su_character_art.jpg © 2007 . All rights reserved.

SketchUp Character Building

I’ve been getting a fair amount of questions regarding how I build my character models in SketchUp (SU). I’ve written some things to those individuals in the past, but I thought a blog post is due regarding this subject.

This isn’t a tutorial but a description of the process. If you keep an eye on the techniques I believe you’ll be able to follow along.

This write up is for the main body and limbs for a character. Heads are a different beast (at least how I build them) and require a different set of instructions.

So here’s how to make a character body:

  • I usually draw sketches on paper to figure out the major details regarding the character. For me this is an important step, because this work forms the building blocks of who the character is and what they represent. [see image below]


  • After I’m happy with the design, I work up some front and side view drawings of the character, then scan those drawings and import them into SU.
  • In SU I’ll scale the drawings so the body sizes match, and arrange them so that I see the front image in the front view in SU and the side view in the side view. [ see image below]


  • Now I’m ready to start building. There are 3 elements you will concentrate on, the legs, arms and torso. These elements are built much in the same way.
  • First make a circle that is matches the circumference of the element you’re going to build, i.e. the leg. Using the push pull tool in SU create a cylinder. To create the multiple sections I use click on the CTRL button to add sections instead of just continuing on the extrusion. Now the important part of this step is to create sections where you are going to add detail later. This includes the ankle, calf, knee, thigh and hip. Any place you know you’re going build out and detail later. In the video below, you will see that I added sections so I can make the thigh pockets as seen in the sketch. [see video below]

  • After the section tube is finished, using the rotate tool, rotate the tube, to match the angle of the leg (you can also just rotate the image to match the angle of he tube which would make it easier to select the sections – but I like to see the leg at its most natural pose). Line up the tube to match the front and side view drawings.
  • From here work your way up each section on the tube using the scale tool to size each section to match the width of of the sketch, effectively tracing the image. Do this for each section scaling them to match the font view and the view.
  • Repeat steps 7-10 for each element (legs, arms, and torso).
  • After you finished each element you should have something like this. [see image below]


  • From here, using the move tool, manipulate vertexes and poly lines shaping out the major details (muscle groups, clothing details, etc). Because the tube was originally created with the circle tool, you must right click on the curve and select “explode curve”. [see video below]

  • This is what that looks like. [see images below]


  • From here you’re just tweaking the verts until you get what you want.


    Share this!
    • Digg
    • Facebook
    • Google Bookmarks
    • Twitter
    • email
    • LinkedIn
    • Tumblr


    1. MediaJolt

      Sweet – more, please!!

    2. Mario

      Dude, thanx for posting this, you are an inspiration!

    3. Eddy

      Fabulous ! This must take you ages to make !

    4. monsterzero

      Nope. The process is pretty fast as long as you know what you’re modeling.

      In fact from stage 4-12 could be easily done in less than 2 hours. Depending on the detail I can do a character (after concept art) in about 25 hours or less.

    5. Jomik

      Hi! Impressive work! Simply stunning.
      May I ask why you use sketchup, instead of for example Maya, LightWave, 3DsMax or some other 3D package?

      Keep rocking!

    6. monsterzero


      Good question. I don’t have an easy answer for that. I think I just like the modeling experience in SU more than the others – the work-flow is so zen like for me.

    7. GDbadass

      I have just begun to work with this program as part of my degree in game design. I was wondering how long it took you to learn the ins and outs of the program to model in that amount of time with that degree of skill. i also find this package to be very good for workflo over max, maya, etc. Great model.

    8. nice work. That meat hod has spread into the 3D warehouse. I’ve been using it for a while now but the detail that you put into your 3D models is amazing. Have you considered posting on the 3D warehouse?

    9. john s-r

      very cool work, and the explanation of how you do it is getting me thinking about seriously having a go, well done and thank you,

    10. Couple questions if you don’t mind.

      1) How do you move a vertex in SU? I didn’t know such a thing was possible but it appears in your video you do it all the time;

      2) How do you keep from having the auto-snap inference mode from interfering from your moving vertexes?

      Can you please also email me your response? Thanks a bunch! What a wonderful site you have here!

    11. monsterzero

      Wow, I missed answering some comments. Sorry.

      GDBadass – It took me about 10 hours to really get the rolling on the app. It’s so damn easy. In fact it’s so easy there’s no real way to quantify it. It took me much longer to really start building things in Maya.

      Olay – You probably won’t see any of my stuff on 3D warehouse. I consider most my work proprietary.

      john s-r – Thanks! You should have a go!

      Chipp –
      1) With the move tool you just over over the vertex, click and move.

      2) Sometimes you just have to angle your view to avoid inference, or just hide extra geometry. Honestly, I don’t think about it much. Inference to areas that I don’t want to does happen, but it’s usually a quick orbit to change the problem.

    12. xrok1

      i think the question on moving vertices is, when do you explode the curves, because if you try to move the points at an early stage the whole loop moves.

    13. Chuck

      Dude thank you ive been trying to find out how to do this for months now and this is probly the most helpful post ive ever seen.

    14. I’m a newbie to sketchup, but have used other 3d apps for years, and one of the things that I miss is the ability to see multiple views at once, which for this kind of modeling is pretty convenient.

      After watching your vids (especially on the legs) it seemed like you had to move the model to get at the correct handles to tweak the rib/circle. I wonder if making the model in front of the drawings a component and having a duplicate of the component at an angle where you can get at all the handles might be almost like have additional views. That is, you use the duplicate to tweak and the original component to view.
      Having read that you use Maya, the idea probably already occurred to you, but I was just wondering

    15. monsterzero

      I actually don’t move the model. You probably mean orbit the model or change my view of the model. Yes, I do that a lot.

      Generally, I like the single view. In fact I’m usually in the single pane view in Maya most of the time, and only switch views when I need to align items to other objects. I use the component method you mention when I want to edit an off axis component that I don’t want to move out of place.

    16. monsterzero

      I must have missed the question. I explode the curve after I get the general size in at least two views (front, right etc). That’s when I start tweaking the details of the shape.

    17. magusat999

      I’d like to know how you model the heads in Sketchup – I’m trying to work it out on my on (I can’t find tutorials) and thus far it has been very painful.

    18. monsterzero

      You might want to check out They have some handy tutorials on how to model organic shapes.

    19. A great tutorial to come back to every now & then.. thanks for your help and inspiration.

      Coming from Form-Z, I’m finding my fascination with SketchUp is frustrated by some of it’s weaker points but I want to stay with it and there are not enough helpful sites like yours around.

      Would it be possible, in the near future, for you to share some of your hardware-building tips & techniques? Your ‘Fule & Fire’ vehicles, for instance, are very cool.


    20. monsterzero

      Andrew, have you tried out There are some amazing guys on there and great tutorials and tips.

    21. very nice tutorial, anyway, after you done with it, do you rig it on sketchup or you export to other 3d program to rig? cause you modeled every part, partially.
      and then, can you post the face modelling?? thx before

    22. Jan

      Your utube posts was a huge inspiration on organic modelling, and taking the time to answering a couple of q’s from others, was all that I needed to really get going. Bravo mate.

    23. KnightChatX

      Something that would speeed up this process considerably would be to use a pre-existing charactor model such as a charactor generated in poser, do the basic customizations in Poser and then export the model parts and modify them as neccessary, saves alot of headaches in the longrun and time.

      Then you can focus on things such as charactor object details like dynamic clothing which will be a challenge to itself to model, you can also use the same method for that though, export the clothing for appropriate model etc…

      Then take it from there.

    24. KnightChatX

      If you do that then you can import/export data to and from sketchup to do different things.

      Maybe create content like clothing in Sketchup and import it into poser and use it for dynamic cloth.

      Or import a shirt from Poser to Sketchup and work on new shirt design, or import model head and work on a helmet etc… then export back to poser and animate the charactor there, then export individual animation frames back to Sketchup, then use Podium plugin to render textures at different angles, and then use texture projection to bake/paint the projected textures back onto the mesh for a realistic look and feel to the 3D geometry in Sketchup.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.
    Required fields are marked:*


    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>