Sketchup for Stage Design


After a two year hiatus, I’d like to re-kindle my relationship with Sketchup. If anyone uses SU for theatrical stage design, do you have a favorite extension or plugin that you use? I’m thinking for for design, but do any Technical Directors use SU?!

If this is not the correct forum for this question, please direct me to a more suitable one.

Thanks much,



(Category is fine.)

Advanced Camera Tools is now distributed with SketchUp.


@john_mcclenahan uses it for local theater set design.


I do indeed. Where are you starting from, in terms (a) of familiarity with SU in general, and (b) in terms of having a specific theatre or theatres in mind to design for?

One of the early things I did in SU for designs for our local amateur theatre ( was to digitise and then convert to 3d our existing paper plans for main and studio theatres. I’ve gradually refined the basic stage plans to include preset scenes for different audience viewpoints, or for viewing a set model ‘under construction’. And also, refined the make up of components of the stage/studio, and layer visibility for different elements you want to be visible for different purposes.

See also some example set models in SU on the 3D warehouse - search it for ‘abbey theatre’ (note UK spelling of theatre) and/or ‘johnwmcc’ and most of the results will be sets I’ve designed in the last decade or so.

I haven’t got at all into lighting design - that’s another whole field.

And just a note: the Advanced Camera Tools afaik are a Pro only feature. Are you doing this for commercial purposes, or as I do, a hobby?


Continuing the above, I do have several plugins I find I use frequently.

TIG’s Mirror plugin - invaluable for constructions with symmetry
TIG Weld, to link together separate line and/or arc segments
A construction point plugin (PointTool)
A construction line plugin (CB_Cline)
Steve Baumgartner’s Angular Dimension (an improved version is nearing beta testing)
Stair Maker
Xref Manager - to update pieces of scenery in the set model, when the elements are changed in a separate construction drawing. (you can also just Import them, but Xref Manager is more versatile, especially if you have multiple component copies).
Several of Fredo’s plugins - Round Corner, particularly.
A plugin I developed myself to insert and label flats and rostra of different standard or custom sizes, and standard curtains and curtain legs.

Not a plugin, but equally useful and time saving:
Dynamic components (DCs) I’ve adapted to draw Steeldeck rostra, with support legs, at different heights
DC to build a staircase
DC Scaffolding fittings, and an adaptation of PipeAlongPath, to help draw scaffolding structures, which we have used on several sets.

Most of these are also of general use for set construction design - scenery or props items we build in our workshop (staffed entirely by volunteer woodworkers).


Hey John!

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I’d say I am an intermediate user but have been out of the game for a couple of years regarding Sketchup. For my day to day designing I use Vectorworks, but am just wanting to expand my repertoire. I teach scenic and lighting design in Missouri, US. I have a model of my space my proscenium space that I am including here. I am working on our studio space right now.

Thanks much,



That’s looking pretty good for starters.

I think you may find it helpful in future either to name your numerous numbered Groups (so you know in Outliner what is what) and/or make them Components. As far as I can tell, there is only one small downside to having components instead of groups, even if there is only one instance in the model, and several upsides. The only potential downside is that you may not want all the permanent fixtures to list in the Component Browser, once your main focus becomes on the set design, not the permanent features of the building.

And I note one small drawing error - the pillars in the wings are drawn with the back faces outside (showing blue). Not a major issue, but if you get round to texturing or materials for the building, and then rendering, it can cause problems.

Again, once you’ve more or less finished modelling the building, you might want to revisit the outline structure, and probably Lock all of the fixed elements. That way, you won’t accidentally move anything when drawing sets, and/or positioning cameras and lights.

You are fortunate in having a relatively high proscenium arch at 20’6. Ours is only a little above 12’, and is a real difficulty when trying to fit even a two storey set, let alone (as we have to next year) a three storey one. Views from our back row severely limit what can be seen of the actors heads when they are on the upper level upstage, if the upper level is to be high enough to let one walk underneath!

FYI I’m uploading here our main stage and auditorium model. You’ll see several different viewpoints in scenes, and the layer structure.

When imported into a drawing for a new play, I have all the building structure locked, but this version is the one I keep aside and update separately.

You may also note as you orbit around, that I have made some of the outer walls transparent when viewed from the outside, but opaque from the inside. I find that useful, and achieved it by applying different materials (one transparent, one opaque) to front and back faces. You can do the same even on a two-faced wall with thickness, if you treat each face the same way.

Stage Plan and auditorium.skp (2.2 MB)


… which reminds me - I must get back in touch with you John. (As you can see John is a wonderful, insightful and thorough critic. I Love his feedback! Definitely gonna look at those plugins.)

I generally champion SketchUp for drafting for theatre. Although we have Vectorworks at Middlesex University (UK) everyone at our place favours SU - which suits me just fine. (Incidentally, I have on occasion 3D printed from visiting professional’s drafted designs. Neat eh!) Have a look at my stuff if you’re inclined.

Middlesex Theatre 3D warehouse

I think it might be interesting to establish some conventions, e.g. the opaque/ transparent outside walls thing, and what scenes ought to be incorporated in a template, etc. Let’s keep in touch!

Rory McAlister


Thank you for your kind comments, @rory.mcalister. And also thank you again for your excellent example Steeldecks - I still use your drawings (slightly modified in a few cases) and mostly edited the DC code rather than having to start from scratch. I added some rectangular sizes we have that you don’t (I think), and also managed to draw two odd sized angle inserts we use for our studio seating (not uploaded, as they are very odd shapes unlikely to be useful to others).


One of my posts on this topic seems to have gone missing - I thought I had uploaded my Steeldeck DCs, and a Staicase DC, but I don’t see it.

Wonder if it went by accident into another topic? - Ah, yes it did, in response to another thread from the same OP. Here’s a link:


Thanks for sharing Rory! Good stuff!


I appreciate your comments John! I’m going to try your transparent wall trick…brilliant!

Thanks again!



Please do keep in touch Pat - I’d be interested to see how your new initiative develops and what your students make of it. John’s right about groups and components, but I’d just like to add that I think you’ll find harnessing layers invaluable. You’ll notice both John and myself have 2D containing walls. (… although, I think your prosc arch should stay solid.) I have a ground plan, indicating wall thickness on a distinct layer. You can switch layers off and on with the selection of different scenes. It’s also essential to use layers when you have scene and set changes. To be honest I haven’t looked at my venue templates for some time, (there are a few glaring anomalies that really need to be addressed - that the sharper students regularly draw my attention to.
This is the most complete template:

Ravensfield Theatre

I try to work in respect of the proffered conventions, as outlined by ABTT (in the UK) and USITT, and name and number my layers appropriately.


(Incidentally, are you 3D printing model components yet?)


Thanks Rory! I will!

I REALLY dig the transparent walls but I am not finding anything regarding instructions or tutorials…I’m probably just using the wrong search terms. Could you possibly point me in the right direction?!

Last year we purchased a Makerbot Replicator. I’ve printed a ton of proppy sort of things but haven’t gotten into any model items…YET. The possibilities are literally endless!

Thanks again,



Well I can try to explain as much as I know, but it strikes me there are people here with a far more sophisticated appreciation of the software, and a more savvy grasp of terminology. The way I would explain it is as follows: on the 2D plane use your Paint Bucket tool to colour, (or texture,) to one surface. Now orbit around to the other side of the plane. If you now adjust the opacity on the Paint Bucket window to zero percent and dab that surface it will become transparent without affecting the appearance of the opposing surface. It doesn’t need to be completely transparent tho’ You might like there to be some indication of that surface by setting the opacity to 20 - 40 percent.

Funny - we haven’t printed one prop. I’ve printed heaps of model Steeldeck, some scale scenery and have recently got into scanning our stock furniture - sometimes to print; sometimes to import into SketchUp. It’s a game-changer!



Hello Pat,

I am a full time scenic designer of 20 years or so based in San Francisco. I migrated my workflow out of Vectorworks and into Sketchup about 4-5 years ago and after some initial growing pains have not looked back. As you know Vectorworks continues to be the common standard in our industry so It’s important to understand the processes of exporting and importing .DWG files effectively, and also the use of Layout for 2d output such as construction drawings. I work with theaters and TDs across North America and Europe without trouble, but I am often converting formats. I have, however, seen a steady increase in Sketchup literacy over the last two years, which is good.

As a brainstorming, design and communication tool sketchup is a fantastic platform in my opinion and clearly native 3d is not going away soon. It’s a good tool for young designers to have at their disposal, and a very efficient way to collaborate with a larger team which is essential to being a working designer. I used to spend hours describing things or redrawing by hand (yes, I’m a dinosaur), now I post a fly thru of the set updates to vimeo and invite all collaborators to view it, saves a lot of conversation.

I use some specific plugins and shortcuts in my workflow, but a truly good understanding of Sketchup is the first and most important thing. I’m happy to make contact off-line.

All the best,

Sean Riley


That’s reassuring to hear Sean. Certainly our successful recent graduate designers focus on SketchUp. I don’t know what it’s like in the US but here in London & the UK our resident “dinosaurs” could do with getting with the programme. Never mind converting formats - it’s always having to adapt (and struggle to interpret!) venues’ flat plans that I find tedious.



thanks Rory
and thanks also to the rest of the guys on this thread.
My thoughts are similar to Sean’s - although I live and work in Australia. The standard here is VectorWorks - a program which I don’t enjoy using as I find it too complex. Unfortunately SU is mainly used by Architects rather than designers (set or lighting) in the theatres here. This is also true of the corporate theatre and event world…
As most of my work involves conceptual design - I use SU and Sketchbook - moving between the two. I’m lucky that I tend to work within teams of people so I let the specialists either render the work or draw it up in CAD.


Yes Rory, I too spend a fair bit of time figuring out and building up 3d versions of houses from 2d. I often find myself building simple versions of venues from blurry .pdf and .jpg just so I can get started. Or I import a .DWG that is a mess of ungrouped lines and takes hours to clean up. Realistically I don’t think Vectorworks is going away soon, and it’s a fantastic program too, plus years of development for companion programs like lightwrite give it a lot of momentum. Really, I think sketchup shines as a brainstorming platform to experiment with ideas and a big leap forward in how designers communicate with others, which is basically what I think Eamon is saying too (Hi Eamon, nice work!). Mostly for me Sketchup has changed the way I share my ideas, and if one does not have a team of CAD elves to help draw things :wink: then Layout is the next best thing to help transform those ideas into something buildable.

I was thinking of other “tricks” I use regularly and although it’s not a plug-in but a built in component of SKup I use WALK and LOOK AROUND quite a bit. A lot of my work is in non-traditional immersive environments and wacky installations and the ability to set an eye height and then actually move around naturally inside a model allows me to check sightlines and “feel” the experience in a way that just navigating with the camera does not. I also use geolocation on outdoor venues to better understand the roll the sun will play at a given place and time. As for plug ins, I think Solid Inspector and FredoScale are essential, I love the ability in FredoScale to flatten anything into a Z dimension of 0.



Hello Pat
Stage designer here as well for quite a bit. Been on the road for many years and now sit on the same chairs day after day. I use sketchup for about 6 years. I’m based in Montreal and my customer productions are challenging me constantly on how heavy a file can become. I’m doing gigantic venue, stage and site and dupplicating component by hundred is not rare. I need to have a method, wich is keeping certain element in multi mode: Lorez, HiRez and 2D. Customer ask you very often to create technical 2D drawing and full rendering from the same model. You can then switch layer according to what you need. Per example, we do skype meeting in full VR, (yes, we there now!) in this case, you want Lorez for everything, so you can fluidely walk through the model. (Hi rez is fun, but too demanding for web connection)

With today advanced automation system, customers ask me to have movement in my model. I worked on the design of an Imagine Dragons tour where many element on stage was in movement. I then used the free plugin Keyframe animation wich become a must.

For Video Projection, you can use SIMPROJ to simulate projection beam and create projection spec documents. A must for the video department who try to know what is the best projo for the gig, or the image creator team who need boundery to start creating image. (Projecting on screen now is boring, we want to project on everything else!)

To do quick render, I use Twilight 2. I have a library of light fixtures with a bulb installed for all of them, so when I insert them in my drawing, I can do a quick render as all my light are already in place. All my fixtures (or almost) are dynamic component. So per example, a moving light have dynamic Yaw and Tilt. Then the light beam fallow those movement. I also have option of degrees (in a ETC Source4) I can then built a full set in a few hours. I ran into problems many times with dynamic light fixture though. When the model is very heavy, the DC doesn’t works well. It’s like DC has not been created for that kind of purpose. In a light design of today Rock’nRoll stage, you easily reach over 100 fixtures in most production. I didn’t quote a forum for that problem because I’m pretty sure there is no fix. And moving the yaw manually is not that hard to do. I do the change in a outside drawing then insert back the component with the right config.

Anyway, if you need more info, you can contact me off forum. My customer are on the fine edge of worldwide technologie and I am very demanding with Sketchup and its features… But next to VW, Acad, SW, 3Dmax and Wysiwyg… Sketchup is far more fun to drive.