How to create architectural VR walkthroughs with online tools, Pt. 1: Sketchfab

Aug 5, 2020 | Panoramas, Rendering Tips

Looking to create a VR walkthrough of your design? In this video tutorial, we show how to easily and quickly create a VR walkthrough using SketchUp and Sketchfab.

Virtual Reality (VR) has a ton of potential when it comes to communicating architecture and conveying the beauty of your designs in an immersive, jaw-dropping format.

Yet, for many architects, creating a VR walkthrough of their design remains slightly out of reach. It can require expensive gear, complicated software and perhaps a few days of testing before getting a decent result.

Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the case, as there are many free (or very cheap) and easy-to-use solutions available.

In the video above, we show an easy, step-by-step method to create a VR walkthrough of a residential home design using SketchUp, Lumion and Sketchfab, a 3D model sharing website. With the addition of a VR headset, you can immerse yourself and others into the center of your design and heighten the feeling of space and dimension.

Check out the video tutorial to learn how to apply these VR techniques to your own projects, and make sure to save this blog post for future reference, as it breaks down the steps into an easy-to-follow, instructional guide. You can also find time markings so that you can connect each step to the visuals provided in the video.

But first…a little background about the tutorial.

Lumion has no commercial or business relationship with any of the tools or companies covered in this tutorial and the next. We simply spotted them on the market and felt that they were useful solutions that some of our customers would really appreciate.

We felt it would be valuable to explain how Lumion and SketchUp users can easily add these free tools to their workflows, tools that can be especially useful when physically getting to clients is difficult or not possible.

How to create a VR walkthrough with SketchUp, Sketchfab and Lumion

Lumion makes it easy to capture the vision you have of your architectural designs and show them as beautiful, high-quality images and videos. Additionally, Lumion enables architects to easily turn their rendering projects into 360 panoramas that you can use for a multitude of purposes.

For instance, by directly uploading your 360 panoramas to MyLumion, you can instantly share an interactive presentation of your project online, letting clients conveniently click around and explore the design from a first-person POV. You can see an example of this below:

You can also render 360 panoramas for viewing on VR headsets. Typically, these 360-degree images are more than enough for design collaboration meetings, client presentations and more. However, you can’t seamlessly walk from room to room (Lumion only allows you to jump from one 360-degree photo bubble to another).

If you want to have the option to freely walk through your design, you can use a combination of SketchUp (or several other CAD programs), Sketchfab and Lumion.

If you would like, you can access the 3D model used in this tutorial here.

Let’s begin!

Step 1: Upload your CAD model into Sketchfab (3:16)

a. From your CAD software, export your model as an .FBX file.

b. Zip the file along with its textures.

c. Upload the zipped file into Sketchfab.

Step 2: Make preliminary adjustments to your model in the Sketchfab 3D editor (3:50)

a. Make windows and glass surfaces transparent. To do this, locate the ‘Materials’ tab, click on any window, and move the ‘Opacity’ slider.

b. Switch to a first-person navigation in Sketchfab: Go to ‘Settings’, ‘Navigation’, and then ‘First Person’. You can also view your model with ‘Orbit’ navigation.

c. Adjust the sunlight by going to the ‘Lighting’ tab and locating ‘Environment’. Choose a lighting scene that works for your project; in this tutorial, we used the ‘Kirby Cove’ environmental lighting. Adjust the ‘Orientation’, ‘Brightness’, and ‘Shadow’ sliders to get the best result.

d. Add and adjust the ‘Ambient Occlusion’ (SSAO) in the ‘Post Processing Filters’ tab.

e. Save your position and viewing angle by clicking on ‘Annotations’ and then double-clicking anywhere on the screen.

f. Scale the model and set an initial starting point under the ‘AR/VR’ tab.

g. Move the person inside the house and scale that person to 39.

h. Save your settings to publish, and then hit ‘Exit’ to inspect your model in the browser.

Step 3: Test the model in your VR headset (5:50)

a. Open Sketchfab in your VR headset’s browser.

b. Log into your account and go to your model overview. Bookmark the model to easily access it later.

c. Open your model and click on the ‘View in VR’ icon on the bottom of the screen.

d. Move around by pointing your VR handset and clicking the trigger button, or by walking around in the boundary you created.

Step 4: Add materials and furniture in SketchUp (6:52)

a. You can download premade seating arrangements from the SketchUp Warehouse or the Podium Browser, or add models from your preferred source.

b. When adding models in SketchUp, for example, make sure to hide the smaller elements to improve the project’s performance in VR.

c. Add materials to all of the surfaces across your project.

d. Create logical groups in the SketchUp Outliner.

e. Add a billboard with a photo of a person that’s about as tall as you. This helps set up the correct eye level in VR.

f. Export the model again, and then zip the model along with its textures.

g. Upload the zipped file to Sketchfab.

Step 5: Make a second round of adjustments (7:55)

a. Repeat Step 2.

b. Show the background image by going to ‘Background’ and unticking ‘Ambient Environment’.

c. Set the ‘Blur’ to 0.

d. Review the model again in your VR headset

Step 6: Improve the lighting for VR with lightmapping (8:05)

a. To create lightmaps, which capture the lighting and shadowing on all surfaces, download the LightUp plugin for SketchUp.

b. In SketchUp, load the original model with no materials or furniture.

c. Install the LightUp plugin through the SketchUp Extension Manager.

d. Open LightUp and click on the ‘Preferences’ and ‘Capture’ icons.

e. Keep the default settings and click ‘Go.’

f. Set the sun position as you’ve always done in SketchUp under the ‘Shadows’ tab.

g. Bake the lightmap into the model by going to the ‘Capture’ dialogue box in LightUp.

h. Scroll down to the box titled ‘Export Lighting’ and only tick ‘Swap Y & Z’ and ‘Single Layer’.

i. Click on ‘Model’ and save to a separate folder.

j. Locate the separate folder and inspect the texture files you saved there.

k. Zip all of the files together and upload the zipped file to Sketchfab.

l. Load the model into Sketchfab’s 3D editor.

Step 7: Improve the 3D model for better detail and quality (10:30)

a. Go back to the LightUp plugin in SketchUp and set the ‘Resolution’ to 10 centimeters.

b. Untick ‘Render both sides’, ‘Incremental Render’, and the ‘Realtime’ sun.

c. Set the lighting distance to 3 meters.

d. Render and export again.

e. Inspect the lightmap textures (they should have a bigger file size).

f. Zip everything together and upload to Sketchfab again.

g. If you have two sources of light in Sketchfab, then navigate to the first tab in the 3D editor and set ‘Shading’ to ‘Shadeless.’

Step 8: Process the version of the house with materials and furniture (11:52)

a. In the LightUp plugin, set the resolution to 1 centimeter to capture the finer details of your design.

b. Also, tick the ‘Ignore Cache’ button in LightUp or delete the cache just to be sure.

c. Render the model again.

d. If something went wrong, try deleting the LightUp cache once again. This usually works.

e. Inspect the lightmaps again. Many should be at 2K x 2K resolution.

f. Zip everything and upload to Sketchfab again.

g. Walk through the model and, if the building is too dark, try increasing the brightness of the lightmap textures in Photoshop.

Step 9: Change the background image with Lumion (13:08)

a. Take a 360-degree photograph of the design’s real-life location, or use Lumion to create a 360-degree panorama image.

b. If the 360-degree image was saved as a JPEG file, save the image with an .HDR or an .EXR extension. You can do this in Photoshop.

c. In the Sketchfab editor, go to the ‘Light’ tab and locate the ‘Environment’ section. You can import the HDR file there.

d. Walk through the model to experience the space, dimension and general feeling of your CAD design.

Step through the front door of your design with VR for architects

VR carries a ton of potential for architects, designers and their clients. With Lumion’s 360 Panorama feature, you can easily and quickly create beautiful, static photo bubbles that highlight detail and dimension, all while giving your audiences a medium that engages and excites.

Nevertheless, when you want to go beyond these static viewpoints and heighten the sensation of immersion, this tutorial shows you how with cheap tools and an easy-to-adopt workflow.

This tutorial focused on creating a VR walkthrough of a smaller residential home. Next week, we will create a VR walkthrough of more detailed CAD projects using Mozilla Hubs, allowing multiple people to access the VR project simultaneously. 

Don’t miss it!