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From CAD User AEC Magazine Vol 20 No 01 - JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2007
Sketchup 6 Pro is now available. Many users don’t know just how far the software can take, them, though – and it’s well worth taking a training course to expand your SketchUp horizons..
There’s a revolution going on in the drawing office. A bunch of architects have taken a completely new approach to the design of buildings, discarding all of the traditional CAD tools and techniques, to produce a simple, intuitive, 3D programme that is storming the market.
Sure, the fact that you can download a copy of the software, free, from Google, (Google SketchUp, or an 8 hour sample copy of SketchUp 6 Pro), might just be considered a factor in its widespread appeal - but don’t let that fool you for one minute. Despite its’ ready availability, its’ simplicity, its’ gimmicky approach, it is far from being a cheap package of limited capabilities. Users who have taken the trouble to explore SketchUp a little bit further, by going on a course where they will learn some of the finer points of the software – have found, to their surprise and delight, that behind the bland and basic opening screen – there is a seriously impressive package.
Hence the growing number of architects, among other designers – both amateurs and professionals – who have started to use the software to, not only, lay out fast and accurate concept drawings in 3D –getting their ideas across far faster and more clearly than they are used to – but are taking the concepts right through, in complex detail, to the completed construction drawings, including full sets of drawings.
I spoke at length with Jamie Ogston, of Ria Solutions, who trains architects to use SketchUp – as well as other leading packages. He is passionate about the software, and pointed out many of the features that his students are happily using.
SketchUp was founded in 1999 by a company called @LastSoftware, in Boulder, Colorado. The aim was to create 3D design software that would make design exploration accessible for everyone. Jamie came across it in its early days, and realised that the possibilities of the tool were endless, and that the human brain should be allowed to switch off the ‘CAD oriented’ way of doing things for a far more natural and expressive style of communication. It enabled people to visualise designs using a ‘pencil’ process to drawing, but in digital format.
The brief for the developers was to allow people to draw the way they want to by emulating the feel and freedom of working with pen and paper in a simple interface. It was to be fun, and easy to learn and use – and it should allow architects to play with their designs in a way that was not possible with traditional design software.
That they have succeeded is proved by the immense enthusiasm with which the product has been taken up.
Benefits of SketchUp
What is so good about the software? First of all, the user interface is incredibly simple with tool set icons artistically presented, giving users a designer’s environment to work in.
Using simple x.y.z (red, green, blue) axis, lines are drawn on the screen that become edges, once the planar loop is closed, and become building blocks. These are simply manipulated, and added to, with the user switching from isometric to plan and elevation views instantly, selecting faces, push and pull surfaces, hiding faces – and so on, experimenting at will with shapes and volumes. Using the mouse 90% of the time, users literally hold the model in the hand with instant feedback on the screen.
And they can even go further by applying easily set up keyboard short cuts to handle often repeated command sequences.
SketchUp can, either, be used alone, or to embellish or work up 2D and 3D models from other CAD applications, even those that contain BIM object data. Of course, you need the Professional version to handle much of the interoperability with such packages – but at little extra cost for the performance you get and, to complete the picture, the same version can be used to post CAD elevations and sections into working drawings for construction purposes.
Having been purchased, recently, by Google, the software, naturally, can also be used to place models in Google Earth, or to download photographic files and texture maps from Google Earth to enhance model presentations.
SketchUp 6 Pro.
The latest version of the software is now available – SketchUp 6 Pro. Besides making the software even easier to use – remembering that a key aim is to make the software accessible to all, a lot of work has gone into natural development and presentation tools.
An example of this is the ability to create 3D models from photographs, or to match existing models to background photos. It also allows users to render sketchy effects, fogs and cloud – examples of which can be found in the arhcitecural gallery on the SketchUp website.
The new style palettes give users easier access to display settings, and enhanced modifier keys combine functions such as Copy, whilst Moving, Rotating, Pushing or Pulling – speeding up, and, perhaps, making the user interaction with the software even more intuitive.
For those who want to use SketchUp to present ideas, there is a great new tool called Layout, that allows them to place, arrange, title and annotate SketchUp models along with photos and other design elements – to create a sort of story board, to explain your ideas.
And, again, on the website, there is a wealth if Plug-ins for the software, from Google plug-ins that allow user to interact with Google Earth, reading and writing Googole Earth model files in the .kmz format, and taking 2D and 3D snapshots from Google Earth – to RPS Ray Trace Export, which can be used to export SketchUp models to the AccuRender ray trace engine, to produce photorealistic renderings of 3D SketchUp models – a simple task, provided by Render Plus Systems, that takes the material, reflection, light and other settings of the SketchUp model, to produce fully rendered images.
Other plug-ins for Microstation, ArchiCAD, VectorWorks and Autodesk’s Architectural Desktop, allows users of such software to read SketchUp files and then save them in their native formats. This gives users plenty of scope to use the creative capabilities of SketchUp for concept development. Bentley users can even write SketchUp SKP files from Microstation, and upload SketchUp files directly from 3D Warehouse in Google Earth.
There are also plug-ins to export SketchUp models in other formats – such as eDrawings Publisher, a popular view and review tool used in the MCAD arena. There is nothing sacred about the software – try using it to develop mechanical models, as well as furniture, fittings and so on. And, of course a 3D PDF Exporter, which turns SketchUp documents into 3D PDF files. Amongst other plug-ins, there is even a plug- in called SketchUp for Film and Stage – to help theatrical types develop studio sets with enhanced tools to handle cameras, lights, dollies, grips, characters and so on.
Great to play with, a fascinating programme to use, but you will only skim the surface if you try to do it all yourself. Ignore the basic version and shell out the little it costs to get SketchUp Pro, so that you can export native DWG and DXF format files, use the many 3rd party plug-ins listed above, and move and create 3D terrains and curved surfaces using sandbox and other tools.
But, above all, find out where the nearest SketchUp training centre is, and learn just how far you can take the software. You will be amazed!
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