Dynamic Components in SketchUp

By Aidan Chopra

Once upon a time, the smartest thing a component could do was cut its own hole in a surface. “Wow!” all SketchUp aficionados thought, “Components are geniuses!” And so they were — until version 7 came along. With that release, the folks on the SketchUp team introduced an entirely new dimension to modeling: Dynamic Components are components with special powers.

Until version 7, SketchUp components were basically dumb. If you wanted to make a staircase longer, you had to make copies of the steps and place them in the right spot. If you needed to change the color of a car, you had to dig out the Paint Bucket and dive in to the geometry.

The problem was that components didn’t know what they were supposed to represent; they were just groupings of faces and edges in the shape of an object.

Dynamic Components (DCs) are models that have an idea of what they are; they know what to do when you interact with them.

Here’s what you need to know about Dynamic Components:

  • DCs are just like regular components but with extra information added. That extra information makes them easier to deal with than other components because they know how they’re supposed to behave when you need to use them. More on that later.

  • They can do all sorts of things. Describing what DCs do is tricky because they’re all different. The simple (but totally unsatisfying) answer is that they do what they’ve been programmed to do.

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    • A dynamic door component may be set up to swing open when you click it with the Interact tool.

    • The same dynamic door may also be configured into different sizes, styles, and finishes by using simple drop-down lists in the Component Options dialog box.

    • A dynamic chair may be scaled into a sofa but without stretching the arms — it would also add cushions as you make it longer.

    • A dynamic stair component may automatically add or remove steps as you use the Scale tool to make it taller or shorter.

    • Sophie (the little person who appears by default when you start a new SketchUp file) is also dynamic: Click her shirt with the Interact tool to cycle through various colors. You can replace Sophie with another character, too, and his or her shirt also changes color.

  • Anyone can use DCs. Both the free and Pro versions of SketchUp can read and use Dynamic Components. The SketchUp team invented them (at least partially) to make SketchUp easier for new modelers to pick up.

  • You need Pro to make your own DCs. If you need to build your own Dynamic Components (or modify ones that other folks have made), you need a copy of SketchUp Pro.

  • DCs are free. People are adding new DCs to the 3D Warehouse every day. As you can imagine, companies that make things like furniture and building products (windows, kitchen cabinets, and flooring) are really excited about the possibilities that DCs offer.

    Many of them are in the process of producing DCs of everything in their catalogues and posting them to the 3D Warehouse. That’s good news for you; soon you can download and use a configurable model of almost anything you need.

  • They have a special icon. When you download SketchUp, you find a few sample DCs in the Components dialog box. They’re the ones with the little green dynamic icon next to them (that looks kind of like an arrow).