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SketchUp Review

Image This is just a quick review of SketchUp by @Last Software, now owned by Google based on my limited use of the program. In addition a brief mention of a third party tutorial reference manual ‘The SketchUp Book’ by Bonnie Roskes with Bob deWitt. The great thing for many at this time is that a lite version Google SketchUp is available for free download, so you can try it yourself and even upload models to Google Earth.

OVERVIEW:

SketchUp was designed with the non-technical architectural designer in mind and has been a great success due to this. Many designers who won’t set foot in the CAD realm will easily spend ours developing concepts in 3D using it. Technically proficient 3D artist weaned on more technical programs may take a little time to get use to it, it’s interface and commands are simple and elegant, but the nomenclature at times is creative to use a diplomatic term.

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SketchUp is well suited to either bring in a CAD drawing or start from scratch and rough out a massing study or initial designs quickly. Once the design is fleshed out SketchUp has good display tools for giving a loose presentation that looks hand drawn and one that clients don’t feel is set in stone and changes can be made. The idea behind SketchUp is that you draw in plan your forms and then pull them into 3D. Then you can draw directly on the 3d forms edges to create forms and ‘Push/Pull’ them to create added detail such as windows and window frames. One very cool item is that these items can then be copied and the voids are also copied, thus multiple windows or façade details can be copied onto the faces of your model without the tedious repetition of creating the voids. In addition the ‘Follow Me’ and ‘Find Model Intersects’ is their version of sweep along an axis and a Boolean type function that are quite functional once you figure them out. Add to this the ‘Sandbox’, which is a terrain editor and ‘Ruby’ scripting for macros, and you have a great design tool.

HOW DOES IT HANDLE IN THE CORNERS:

This is not a precise drafting tool, you can input distances and coordinates through a dialogue box, but precision and accuracy aren’t the goals of the program, rather easy design and mass studies. One item that I have not forced myself to use consistently is the construction line system that one must use to really get a handle on controlled manipulation of the tweaking of a model. Think of it as drawing lines at distances and angles that you want your model to align or extend to, they are temporary tools, but seem counter intuitive to me, hey if I wanted to do this I would be drawing perspectives on paper. But I guess this is what they were after, making the non-technical designer who is use to drawing by hand feel at home with the tool set. The snapping and tracking are pretty good and really necessary for this type of model manipulation. One caveat is that you need to use the alt key when selecting move in order to move something away from the plane the edge or point lies on, such as creating/moving the ridge/edge of a roof, it is fine if you know this, but it seems like a lot of these requirements aren’t apparent and one tends to get a little frustrated in the beginning. Take for instance the ‘Sandbox’ terrain tool; it is one of the reasons I went ahead and upgraded to version 5 only to find that I couldn’t find the command/tool anywhere. It turns out you have to enable this tool in preferences, I really don’t know why one would have to enable a major feature of this type in a software product, it isn’t like editing xrefs or anything. Little items like this are why I will cover the third party reference manual a little later, you need it to figure this type of thing, and other things such as to mirror something, you need to scale it ‘-1’. Hmmmmm, how long do you think it took me to figure that one out? At least the function is available in a smoke and mirrors kind of way.

My other ‘Pet Peeve’ with the program is its sticky tendency, what I mean by that is objects on different layers that are even shut off, tend to stick to objects on other layers, imagine pulling up your building footprints to give them some height, and your ground plane stretches with them to create a complex of earth bermed structures. I tend to make components out of a lot of things to isolate them from interacting with other objects, sometimes even creating them in another session and coping them into the scene. Yes there is a work around but it can be frustrating to the novice. The last item I will cover is the saved view system and animation system. Basically you save views as pages that have their own tab in the document, which can be set as a slide show or the program will interpret views in between the ones you save, to give a rudimentary walk thru/fly bye. My only objection is that the animations seem to hesitate at the saved views, stopping the smoothness of the animation, chances are there is a way around this. Plenty of other goodies like scene navigation and simple texturing of your models. Team this up with the downloadable entourage that has ‘follow me’ capabilities and you have a great presentation tool.

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CONCLUSION:

I admit it I have perhaps been harsh on the program, just items in a very unique and interesting program that should be worked out. What you have is an excellent design tool that has built right into it a hand drawn presentation system along with a rudimentary animation system. Something unique like this is going to take a little getting use to and I am sure once I become proficient in it, all these little work arounds and quirks will be second nature to me. There really isn’t anything out there quite like it, kudos to @Last Software for creating such a useful tool like SketchUp!

On a slightly off topic note, the SketchUp community is very helpful and many free add-ons can be downloaded from the SketchUp site as well as other online resources. @Last Software recently started an online SketchUp repository to allow users to share resources, I am sure this will grow and become an additional invaluable resources given the already existing generosity of the SketchUp community.

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THE SKETCHUP BOOK:

‘The SketchUp Book’ by Bonnie Roskes with Bob deWitt is published in a unique way at: F1Help , a color hardcopy is around $84.95 or a black and white version for $69.95 or a color PDF version runs around $54.95, I suggest saving yourself the trouble of printing it out, how much is your time and 475 pages of paper and ink worth?

This book is invaluable for the reasons outlined in the review and the poor SketchUp documentation. The program is pretty powerful, but if you never get it out of first gear, what good are all those ponies under the hood. This book will cover pretty much everything you need to know.

OVERVIEW:

My take on the book is that it is informative in an intellectual kind of way and serves better as a reference after reading it, if you aren’t using SketchUp frequently, and need to figure out how to do something once again. All the information is there, but almost in an index/outline fashion with the tool, pictures and a brief description on how to use it. It isn’t a flowing read, but covering this type of information is pretty difficult to do in that fashion. You have a description, a narrative and illustrations showing you how to do it. One thing that I thought could be improved due to the way the book is laid out and how it probably will be used, sometimes special functions that are required and were covered earlier in the book aren’t covered in a particular section, if you are referring to just a section to refresh your memory, you don’t want to browse the whole book. Fortunately SketchUp is relatively simple and hitting the ‘alt’ key and the command or similar gets you the special feature function, but I want that to be included in each little section since that is how I will use the book.

Chapter 13 contains actual small projects such as a log cabin, this is where I think people who don’t have to just jump in and use the program on a project will get the most benefit once they understand the basic commands. Chapter 14 covers program settings, which again is good for referencing while setting up the file the way you want it to appear. Chapter 15 covers Ruby scripting, which is a programming language that SketchUp can use and if you are the programming type, can be used for creating your own routines.

CONCLUSION: Any instructional book I have is used mainly for reference, I don’t have enough time to read them all and commit everything to memory so the book works very well in that aspect. It is written by a structural engineer who writes instructional manuals, so how exciting could it be? With that said it covers material that is desperately needed by SketchUp users and doesn’t just cover material that is already available with the manual, so I found it very useful. On top of that if you are the guy in the office that everyone comes to with questions, it is nice to have a copy around and just let them figure it out when you don’t have the time, that is the strength of the resource this book provides.

Author: Russell Thomas works and lives in Seattle Washington, and is the founder of 3Dallusions LLC, 3DAllusions Studio: 3DAstudio and the 3Dallusions Forum: 3DAllusions Forum

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