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Mark Krynsky on Flickr

SketchUp is a free and fun program for 3D modeling. You can use SketchUp to design just about anything, from furniture to a dream bedroom to an entire city.

The free, web-based version of SketchUp can be found online.

The dead of winter – what better time is there to model a snowman?

This project consists of two parts: creating the three spheres for the snowman’s body, then finding objects to use for decoration.

When you start modeling in SketchUp, you start in this view, with Helen standing on the ground. She isn’t needed in this model, so press E for the Eraser, and click on any of Helen’s edges.

Press C for the Circle tool, click the origin (where the three axes meet) to place the center, and draw a circle of any size on the “ground.”

We need one more circle. While still in the Circle tool, tap (don’t hold) the Left or Right arrow, which orients the circle to be vertical. For this circle, place its center at the origin as before, and make this circle smaller than the one on the ground.

We’ll use these two circles to make the first snowball sphere. Press the Spacebar for the Select tool, and click the larger circle to select it. You can select either the circle’s edges or the circle face.

Then open the Push/Pull flyout toolbar and click the Follow Me icon.

Click the smaller, vertical circle.

Follow Me spins one circle around the other, producing a sphere. Use the Eraser to remove the larger circle.

This sphere should be white, which is the color inside the sphere. So right-click on the sphere and choose Reverse Faces. Now the gray face is inside, and white faces outward. Keep the sphere selected.

Snowballs used to make snowmen aren’t usually perfectly round; they’re more likely to be squashed down a bit. So press the S key for the Scale tool, and click and drag the top green box (called a “drag handle”) down a bit, to flatten the sphere.

Now the sphere needs to be made into a group, so that it won’t interfere with the other objects that will be touching it. Press the Spacebar for the Select tool, and triple-click (click three times fast) on the sphere. This selects the sphere’s face and all of its hidden edges. Then right-click on any part of the sphere and choose Make Group. Keep the group selected.

The middle part of the snowman will be a smaller copy of this sphere. Press M for the Move tool, and tap (don’t press) the Ctrl key (PC) or Option key (Mac). To make the copy, click anywhere in blank space to start, then move the mouse straight up – make sure you see “On Blue Axis.” Click again to end when there is some overlap between the two spheres. Keep the copied sphere selected.

To shrink this sphere, press S again for Scale. This time we want to drag one of the top corner drag handles, while keeping the Ctrl or Option key pressed. This keeps the scaling centered.

(This last step would be much different if the spheres were not groups – they two spheres would stick to each other and scaling the top sphere would change the bottom one. Give it a try to see what this means.)

Repeat the last few steps for the third snowball (the head): copy the newer sphere straight up, and use Scale with the Ctrl / Option key to make the top sphere a bit smaller.

Now that the body is finished, we can find objects to decorate the snowman. Of course you could model anything you want from scratch, but there are millions of models others have made and uploaded to SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse. To find these, click the Components icon on the right side of the SketchUp screen. At the top of the Components window is a search field, where you can enter, for example, “eyeballs.”

When you see a model on the list that you like, click it. This will download the object, attach it to your cursor, and you can “drop” it wherever you click in the model.

The problem with 3D Warehouse models is that while sometimes they’re perfect, often they’re way too big or too small, or have extra objects you don’t need. In this example, the eyeball I chose is WAY bigger than the snowman itself.

As we’ve seen, the Scale tool is what’s needed to make a model the right size. But then the trick is moving the object into place. The easiest way to do this correctly is to move an object in several steps, each time going in one of the axis directions, and always clicking in blank space.

For example, in this head-on view, I can move the eyeball left or right, always sticking to the green direction, to bring it close to the head.

Then I would change to a side view, and move the eyeball in the red direction, to the front of the head.

Remember the blue direction as well, and after a few careful moves in a few different views, the eyeball will land where it needs to go.

To copy the eyeball, use the Move tool with the Ctrl / Option key, and again, be sure to use an axis direction and click only in blank space.

In many cases, a model you find in the 3D Warehouse will need to be turned. For example, this carrot (for the nose) is facing the wrong way:

Right after a model is brought in from the 3D Warehouse, the Move tool is automatically active. And not only can you move objects with this tool, but you can also rotate. When you move your cursor to the top of an object that’s facing the wrong way, and hover over one of the red “plus” signs, the protractor appears and you can click and spin.

Once facing the right way, move the carrot into place.

After bringing in a top hat, it can be rotated side-to-side when the cursor is placed along the front. This is how to give the hat a little tilt.

Once tilted, move in red, green, and blue directions to place it just right, a bit to the side of the head.

If you want buttons down the front, each button will need to be rotated to be parallel to the curve of each snowball.

In this example, in addition to eyes, nose, hat, and buttons, I found twigs for the arms, as well as a bow tie. Each of these objects needed to be scaled down to size, and moved into place using several different views.

Learn More

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Making a snowman army


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