DD terrain map married to SKETCHUP for architectural planning?

Hey guys, I’m pretty new to this and drowning currently. I’m currently on a mission to understand just how much I DONT know.

This is what I’m up against:
I’ve got a lot of connections in real estate and development. I’ve got someone asking me through if I could use DD as a way to help them build fly-through 3d render models for use in planning and pitching to clients.

I THINK this sounds doable, but I’m trying to figure out what the workflow would look like, and I’d appreciate it if someone could just give me a road map t explore along.

Something like:
Build DTM model of terrain with Drone deploy > export as OBJ file > convert to XYZ with Blender > Import into Sketchup > use that imported terrain > Either manually craft 3D model of building inside Sketchup or just OVERLAY precrafted model onto the terrain base.

Again, I have NO idea about how this works or what the workflow would be (I’m a videographer / editor by trade).

THis is all new territory and I’d just appreciate it if someone could tell me where to start learning, or where I’m going to run into snag.



You can use Meshlab to import the OBJ file and convert it to a DAE or STL.

Thanks Michael. So does that overall sound like a sensible plan? It’s looking like I’ll have to upgrade to a pro plan and then pay $20 a pop to create those DTM files to get JUST the slope of the land.

As far as I can tell, the program exports contours as SHP files or Autocad DXF files. ( recent discovery). And then I think I’d have to pay for Sketchup pro to be able to import those files into Sketchup.

Are contours what I need you think? Or any resources you can point at would be great.

1 Like

I think you are on the right track with you perception of the workflow. So you are planning to use the DroneDeploy DTM app? Do you have a paid DD account?You might chat with @SolarBarn about an ability to do that in Rhino. If that works it will get you a long way for little. Without the proper software I don’t think the DXF contours are going to do to much for you unless you just want to accentuate the surface. Mind that the contours are DSM…

Thanks Michael. Appreciate all insights.
Currently though, no. I do not have a DD account. I’m 100% brand new in all of this.

I’m a videographer and real estate photog guy just setting foot in repurposing my equipment into this new area. So any money saving tips you can offer about techniques, software, or potential pitfalls is invaluable.

Currently I’m just stumbling around, probably about to pave a path forward by just throwing money at everything if no one illuminates better alternatives. Haha.

1 Like

Regarding contours, I have no idea what they do for me.

Zero concept about what the bare minimum I need to build a useful map or 3d model is.

I can run the app and navigate the 3D models it makes. And I’ve worked with some modeling software before for motion graphics.

But in this realm currently, the word “contour” just translates to “3d surface”. If it’s an embellishment that’s potentially nonnecesaary, I probably don’t want it.

Right now, I’d like to just figure out my workflow so I can build some proof of concepts and then hopefully get clients to pay the bill for any flashier stuff I might need to improve product.

1 Like

A point cloud is generated from the common points or as we call them “tie points” that the DroneDeploy system finds when processing. It gets its name because it literally looks like a cloud of individual 3D points. These 3D points are triangulated to make a mesh. This is the most accurate form of the model that you’re going to get. Contours are basically the crudest representation of those elevation values with each line representing a specific elevation whether you choose a one, two or five foot resolution. It is sometimes useful for presentation to have the contour lines draped across the surface to provide a better idea of the shape and movement of the surface if you don’t have the definition of textures.

You have to have a paid account to download 3D content. Also the free Explorer plan is very low and resolution compared to the paid plans, but maybe good enough for your purposes as long as your subject properties are less than 10 acres. The most popular account is probably the business plan and from there up not only allow you to download the OBJ model, but the native Point Cloud which is what I use to generate all of my data. I create my DTM from this point cloud in a piece of software called Carlson Precision 3D. This probably isn’t an option for you at this point, but I wanted to give you a general idea of my workflow. All that said, if you are going to do this for business and making 3D surfaces you’re going to need at least the Pro Plan. Like I said previously I bet @SolarBarn can probably give you some pretty good experience on working with the OBJ.

I would suggest signing up for the free trial of the Pro Plan and I would be happy to walk you through a project to see if it meets your needs. Message me any time.

1 Like

I’ve exported an .obj file and run animations over it. You can add buildings with no problem. .obj format is common amongst 3D graphics programs, except Sketchup for some reason, but you can convert it in Meshlab or Blender, both free.

1 Like


Thanks for taking the time to share all of that insight. I think I will definetly be in contact shortly. I think having someone just walk me through the basic flow once would save me a huge amount of time getting lost down some wrong path or rabbit hole.

Just to understand:

  1. is there a reason you’re exporting your point cloud to Carlson to build your DTM? I’m seeing that DD gives the option of a plugin (with pro subscription) that will output DTMs for a $20 per map. (I’m sure there’s a reason, but would the DD plugin be a good option for me if Carlson is inaccessible?)

  2. Before I dig too deeply, can this drone software produce a reliable map if being flown over pine forested areas? My currently work area is largely lake country. Residential real estate in lake country with reasonably steep grades sloping down towards water. Is this an ill fated expedition?

Thanks again Mike, I’ll stop asking random questions and just drop you a message in a bit.

1 Like

Hey Gary,

Thanks for that bit of info. I’m slowly piecing this together. As someone new to this realm, what’s the relative wins / losses of exporting an OBJ files from drone deploy, as opposed to a point cloud?

I’m seeing that DD pro will give me OBJ but I would have to upgrade to DD business for point cloud.

Am I missing out on anything by selecting one or the other?

1 Like
  1. We use Carlson Civil for our field engineering and 3d modeling so adding Precision 3D Topo was a natural integration. It is purpose built for editing point clouds and using it in conjunction with other CAD and BIM software. You most likely won’t have this need so the OBJ should be good.
  2. This is one of the biggest reasons P3D Topo works. I can isolate ground points anywhere there is an opening in the canopy and stitch the mesh across. I can also supplement with traditional survey points if needed. I do not know of any other software package that can do this. Maybe Autodesk Civil3D and Recap, but they are not survey friendly.