In a relatively short time, Google’s SketchUp has seen its user base go from strength to strength with new users from all sorts of backgrounds encouraged to get into 3D by SketchUp’s short learning curve and ease of use.
For those unfamiliar with Google SketchUp, I’ll provide a quick overview. Essentially, Google SketchUp is a 3D modelling programme aimed at architects, civil engineers, hobbyists, games developers and other related professionals who are looking to create quick 3D content for pre-visualisation or conceptual purposes.
The key to SketchUp’s success is its ability to let the designer literally build up or design from scratch complex three-dimensional geometries with minimal effort. Whether you’ve never used 3D before or have been an avid user of AutoCAD since the beginning of time, SketchUp’s unique intuitive interface makes for a very short learning curve. Coming from a CAD/CAM background myself I couldn’t believe the ease with which I could quickly model designs on screen. After a few hours I was producing conceptual models that would have never been worth modelling in my usual CAD software – I just wouldn’t have had the time and would have instead resulted to sketching out the ideas on paper, losing the visulisation and analytical benefits that a 3D model offers.
Now don’t get me wrong – in no way, shape, or form will SketchUp ever replace our trusted CAD or detailed modelling software. Although there are various plugins available for the export of SketchUp models to various external ray-tracing software renderers, such as Artlantis, the possibilities for detailed high-end models and photorealistic imagery are limited.
Having said that, high-end visuals are not what SketchUp was designed for and because of this it already has a firm place in the professional market as a pre-visualisation and concept design tool. The nature in which things can be quickly moved, changed or edited make it a perfect solution for over-the-shoulder type work with clients, where amendments can literally be made on the fly. Where should the house extension go? Here off the kitchen, no… Maybe off the living room? Maybe I should make it longer; perhaps I’ll add a sofa for some idea of layout… It’s really that simple with SketchUp, and it’s this simplicity that allows for a natural evolution of any design into 3D as though being drawn by hand.
Once you’ve got your concept approved and signed off by the client you can go into your dedicated 3D CAD programs and start getting into the nitty-gritty, leaving you safe in the knowledge that the majority of any major changes have already been made and seen in SketchUp.
SketchUp’s ease of use really does lend it to all sorts of situations. Five months ago I found myself moving house and had the usual dilemma of trying to work out if all of the stuff from the old living room would fit into the new one. Now call me a geek if you will, but first thing I did was boot up SketchUp, mock up my new living room (with accurate dimensions, I might add) and in a matter of seconds I was adding and resizing comparable furniture from Google’s free 3D warehouse database!
Before you knew it, my furniture was all in my new virtual living room, laid out as I wanted – leaving me ready for the move.
Now I realise that in the commercial world, this example doesn’t have much relevance, but it does highlight how practical this software is and how quickly and accurately you can create, build up, model and evaluate 3D spaces. Give it a go – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
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