Google Sketchup for Modeling Archaeological Sites

A model of what might be a mosque at Fuwairit. Its based on the archaeological footprint on the ground and two other historic Qatari mosques.

Over the summer I started making a Sketchup model of Fuwairit, a site we intensively surveyed by total station. The site itself is nearly a kilometer long (longer, if you count the fortifying wall to the jebel) and about 200m wide and is chockablock full of architecture in the form of rectangular compounds. After a month and a half of survey, we had a pretty good idea where all the walls were and created an autocad model that was just the wall lines. I tried all kinds of things to import the file into Blender, but the translatability between a PC/Autocad and an Apple/Blender was insurmountable. Actually, I got it to mostly work, but it was so infuriating I wouldn’t really recommended. Hint: do not try to import polylines. It doesn’t work.

I ended up importing the polyline wall file (dwg) into Google Sketchup (you have to use 7 and not 8, because they moved the functionality into Pro for 8, but then you can import the 7 file into 8) and playing with it there. Sketchup has changed a lot in the four years since I’ve last opened it up, and it might be worth another look if you, like me, are an early adopter/early rejector. The most fundamental problem is that it is not Open Source. I’m still hurting a bit from the Second Life burn, and am hesitant to commit to any format that will restrict archiving or my future use. Luckily, Sketchup exports to many different kinds of files, so the Second Life debacle is a bit more avoidable.

Anyway, some notes, so that your model-making experience will be better than mine:

1) Do not attempt to reconstruct kilometer-long, complex architecture. Sketchup starts to bog down pretty fast, and after 2,000 objects, no longer will import into Google Earth.

2) Do not smooth edges until you are absolutely finished and absolutely certain. The beachstone/mud finishing on the pearling site architecture tempted me to smooth the lines and it looked great…until I needed to redo a lot of the textures, which you cannot apply to smoothed surfaces.

3) Import the model into Google Earth sooner rather than later to check it out. The model looks pretty good in Sketchup, but usually looks better in Google Earth, so it will give you a better idea how your textures are turning out.

4) Use the edge style and plane style to come up with different views and feels for your project. Turning shadows on is nice as well, as you can manipulate the time of day and see if the particular alleyway that you are modeling was shaded or sunny at that time.

This is with shaded textures off, and the profile edges on.

5) Try importing various pre-made objects. There are a lot of free objects that were made by various people and I was able to pick up some nice date palms, mangroves, and even a dhow to add detail to my reconstruction. I took photos of some standing structures to add textures and windows and things like that. It’s obviously much easier when you have something still existing to give you a pretty good idea of what the structures looked like.

6) There’s also the option to “walk around” and to make fly through animations, if you are into such a thing. I like to use it to test viewsheds, something that is obviously important in “veiled” islamic domestic architecture.

So, it is basic but robust, and you can easily manipulate the various textures to give you a more or less “accurate” or cartoony atmosphere. I want to make some time to import the images into photoshop to touch them up there, but I am fairly satisfied with the mockup I’ve made with a fairly low time investment.

(Mostly written March 10, with some more recent edits)

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4 responses to “Google Sketchup for Modeling Archaeological Sites

  1. I can confirm most of the experiences you describe in your post.
    I am working for a county museum/county archaeology service in Germany. We have been using Sketchup for about three years now, creating reconstructions of sites we excavated. I mostly use the models to illustrate public talks and articles in local/”popular” newspapers, and to explain the excavation site to new volunteers. In one case I made a site model just for myself, to get a better understanding of some complex structures.
    And of course Sketchup is contributing to our work on the not-so-serious side of archaeology: http://youtu.be/artY-ECpDgk

  2. Pingback: Google SketchUp: 3D Models | The CRM Field Tech Newsletter

  3. Hello you can also consider the free and improved blender at http://www.blender.org/

  4. Pingback: An Unusual Source of Funding… | The CRM Field Tech Newsletter

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