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Terrain Modeling In SketchUp

Jul 13, 2015
Video Length:  1:02:17
Presented By:  Daniel Tal

Daniel Tal returns to teach us about terrain modeling in SketchUp. Daniel will model a terrain site plan live, carefully reviewing the tools and steps required to achieve a digital elevation model.

For more tutorials on SketchUp from Daniel Tal, visit his website,
For more information on the Land F/X SketchUp plugin, including importing and exporting between CAD and SketchUp, visit our SketchUp documentation section.

Webinar Contents:

Note: The following catalog of content covered in this webinar is time stamped to allow you to follow along or skip to sections of the video that are relevant to your questions. You can also search for content on this page using the FIND command in your browser (CTRL + F in Windows, Command + F in Mac OS.)

  • Intro/TOC
  • Intro to SketchUp Extensions
    • List of Terrain Modeling Tools & Extensions
  • Terrain Process Overview
  • Generating Terrain
  • Overlaying Roads, Trails, Walks, etc.
  • Extruding Structures
  • Integrating Structures Into the Terrain (Re-grading)
  • Dropping Blocks Into the Site
  • Other Terrain Tools

0:00 – 6:09: Intro/TOC

6:10 – 8:39: Intro to Extensions

List of Terrain Modeling Tools & Extensions

Tools and Free Extensions:

  • DropGC(Smustard)
  • From Contour(native SketchUp tool)
  • JointPushPull(SketchUcation)
  • Smoovetools (native SketchUp tools)
  • Topo Shaper(SketchUcation)
  • Tools on Surface(SketchUcation)


Other Extensions

  • Artisan
  • Instant Road
  • Soap Skin Bubble


SketchUp Extensions (7:10)

Extensions are the SketchUp version of apps. You can obtain many of them from the Extension Warehouse.



8:50 – 14:42: Terrain Process Overview

1 Import data set (example: a DWG)

2 Generate terrain – Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN) to Mesh

3 Overlay roads, trails, walks – flatwork

4 Extrude structures like buildings, walls, and steps

5 Integrate structures into terrain – re-grade

6 Drop blocks and replace: Site amenities and vegetation

14:43 – 21:12: Generating Terrain in SketchUp

2 ways to generate terrain in SketchUp (14:43):

The From Contour tool from the Sandbox menu

2 TheTopo Shaper tool (available at


From Contour (15:02)

Note: When you bring in contours from CAD, they often contain too many vertices. This can bog down SketchUp and cause it to slow down. (15:08)


Using the Simplify Contours tool (native SketchUp tool) to simplify the contours brought in from CAD (15:55)


Using the From Contour tool to generate the contours and create a Triangulated Irregular Network (TIN) made of stitched-together faces (16:18)


Opening the Hidden Geometry (from the View menu) to examine the TIN (16:25)

Note: TINs in SketchUp are notoriously difficult to work with.


Topo Shaper (from SketchUcation) (17:20)

Note: Topo Shaper can handle many more vertices than From Contour can handle.


Selecting the contours (17:45)


Processing the terrain by selecting Topo Shaper (17:56)


Calculating the terrain and creating a mesh grid (square rather than triangular) (18:30)


Note: The main issue with Topo Shaper is that, though easier to work with, it creates contours that aren’t as accurate as those created by From Contour.

However:  You can modify the grid to make it more accurate. This step creates a tighter, more accurate grid (although this tightness can also cause SketchUp to work a little more slowly). (19:45)


21:13 – 28:07: Overlaying Roads, Trails, Walks, etc.

Turning on the road layer in SketchUp (21:30)


Highlighting the mesh with the Drape tool (from the Sandbox menu) and “draping” a road (21:40)


Editing and smoothing the road using the Artisan tool (available from the Extension Warehouse) (22:35)


Using the Instant Road tool (available from Chuck Vali’s website) to grade the road and select a predetermined road set. This tool is more difficult to use than Artisan, but it’s also more accurate. (25:10)

28:08 – 31:25: Extruding Surfaces

Extruding elements such as walls, buildings, steps, etc. (28:08)


Placing all the necessary elements into the terrain (29:30)


You can use the up and down arrows on your keyboard to move objects straight up and down in SketchUp. You can also use a tool called DropGC (available from Smustard) for this same purpose. (30:42)

31:26 – 45:14: Integrating Structures Into the Terrain (Re-grading)

Using Tools on Surface from SketchUcation (one of Daniel’s favorite tools) to draw 2D lines on 3D terrain and create the extents of the site (31:26)


Using the From Contour tool to create a grade (33:45)


Drawing the profiles for a wall (34:20)


Grading the wall into the terrain using From Contour (36:00)


You can also use Soap Skin Bubble (another alternative to From Contour) for grading work. (39:38)


Coloring the site (42:50)


Making contour elevations using the Contours tool (available from the Extension Warehouse). You can export these contour lines to CAD if you want. (44:25)

45:15 – 48:44: Dropping Blocks Into the Site

Using the DropGC tool to drop blocks (such as site amenities and trees) into the site (45:15)


Adding a fence using the Instant Fence tool (from Vali Architects) (46:55)


48:45 – end: Other Terrain Tools

Other valuable terrain tools: CLF Color by Slope andCLF Color by Z (from Chris Fullmer on the Extension Warehouse) (48:45)


Using Artisan to flatten an area, and to select and paint vertices (49:50)


Note: Bringing contours into SketchUp from CAD Civil 3D can be a little trickier, requiring you to break the terrain into pieces. (51:00)


Question: Can the SketchUp grade be exported into Leica? (51:40)

Answer: Yes, it’s possible, although it’s better to export to a DWG if possible. To export to Leica, you should export it from SketchUp as an FBX file.


Question: Will SketchUp work as well with proposed contours from CAD Civil 3D as it will with existing contours? (54:00)

Answer: It’s hard to say without looking at the file. In general, however, SketchUp should read proposed grades just fine. It may help to export the grading/contour design to FBX and then from FBX into SketchUp.


Question: Is there an extension to bring in a larger mesh from Google Earth than the default size? (55:30)

Answer: Unfortunately, no. The terrain data is at best at 50-foot intervals when it comes into SketchUp, which amounts to about 1 square mile at a time. You can use Artisan to clean up the mesh a bit when it comes in, but it’s pretty difficult to bring in regional maps larger than 1 square mile.


Some more useful terrain tools: Triangulate Points, Hole Punching Tools, Xref Manager, and Super Drape (drapes material on terrain) from TIG (available in the Extension Warehouse) (59:00)

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