SketchUp visualization process breakdown, part 1

May 4, 2021 Eric Sargeant

Is rendering a part of your SketchUp workflow? Whether you’re just getting started, or you’ve used visualization tools in the past, you’re sure to learn some best practices from my visualization process breakdown.

For those who don't know me, I've been working in SketchUp for many years. Currently, I create learning tracks on SketchUp Campus. Since teaching is at my core, for this post, I will be diving into the details of my process with the below image as an example. Follow along to learn some tips and tricks.

Finn running from a Star Destroyer. 3D modeling completed in two hours with SketchUp, plus rendering time with V-Ray.

The general process I used starting from scratch is as follows:

  • Project Background 
  • Model Setup
  • Entourage
  • Render
  • Post-Production

Project Background

This image was created for fun as part of a nightly ‘two-hour render challenge’ I set for myself. The goal was to start the render from scratch after the kids went to bed and see what I could produce in a fixed and limited amount of time (ie. before I got too tired and needed to go to bed myself!). Because of the self-imposed time constraint, I knew I couldn’t spend too much time planning or modeling everything from scratch and would instead, approach the task from a purely compositional approach. It became more of an exercise in choosing and arranging assets and then playing with different environmental and lighting settings in order to create an engaging image.

Before getting into the details, I want to layout the tools and resources I had on hand which I utilized to keep things moving quickly and smoothly.

  • Modeling program - SketchUp, of course! Plus, the V-Ray extension for rendering (ICYMI V-Ray is now included in a Studio subscription)
  • The entourage from 3D Warehouse
  • Rocks - Megascans (now under the ownership of Unreal Engine). To use ‘Megasacans’, I used ‘Transmutr’ to convert them from OBJ to SKP format.
  • Sun/Moon and Finn were 2D and added after the render was complete.

Using the scale tool to create variations from the same Megascans rock component.

Model Setup

This step was easy. I used just one Megascans rock cliffs asset and then copied, scaled, mirrored, and rotated each to look somewhat unique. Given this was likely an alien planet, I wanted some of the rock formations to be really tall or cathedral-like for drama.

On this same note, I used scale to my advantage here to make some rocks look further away by uniformly scaling them down. This technique is called aerial perspective, and similar to say a film set where the background is meant to appear further away, this technique creates the illusion of distance from the camera while keeping the actual model size manageable.

Droid from 3D Warehouse used for futuristic cliff dwelling.

Rocks and spaceships spaced and scaled to create a sense of distance and depth to the scene.


Given my two-hour time limit, I was not going to be modeling spaceships from scratch here, so I scoured the depths of 3D Warehouse to find a Star Destroyer and a droid. *Tip: make sure to open 3D Warehouse files on their own and check for extra Tags or geometry before importing into your main render model.* The same scaling technique was used to make one of the ships appear further away and the droid was turned sideways and inserted into a rock face to become some sort of futuristic cliff dwelling that our hero Finn has apparently just escaped from.

Star Wars in SketchUp
Star Wars in V-Ray
First image: View from SketchUp. Swipe right for the second image: V-Ray render using default settings.
V-Ray render with Dome and Sphere lights
Color-corrected composition V-Ray render

First image: V-Ray render with Dome and Sphere lights added. Swipe right for the second image: final color-corrected composition ready to export for additional post-production enhancements.


The whole point of this exercise was to boost my render skills, so this next step is where the bulk of the work occurred. Using the V-Ray extension, I did three simple, but important steps. Firstly, I added a dawn HDRI to a Dome Light to change the environmental lighting color and quality. This new lighting made it easier to see the V-Ray Sphere lights I added to the Star Destroyers which made them look active and alive. Second, I enabled ‘Volumetric Environment/Fog’ to create a moody atmosphere that further reinforced the illusion of depth towards the horizon. Lastly, I did some color corrections in the Frame Buffer (VFB) which bumped up the contrast and popped the color more.

Hidden line export from SketchUp.

Post-production layers.


V-Ray and SketchUp final composite
V-Ray final render

Final composite enlargements (swipe right to see additional enlargement).


Since I was trying to do as much as possible in SketchUp and V-Ray, I wanted to limit any changes made after the fact in Photoshop. Here I added the hidden model linework export and set it to the blend mode to ‘Overlay’ so that it picks up the color from the render underneath. This is a cool effect I’ve been playing around with in order to reveal the underlying geometry of the model and accentuate details that may have gotten lost in the shadows. 

The only other things I did were to add a PNG ‘moon/sun’ image near the horizon and along with that, a lens flare (with blend mode set to ‘Screen’). This added a bit more color and drama as the magentas of the lighting and blues of the rocks and shadows play off of each other. Next, some additional glow rings were added around the edges of the droid cliff house in order to make sure it didn’t blend in too much with the rocks it was attached to. 

Oh, and Finn of course! Focusing on your modeling detail and rendering technique is important for sure, but I’ve found the best images have a convincing narrative that gives a reason for everything else in the scene to exist. While I may have been better off using a 3D character, so that V-Ray’s lighting and shadows were more accurate, I couldn’t find anything that showed Finn in the action pose I needed. At the end of the day (literally as by now it was getting late!), I decided to stick with a 2D cutout from an image found online and color-corrected it to match the scene.

I hope that this visualization breakdown helps to inspire everyone out there to jump in and start experimenting in order to learn what quick tricks and techniques yield the most impact for the least amount of effort at the end of the day. 

To learn more about how to use V-Ray in your workflow, check out our Campus course


About the Author

Eric Sargeant

Eric is our go-to resource for all things environmental. His background in landscape architecture and urban design combines perfectly with his interest in visual communication in order to create stunning visuals using primarily SketchUp and V-Ray.

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