Animation based on drone flight path


I’m an architect with intermediate skills in SketchUp. The only animations I’ve created in the past are through native SketchUp scenes exported to Podium. A client has asked if it is possible to integrate drone footage of their existing building into our SketchUp models showing three phases of proposed development by replicating the drone flight path from a .csv file.

Can anyone advise if this is possible and, if so, any specific extensions required?

If this is possible, I would imagine we would run the flight path separately on the three separate build phases and then edit together using video software. I have seen a couple of similar questions on here, but they don’t seem to have a solution.

It should be noted that our SketchUp model is geolocated, but it was drawn from a measured survey (plans and sections), not from a detailed scan or topographic survey. However, the client does have a point cloud of the building.


Thank you. Fingers crossed.

Not sure i understand exactly how you’d like this to work but it’s likely to be pretty complicated. It’d be great to find a solution though.

The main challenge is matchcing the cameras internal/external intrinsics - the physical sensor/lens details etc and the camera position & orientation (pitch/angle etc) for each frame so the video/render align. The flight path is usually just the UAV gps log and it could be flying backwards for example.

Can you get a terrain model/scan to build a full 3D scene so you can render/animate the scene in anyway you like? This is the way i would do it and it’s relatively straight forward using photogrammetry if the drone data coverage is sufficient - the survey/drone operator should be able to sort this out. You would need to work around SU’s difficulty with the hi-poly count though.

Good luck.

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The client just wants to have a video showing the existing building, as filmed already, followed by the same 360 shot of the SketchUp model. The new-build elements of the model are just concept level (feasibility stage) so this isn’t going to be a photo-realistic render.

There is a point cloud scan of the building and surrounding terrain, which I’ve viewed in ReCAP but, to be honest, I’ve no idea how to translate that to a format legible (and manageable) for SketchUp. I think this would be over-the-top for the level of design at this stage anyway. However, I see your point, that this might be the only way to accurately track the path.

I’m both relieved and disappointed that this problem is as complicated as I thought it was!

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Okay perhaps the easiest solution would just be to create SU scenes by eye to match the original video as closely as possible?

With regards the point cloud, you should be able to create & export a textured mesh with recap but it will need to be decimated enough to work smoothly in SU (~100k triangles may be okay depending on hardware).

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In the following video, they show a workflow for this, but using “RealityCapture”, “Lumion” and SketchUp.

If you have a point cloud, you need a software which can transform the points to faces. I don’t know for sure, but I think “RealityCapture” can do this.

Thanks All,

It’d be good to experiment with bringing in the point cloud - that’s a good video on the RealityCapture stuff.

It seems like an extension which could automate real-world flight data into a camera path in SketchUp would be good, but I guess you’d need terrain survey data to relate the GPS and altitude. So many variables.

But yes, I agree it’s probably going to be best just to eyeball it in this case. The flight path is pretty straight-forward - just a 360 orbit with a stable altitude. Your advice is much appreciated, thanks.

I would be happy to take a look at the csv and see if something could be done with it.

I use the extension Trimble Field Points v2 to import .csv files (imports faster with outliner closed !). That should give you the path quite easily then as samnorth said do the camera by eye from there

How I would to this is track the drone camera in Adobe After Effects, export your SU model as object, bring into Cinema 4D Lite which is included with AE, render out. Not quite sure of the exact steps but know it’s possible.
3D tree brought int Cinema, can be rendered out in After Effects

Hi kengey, Thanks, unfortunately it wont let me upload a csv file, which I’m viewing in Excel, but I’ve saved it as a txt file, if that’s any use?

Great, thanks. Trimble Field Points look good, I might play around with this. It looks like After Effects could give the most accurate results, but it’s probably beyond our capabilities at the moment.

Hi Nicoll,

Interesting file, containing a lot of usefull information. I believe with this it should be possible to recreate the exact path the drone followed.

There are a few possibilities:

  1. Create an extension that will create a scene in sketchup for each timestamp in the csv (txt in this case) and position the camera on the exact position the drone has (latitude, longitude and elevation). Also make sure that the transition time between scenes is the same as the timedifference between timestamps. 500ms in this case. Then it is still up to the user to eyeball the exact target of the camera, since, the drone was filming using a 360 camera (I believe). One could then create an animation in SketchUp.
  2. Using this in some other software. I am thinking about Unity right now, since, I also develop Unity “games”. It is also possible to import that data into a unity scene, and then even render out a 360 animation, which will be more like the image captured by the drone. They even could be laid over one over the other I think.

Is it an idea that I create a .skp file with all scenes set up as in point 1? You would then just have to copy-paste your model into it. I could do that… over the weekend.

Thank you for your kind offer, but maybe hold off for now. I’m double checking exactly what deliverable the client is looking for (this was all just based off an informal query, after all).

Sure, no problem. If there is anything I could help with in using this data to do any kind of automation, please feel free to ask.

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@DNicoll I think it is an interesting subject, so… Anyhow, would it be possible that the drone’s path is shaped like this? Following roughly 3 times the same path? :wink:

I agree - very interesting! Hmm… unfortunately I don’t have permission to share it, but the video definitely does 3 rotations. The sharp point at the origin looks strange, as the drone doesn’t look to change direction so sharply. The path looks a bit more like a regular circle, but maybe that’s something to do with the stabilization/video editing?

The scripts I wrote could be incorrect of course. But, I believe that, if the target of the camera is not changing too much, you would not notice that the drone itself takes a sharp turn. Since, as the viewer, it would just be a slight back and forward movement.

That could be right - the drone is definitely closer to the building at one side in comparison to the opposite side. I thought it was because the centre of the path was off-centre to the main building, but it could be due to the drone moving forward and backwards.

This is what I got so far. I created the paths, and created a scene for every point in the path. Then I added some boxes (way out of proportion) in the middle of the path and programmed the scenes to target “more or less” at the boxes in the middle. It could use some improvements, but, here you have a movie:

And, here is the scene, with the path as edges:

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