GEOG 497
3D Modeling and Virtual Reality

3.1 Start Modeling


3.1 Start Modeling

I would like to offer you a word of caution: not everyone is a modeler. That does not mean and should not mean that you cannot create a beautiful model (or pass this lesson!). It simply means that some people develop a love for creating models while others really do not like it. One piece of advice that works on almost everything in these situations is to practice, practice, and practice. We will start off everyone on the right foot by going through several tutorials; we will encourage you to practice (and practice, and practice). We will also request a two-tier exercise at the end acknowledging that this is a 2-week max exercise and not a course on SketchUp. However, there is also the opportunity to make a contribution to an exciting project we started, that is, we have been creating historic campus models for Penn State. The video below shows a fly-through of part of the campus model for 1922 (slightly outdated as this is an ongoing project). On Sites at Penn State: Penn State Campus - Past, Present, and Future, we have collected building models from students who made contributions and if you are interested, there are several buildings yet to be modeled. If you ever have a chance to visit One World Center, they have a tour through the history of New York projected onto their elevator walls, visit World Trade Center Elevator Video. Penn State does not have long enough elevators but it is a feasible way to communicate the dramatic changes Penn State and State College have gone through using 3D models and VR.

Video: World Trade Center elevator video (00:58) This video is not narrated.

The model that we are building can be turned into a VR experience by using a game engine such as Unity (see Modules 8 and 9). Once in Unity, there are numerous options for interacting and experiencing the models: they can be perceived in HMDs such as Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, there are extensions to create mobile phone apps, and, as you will learn, you can create a fly-through using a 360 degree camera and exporting the video, for example, to YouTube. Just to give you an example of the latter, below is a YouTube video taken from our 1922 Campus model. You can also view the video at YouTube Penn State campus in 1922 flythrough (non-360 degree version).

Video: Penn State campus in 1922 flythrough (non-360 degree version) (2:01) This video is not narrated, music only.

One of the best resources to get you started with SketchUp, which covers all essential basics necessary for efficiently creating building models, is the SketchUp: Essential Training course on If you are new to I can highly recommend its repertoire of courses that are well designed, especially for technical skills. is free for all Penn Staters and as the essential course is perfect for our introduction and ‘only’ three hours long, we will use it and have designed exercises around its content. It is not the idea that you simply watch the videos, but that you work through the exercises. After going through the essential training course you are well set up for your own modeling project (see final assignment).

In addition to the course, the following sites also provide valuable resources for learning SketchUp.

  1. Lynda, in addition to the essential training course we will be using, offers a number of advanced topics on SketchUp. Just search for SketchUp.
  2. SketchUp offers a variety of introductory video lessons through their own SketchUp learning website.
  3. One very useful tool is the SketchUp Quick Reference Card.
  4. Last, but certainly not least there are many devoted users out there who post their solutions on YouTube. Again, just search for SketchUp or more specific topics (e.g., geolocation).