Billboard Background: Part 1 – Scene Setup

Look at this beautiful room, with the lovely view of autumn foliage seen through the windows:

Sketchup Panorama Setup VIZ_0001


It looks as if this model includes a lawn and colorful trees on the other side of the purple wall. But if I had really taken the time to model all of those landscaping elements, the model would be rather huge in size. If your focus is on a model’s interior, and the window view is just for show, there’s a much easier way to set this up.

This three-part series will show how to create a “billboard background” outside a room. In Part 1, I’ll show how to set the scene (camera view). In Part 2 I’ll show how to create and paint a billboard wall outside the room. And in Part 3 I’ll show how to position the painted image so that the view from inside is perfect.

Position the Camera

Here’s the SketchUp model of the room – floor and ceiling, two walls, and interior furnishings. No outside landscaping objects are included.
Sketchup Panorama Setup 01

In the view above, you’re looking into the room from a point outside, as if the room is part of a stage set. I want to set up a view that conveys what you’d see while actually standing inside the room, without seeing the missing walls.

You could get to that view by using the Orbit and Zoom tools, but SketchUp provides a set of tools specifically for setting up camera views. The toolbar for this is called Camera (menu: View / Toolbars / Camera). These tools can also be found on the Camera menu.

The first tool I’ll use is Position Camera, whose icon is the little man with an X by his feet. Sketchup Panorama Setup 02

Before clicking, check the Height Offset field. This is how high the camera or eye is from the ground. (If you’re on the second floor, this value should still be the height from the ground, not the physical floor beneath your feet.) I’m using 4′ – lower than an adult’s eye level but approximating a camera standing on a tripod. You can enter a value here just by typing it and pressing Enter – don’t click inside this field.Sketchup Panorama Setup 03


The first click sets the camera location. I’m placing mine along the edge of the floor.Sketchup Panorama Setup 04

(The Position Camera tool also has a drag-and-point feature which lets you locate the camera and aim it, all in one step. That’s not what I’m showing here, but it’s good to know.)

Adjust the View

Just after you place your camera, the active tool becomes Look Around. This simulates turning your head left and right, up and down. Sketchup Panorama Setup 06


Drag your mouse to change what you’re looking at. With my camera where it is, the most I can get in my view is three of the four windows. I don’t get the entire cabinet on the right, and I’m missing a chair on the left. Sketchup Panorama Setup 05


So I want to back up my camera a bit. This is done with the Walk tool – the icon with the shoe prints. This tool takes a bit of practice. To move the camera straight back, I slowly dragged the mouse straight down. I then had to drag left and right a bit as well, and I switched to Look Around a few times, until I got the perfect view. Now I can see the entire room and all its contents, with no visible edges along the floors to remind me that two of the walls are gone.
Sketchup Panorama Setup 08


Save the Camera View

Because it’s rather time-consuming to arrive at the perfect camera view, you don’t want to have to do all that positioning and walking and looking all over again. So to save this view, open the Scenes window. PC users of SketchUp 2016 – if you don’t see this window in the standard tray, choose Window / Default Tray / Scenes. Mac users, and PC versions before 2016 – choose Window / Scenes.

Make sure that all properties are checked (the relevant one here is Camera Location), and click the “plus” icon to save the scene. Sketchup Panorama Setup 09


Now you can orbit and zoom away from this view. To return to the saved view, just click the scene tab at the top of the SketchUp window. Sketchup Panorama Setup 10


Next, in Part 2, I’ll show how to set up the “billboard” outside the room, and paint it with the landscaping image.

About Bonnie Roskes

Bonnie Roskes has been writing tutorial-style projects on 3D modeling software, primarily SketchUp, since 2001. Her website, offers a wide variety of learning materials for all ages, from kids in grade school through design professionals. Her materials cover general 3D design, 3D printing, geometry, interior design, geo-modeling, and more, and future books are in the works. Read more about Bonnie.


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