Making a medieval town and castle in Sketchup (part IV)

After a big diet, my Sketchup file went from 14+ megs to a mere 3.2 megs (see episode III). It allowed me to work much, much faster on my old and trusty PowerMac G5 Quad. So I managed to get most of the castle done. Pretty much everything is in place by now. I might come back to certain parts later on but for now, it’s time to concentrate on the rest of the model: the town and the terrain around the castle.

After selecting all the outside geometry of the castle’s base, I duplicate it and make it a surface to make sure all segments of the geometry are well connected.

Next step: after raising the whole model 10 meters from the ground (the castle is hidden to ease the manipulation of the base), I pull the base 10 meters down to the ground with a bevel effect (not too wide) to create the foundations of the castle. This stage needs a lot of cleanup work in the geometry because many of the angles of the base will create a bevel that overlaps and messes up the whole geometry.

Once the base is ready, I proceeded to create the ground plane. For that I used the built in terrain tool of Sketchup. I create a large plane that covers the entire map that is guiding me to model the terrain as well as the town. The resolution of the mesh is quite loose (not too many divisions in the ground plane) as I don’t want to overload the software with unnecessary high level of detail everywhere. The specific places that need more detail will be broken down in tighter mesh as I go about modeling them.

Then comes the time to raise and lower parts of the ground to create the hills and the river. The drawing scan serves as a guide to create the river while the 10 meters high castle’s base give me a good guide for the general elevation of the terrain. On the town side, I decide to build some sort of moat that will separate the castle from the town and I now use the Add Detail tool to get a smoother and more precise contour for the terrain.

Once I’m done with the overall shape of the terrain, I turn it invisible to start working on the town structures. Using the scanned map as a guide, I draw the general shape of the buildings and simply pull them up. Then, to simplify the work I copy some of the shapes to edit in a separate file (without any of the other structures) to be then imported back into the main file once the model will be finished.

Some of the houses are more or less finished to a certain degree of detail, but a lot remains to be done. Also, all the building will need to be raised from the ground plane to accommodate the new terrain height.

Here a view of the castle with the terrain and the river (a simple blue plane at default ground level). Part of the inclined foundations are visible of the frontmost tower and a few other places not visible here.

Here is a view of the entire model with the moat separating the castle from the town.

Again, because of the curved wall used to protect the outside access to the castle’s gate, I have to make use of guides coming out of the centre of the circle formed by the curved wall. To avoid calculating complex angle maths to achieve the desired spacing of the battlements, I simply make a parallel copy the first guide with a distance equal to the required distance between two battlements, then pull a new guide from the centre of the circle up to the intersection of that guide and the outside wall. I then delete the parallel guide and repeat the step but this time using the required length for the battlement and starting from the guide I just created. I can then select the three resulting guides (two plus the starting one) and simply rotate/duplicate as many times I need to cover the wall portion. This gives me the guides for each merlon of the parapet.

The best practice before raising any merlon is to first raise the whole parapet to appropriate level and only then raise the merlons or you will end up with tons of unnecessary geometry segments that you will either keep because you are just a lazy chap or will have to painstakingly and painfully remove one by one if you are serious about your work.

After setting all the structures to an appropriate level in regard to the terrain height, I could start building the town walls and towers. The gate-towers where actually modeled in a separate file and then imported into the main model for the sake of clarity and speed. I found it was very efficient to proceed that way as long as the scale and the starting geometry are rigorously planned and respected to accommodate existing geometry and integrate properly in the model. No doubt I’m going to work this way more often in the future.

An very important thing to keep in mind while modeling, for that matter medieval architecture and specifically military architecture, is the scale. Scale is probably the single most defining factor between fantasist would-be amateurs and the real McCoy or anything in that direction. Most people have no clue whatsoever (believe me) regarding the scale and proportions of medieval buildings and even less so any idea of the size of any particular portion of those building. The most misrepresented feature in the medieval military structures are probably the battlements, simply because being on top of the buildings, most of them are gone for good even if something remains of the original building, thus we have relatively few opportunities to see those in real life, not to mention that you’d have to live in a part of the world where those could been seen.

So, basically, without good references, people get the wrong picture. What can I say, research, research, research. Searching for good references is probably already half of the job done. But it really do take time, a lot of it.

As you can see, the gate-houses are quite big compare to the other towers. That’s because a gate is the weakest point in a fortification, so to alleviate that factor, the towers flanking the gates receive extra attention. However, because they are already fairly protected by several lines of defenses, the castle’s gate doesn’t need to be as strong as the very exposed town gates. Remember that everything has a cost and no construction would be made unnecessarily big and costly.

Also, all walls don’t have the same height. The area they protect are not exposed the same way and they could have been built at different time, some parts could be older and less fortified than others. All these factors, if well thought and properly applied, make your model look more realistic and convincing.

A few additional merlons down the pipe and here we are, a view of the town and castle from across the river. On this particular shot, I used photoshop to create a composite with a Dof (depth of field) that produce this out of focus effect. To create the Dof file, I used Sketchup fog with a black fog and white model, then inverted the resulting file (export 2d) and pasted it as a new selection layer. Then applied the lens blur effect filter to the original file with the new selection layer assign as the Dof.

Just in case you wonder, here is the model in x-ray for you to see the complete set.

That’s all for today, more to come as I will be progressing.

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