By Michael Burns | on May 23, 2007
Company: Google SketchUp
Pros: PhotoMatch, useful display styles with additional editing and mixing capabilities. Extensive learning tools. Rapid model creation, and scripting tools.
Cons: Care needs to be taken when building models. Effective use of Photo Match restricted to compatible digital images. No Vista support.
Though available in a free version for illustrators and artists, most 3D artists will prefer the £315 Pro version of 3D sketching tool SketchUp, primarily as it lets you export sketches into applications such as Maya and 3DS Max.
SketchUp’s basic workflow involves manipulating drawn or polygonal objects within the perspective view of a typical 3D application. There are rotate, pan and zoom tools available in a fairly simple palette. 2D shapes are drawn with rectangle, circle and text tools, then extruded and lofted to form basic 3D objects.
You then build on these foundations by using a set of modification tools that offer functions such as lathe, sweep or Boolean operations, but have their own straightforward names such as Push/Pull, Follow Me and Intersect with Model. You can turn on additional tools, such as basic terrain editor Sandbox, and Ruby, a scripting environment.
The most high-profile addition is Photo Match (above), which lets you create a 3D model by tracing a photo or matching an existing model to a background photo. Like similar photogrammetry tools from RealViz and others, you can build up a 3D representation of a building or other real world object by using images shot from different views or you can just use a single photo. Perspective lines and an axis are overlaid on the image to specify orientation, and a modelling grid is updated accordingly.
SketchUp calculates the camera position and field of view of the photograph – if you know dimensions of the original object you can enter this info to make the model more accurate.
Once the image is mapped you can start drawing lines from the axis outwards, forming polygonal faces and models, then extruding from these to create new blocks. In practice this is a lot more fiddly than it sounds, and it takes time and a well-shot photo to get anything near satisfactory results.
Version 6 also adds a selection of display styles to present the model or scene in a variety of looks including ‘sketchy’ or to add a watermarked background. This works very effectively and, combined with the new Layout functions, can make any architectural mockup look stylish and professional, or quirky if that’s the mood you’re after.
Other tools continue the architectural theme, including a walkthrough and cost estimation for materials. Entertainment-focused creative pros won’t find much here to shout about though.
SketchUp Pro 6 offers little over version 5 – though as a free upgrade it’s hard to complain. Overall, SketchUp Pro can be a great way for 3D artists to quickly produce previz versions of projects – although some creatives will be content with free version.