location tool. In either case simply type the address of the site, adding NSW, into the field. Otherwise the site will find a similar place-name in the US.
Now we can zoom further out or in, and adjust the blue pins to select the exact terrain we wish to import into our scene. We do so by clicking the Grab button. Both a snapshot of the site and the terrain are brought into SketchUp to the correct scale. We can check this either by using the Tape Measure tool (T) or from the height of the default human figure. In addition we can go to the File menu and choose Geo-location and Show Terrain to see the gradient of the land itself. Or we can open the Layers panel and simply toggle the two new layers on and off.
The additional advantage is that the Shadows will now be accurate for the scene - you can see these by choosing Window and Shadows and clicking on the top left on/off button. Adjust the sliders for date and time. You may make a further adjustment for Daylight Saving in the top UTC (Universal Time Coordinates) field. Keep in mind that SketchUp's Green axis is solar north by default.
This process could save us from having to import the CAD site contours (DWG or DXF file) and build the terrain using SketchUp's Sandbox tools. However it's best to keep in mind the accuracy element. Google Earth's contours are only 5m contours, therefore a lot of site detail could be lost, whereas many CAD plans are to 0.5m contours. The GE method may therefore only be good for the accuracy of shadows.
It's also possible to import 3D models from near your site that other users may have constructed and uploaded. This is especially true of major towns and cities. Go into the Components panel and click on the drop-down list next to the house icon. We then select Nearby Models, and SketchUp searches its 3D Warehouse for models in the vicinity of your chosen site. Click on a thumbnail to view the model, then hit the Download button import into the correct position on your model. Whilst the accuracy of the modeling should always be considered, the advantage is that these models allow you to see the heights of adjacent buildings and their resultant cast shadows throughout the day.
Tom Gillan has been training SketchUp Courses to corporate clients in Sydney for seven years. If you like to know more about SketchUp, visit Design Workshop Sydney SketchUp courses webpage for more information.