Modeling the

Palace of Versailles


n a series of three building campaigns spanning 20 
years, Louis XIV—France’s fabled Sun King—directed 
the transformation of a former hunting lodge into 

one of the largest and best-known royal palaces in the 
world: the Palace of Versailles. Located just a few kilome-
ters outside of Paris, Versailles became the center of royal 
prestige and power when Louis XIV moved his court from 
Paris to Versailles in 1682. The palace remained the seat 
of the French monarchy for more than a century—until 
1789, when King Louis XVI was forced to return to Paris 
by the French Revolution. 

Even today, the Palace of Versailles enjoys international 
recognition as an important historical monument; it 
was inscribed in 1979 by UNESCO as a World Heritage 
Site and is a major tourist attraction. The palace even 
continues to serve political functions; its famous Hall 
of Mirrors provides an opulent venue in which to host 
visiting heads of state in style.

Versailles in 3D: Louis would have approved 
To capitalize on the fame of the palace, Google France 
initiated a project in 2011 to create a 3D model of 
Versailles for use in animated films and Google Earth. 
The project was implemented in cooperation with the 
Versailles marketing team and other organizations, 
particularly Aloest Productions, which acted as coordi-
nator and project leader for the films. In total, about 100 
people from several organizations were involved. 

Because of its broad capabilities and ease of use, SketchUp 
was selected as the 3D modeling tool. But there was a 
challenge: Nobody involved in the project had ever used 
it before. So Bertier Luyt, a French 3D-modeling expert, 
was engaged as a SketchUp consultant.

Luyt’s task was substantial. With its extensive gardens 
and additional chateaux, the Palace of Versailles is one 
of the largest palace complexes in Europe, covering 
an area of 8 sq km (3 sq mi). The main building alone 
has more than 700 rooms, 67 staircases, 325 fireplaces, 
2,153 windows and a 570-m (1,870-ft)–wide garden 
façade. In addition, the gardens include 607 fountains 
and waterfalls, five grottos, 250,000 trees and more 
than 300 statues.

Collecting the Data for Modeling
Luyt’s primary job was to act as consultant and contact 
person for the various teams on site. Over a span of six 
months, he helped collect the best exterior and interior 
images for subsequent modeling in SketchUp, with video 
and photographs of the palace, park chateaux and gar-
dens taken from multiple perspectives. In creating the 
model, as many elements as possible had to be textured 
to achieve a highly realistic effect. Large numbers of 
detailed photos and film sequences were created for 
the project; the team even used a captive balloon to 
take bird’s-eye-view photographs of the land and roof