Adrian

Adrian

SU2018 LogoIf you have an existing licence, you may have received notification that the latest version of Sketchup, is now available for download and perhaps you are deciding whether it is worth the risk.

First thing to note is that the free version of Sketchup, Sketchup Make has now been discontinued. I have to admit that this is kind of disappointing because Sketchup Make was the entry point for many professional users who were not quite sure if they wanted to invest in the software until they were satisfied that they could use it effectively. The 30 day trial is just not enough for most people so hopefully they look to extend the trial period of Sketchup Pro. You can still at this moment download Sketchup Make 2017 by going HERE.

If you are worried about upgrading and needing to cope with a host of major changes, you can relax. The changes and new features are minimal, with the majority being behind-the-scenes fixes for known issues with Sketchup 2017. Most of the newly implemented features are also user-friendly and quite easy to use.

I have found that most of the new features are targeted towards improving the workflow of people who want to use the software for architecture and building design, which is great for our industry but perhaps other industries may not appreciate the bias so much. Anyway, I have summarised these new features below:

The Section tool has had a bit of a makeover and is now easier to handle. When you go to place a section, you are prompted with a section name and 3 letter code which becomes visible at the 4 points of the section plane definition. This is a handy addition especially when you start using multiple section definitions in the one model file.

There is also now an automatic option to fill the section cut ends of objects, something that used only to be possible with the SectionCutFace plugin found on Sketchucation. Implementation of this is very smooth and the cut fill adjusts automatically when the section plane is moved. You can also change the colour of the fill in the model options of the Style palette to whatever you like. You can see in the screenshot below that I have changed my Section Fill and Lines to yellow by modifying these settings in the Style palette.

There are a few cosmetic things that have changed. The Entity Info palette is icon driven now rather than having tick box options, and there are additional properties you can assign to your components which enable more advanced reporting functionality. You can now optionally create a Rectangle using the centre as your start point and the Tape Measure tool can give you lengths and areas by simply hovering over your objects. Just little things like that. You now also get an option to increase the anti-aliasing (smoothness) of the modelling window which is a nice little addition. See below.

Trimble have also made some decent changes to Layout which are going to delight architects and building designers.

Scaled Drawing

The main new feature is that you can now draw to a nominated scale on your Layout page. A new Scaled Drawing palette has been added and you can assign a particular scale to an existing group of lines, or you can start drawing from scratch at the scale of your choice. I used to use the dimension tool as a way to work around this problem but this is an excellent solution and implemented very cleverly to what was a significant issue in previous versions.

But it doesn’t stop there…! The biggest news is you can now import DWGs directly into Layout and use the Scaled Drawing function to reconfigure it to the size that you need. You can either import the DWG line data directly into Layout entities or import it like a model window which you can adjust as you would if it were importing a Sketchup model file. There is now no excuse to make the jump from Autocad to Sketchup because all of the time you spent drawing those 2d construction details in Autocad can now be moved over to Sketchup/Layout without minimal fuss!

All of the courses at sketchuptraining.com.au will be updated where necessary to capture the changes brought about by the new version; it has become a regular annual event. Also the new Sketchup Training School videos will be updated/or created with the latest version of Sketchup so that everyone who has done our courses can keep their knowledge up-to-date. All part of the service!

01 October

Sketchup Model Viewers

Every now and then you may wish to present the 3d model that you have been working on to your  client. There are quite a lot of model viewers around that will load a Sketchup model and give you some basic controls. Which one is the best is really a matter of preference though I prefer the official Sketchup ones because they take best advantage of any scenes or styles that I might have saved inside my model.

The official Sketchup viewer is multi-platform meaning you can get a version for both Mac and PC  desktop computers, there is a tablet and phone version of the viewer that supports iOS and Android devices, and there also appears to be compatibility with the Microsoft Hololens which is a holographic augmented reality headset - though when I tried to follow the steps to purchase a viewer for the headset it lead to a dead-end on the website (love to hear if anyone has tried this).

The desktop (or laptop) version of the viewer is free to download from the Sketchup Viewer webpage which can be found at: https://www.sketchup.com/products/sketchup-viewer

It works very much like Sketchup where you can orbit, pan, zoom, walk and look around with all of the standard navigation tools in the basic toolset. You also have some control over the your display style attributes and the shadow settings, but surprisingly no control over layers. I say that this is surprising because while you have no layer control in the desktop viewer, you have layer control in the mobile device viewers.

Desktop Viewer

You have to pay for the mobile device viewers unfortunately - they are not free and will cost A$15 which is an unfortunate impasse because if you want to let a client view your model on their phone or tablet, they will have to purchase the viewer. It is not a lot of money but just a bit of a barrier to freely showing your work off to your client. The tablet viewer can display files that have been shared on the 3d Warehouse which is nice if you want to share your project with the whole world, but you can also use Dropbox or if you have a Trimble Connect account you can load up your model files using this more private method.

iPad Viewer

The tablet viewer is quite a smooth experience where you can use your finger to orbit around or pinch the screen to zoom in and out. The viewer does not display fancy linework styles like pencil or freehand look lines but will display watermarks and other rendering attributes. And like I said earlier, you have control of your layers inside the model and can turn them on and off, and as well as this, you have the tape measure tool at your disposal. It is a bit clumsy to use especially if you have fat digits but it just another feature that the tablet/phone viewer has which is not implemented in the desktop version.

 

iPad Viewer

If your client is resistant to loading up any additional software to their computer, you can always get them to open up a Sketchup model on the online version of Sketchup - YES! there is an online version of Sketchup. You can get to it here: https://my.sketchup.com/app  It is still very much a “beta” product but it is surprising good and feels very similar to the full program. There is a screenshot of it below where I just mucked around a bit with it.

One thing which is not ideal about using one of these Sketchup viewers is that you have to hand over your model file to your client without any type of controls to stop them from changing things or distributing your hard work to anyone else as they like. Sometimes a way to prevent your file from been copied around is to export it to your client in a less versatile file format like .KMZ or .COLLADA and there are many model viewers that support alternative filetypes that Sketchup will export and it is just a matter of doing a Google search and then trying them out to see which one meets your needs the best.

SketchfabThere are other viewers like Sketchfab allow you to save your file to an account and then send a URL or link to your client via an email where they can view your 3d model on a webpage and there is no handing over of your model files to your client. You can also use Sketchfab to view your models in virtual reality with Google Cardboard or other devices making it a good around choice though it won’t support Sketchup’s styles, layers or other settings like the native viewers published by Trimble.

Don't be afraid to try out other viewers that are available on the Apple Apps or Google Play stores. There are many free 3d model viewers and you can always give them a try and delete them if they are no good. Have fun with it!

01 August

Curviloft (& Joint Push-Pull)

I was going to use the two above mentioned plugins for Sketchup on the modelling of this odd shaped desk in the photograph below as a demonstration of how to create objects that have a curve in two direction. However after having a good look at it, I have realised that the hood curves only in one direction and you can easily model the desk with the basic Sketchup tools without too much trouble.

That’s alright. I'll do a bit of a demonstration of what Curviloft with Joint Push-Pull can do and then go ahead and model the desk conventionally.

Sketchup’s basic tool are great for orthogonal and planar modelling and probably the majority of buildings and houses fall into this category. Sketchup is also reasonably good at handling linear curved surfaces like curved vertical walls or wavy roofs; the sort that Harry Seidler used to drop on top of his houses.

It becomes a bit more difficult when the curve is in two directions or more complex organic surfaces with multiple curves. The sandbox tool can be used to some degree to model complex surfaces but one of the better plugin tools for this sort of job is Curviloft by Fredo6.

The Curviloft plugin can be found on the Sketchucation website and requires both the installation of the plugin file as well as LibFredo6 which contains some essential functions that allow Curviloft to work.

It has 3 different modes:

  • Loft by spline
  • Loft along a path
  • Skinning

Each mode has its own different options which varies parameters of the resulting objects. Watch the video below as I go through the three modes. Unfortunately I don’t need to use Curviloft to make the hooded desk, using just the conventional Sketchup tools to create it but should you need to model something more complex in the future, Curviloft is very versatile.

If you have recently started a new project and wanted to match your project to a real world address for sun studies and to add context to the surrounding areas, you will have noticed a significant decrease in quality of the aerial photo mapping that is available inside Sketchup.


As of the 22nd May 2017, Sketchup no longer uses Google Earth/Maps to collect terrain and aerial photo mapping data for your site, but is instead now using aerial imaging produced by a company called Digital Globe. The difference in image quality is substantial due to the fact that Google Maps’s aerial photographs are shot using aeroplanes at moderate altitudes, while Digital Globe’s photos are shot using satellites. See the image below for comparison:

This change affects all versions of Sketchup. If you have a Sketchup 2016 licence or earlier, you will see a message saying that “Add location is no longer available”. Aerial photographs from the new Digital Globe source have also been deactivated on the free version, Sketchup Make 2017; a move which may be to try and make it harder for people using the free version for commercial purposes.

Trimble, Sketchup’s developer, were very coy about the changes to the geolocation function in the weeks leading up to the changeover - and it is not surprising. Many Sketchup users have reacted negatively to this downgrade in functionality, with some businesses like solar array installers, seeing their methodology for calculating roof sizes completely disappear overnight. It is no surprise that people want to be compensated and their yearly maintenance fees returned.

The change from Google’s mapping/aerial photography to Digital Globe’s has been explained as the expiration of Trimble’s contract with Google to supply location data for Sketchup, and that Google are no longer allowing anyone to access to it. However in the argumentative forums that have popped up about this issue, many users believe that Trimble were given free access to Google’s data for the last 5 years as part of Sketchup’s sale to Trimble and now that this period has expired, they simply did not want to pay Google’s price for the continuation of the service.

Read the forum on the issue here: https://forums.sketchup.com/t/upcoming-change-to-add-location/40953

Personally, as someone who teaches Sketchup and uses it to operate their architectural design business, I am disappointed - it stinks. It makes producing conceptual and schematic presentation material for my projects substantially more difficult and time consuming. I’ll have to source other aerial photographs from places like Nearmaps (who are very expensive) or council/local government sources, import these images into Sketchup and rescale them to match my site. I have no problem with changes when they are an improvement to the existing product, but when the change is regressive in nature, it makes you question the future direction of the product and the potential loss of support base to other CAD programs.

Let’s hope that Trimble remedy the situation sooner rather than later.

Rendering grass and other organic 3d objects like trees, and plants into your scenes will often bring your rendered images to the next level of realism. It is generally not feasible to place every blade of grass in your 3d scene and thankfully there are a couple of Sketchup plugins around that automate this process for you. The one that I have used every now and then is called Make_Fur which is available for free from the Sketchucation plugin store. To download it you simply need to create an account with Sketchucation, download their plugin store extension and then find Make_Fur from their list and click install.

It then becomes a matter of creating a grass component, either some grass shaped geometry or a PNG photo of some grass blades with a transparent background (removed in an image editor) and then using the plugin to randomly place the component on a designated face. You can see by the results in the image below, created from a long grass variety with seed-heads, that it works very effectively and there are options in the plugin to randomise the scale and lean of the grass blades to create a more natural look. You can download this Sketchup model from the download files link at the top of the article.

The problem with this particular plugin (and the plugin author fully acknowledges this) is that it places a vast number of polygons into your 3d model. The grass components need to be quite dense in order to cover the ground surface and when you suddenly add 100,000 odd polygons in the form of grass blades into your model, it will reduce Sketchup’s performance to a slow crawl on even the fastest computers. While layering your model carefully will help, the effect on performance will see most people put adding realistic grass into their renders into the too-hard basket and opt for a less convincing 2d texture map or doctor their finished renders with a photograph of some real grass taken from approximately the same angle.

An alternative to Make_Fur is a commercially available plugin for Sketchup called Skatter. Skatter is an amazing plugin that considers all the problems of rendering huge numbers of polygons and then conveniently bypasses Sketchup’s interface so that these polygons only show up when activated in the rendering engine. What this means is that you can have vast grassy fields or forests of trees in your rendered images but with little or no effect on Sketchup’s performance. If you do a lot of rendering, this feature alone is well worth the money. Before I get carried away though, it should be noted that not every rendering engine supports this function; thankfully Twilight Render is supported so anyone who has done my Sketchup For Visualisation short course or intends to in the future can use this plugin to full effect.

As well as this important feature, Skatter has many other options to optimise your models so that you are not rendering your grass components unnecessarily. For example when creating a field of grass, you can set a fall-off rate so that grass blades are less dense as you get further away from the camera. You can set the grass field to match your camera’s cone of vision so that it does not generate grass outside of your scene. There is a lot of control over your Skatter components and you can layer up multiple types of grass or vegetation so that there is a considerable variety of foilage in your scenes, changing the scattering parameters such as scale, rotation, density to ensure there is enough coverage of your base surfaces. You can even concentrate your grass blade density around the borders and edges of pavements where you often need extra grass blades to hide the ground surface underneath. I did find that my best computer which I use for rendering did at times struggle with some of the preview generations and would occassionally hang, but in general, the plugin appeared to be pretty stable; the most important feature in any piece of software!

 

And it is not just about grass either. You can use either of these plugins to create leafy vines on walls, a forest of trees, street lights around roads, fields of pebbles or rocks, even shagpile carpets just to give you a few ideas. Whatever you attempt to render, like anything it requires a bit of fiddling with the settings and component textures to get it right. You can see my efforts on this page to create a lush green lawn and an abandoned railway scene with dry yellow grass and rocks with the plugin.

 

To sum up, while it does require a bit more effort to get photorealistic grass into your 3d renders, it is definitely achievable with Sketchup and you can get some amazing results with Skatter, Make_Fur and the many 3rd party rendering engines that are available.

You can download a 15 day trial or purchase a licence for Skatter from here: http://getskatter.com/

If you have thought about creating physical models from your Sketchup files, it has never been a better time and it is actually very easy!

Important!

It appears that Trimble are about to change the maintenance renewal policy for users with older versions of Sketchup.

 

As of April 25th 2017
SketchUp licences that are 3 years past their Maintenance expiration date or are Version 8.0 and older will no longer be renewable for upgrade. After this date, customers holding these old licences must purchase a new perpetual licence in order to access the most recent version of SketchUp Pro.

 

What it means is that if you are running the 2014 version of Sketchup or older, it is now a good time to pay up your yearly maintenance fees to get the latest version, otherwise if you want to get the new version in the future, you will have to pay the full price for a new license.

If you are still undecided about whether updating is worthwhile, I can confirm that in the last 3 years Trimble have implemented significant improvements (not just token ones) to Sketchup’s functionality. They include:

  • the implementation of the keyboard arrow keys to orient the modelling plane
  • the new extension manager makes it much easier to enable/disable plugins
  • improvements to the functionality of the rotate and offset tools
  • additional features added to object snapping
  • fixes to the appearance of artefacts in animations on face-me components
  • less crashes and better stability on both Mac and PC platforms
  • new features added to Layout

It is also important to note that the current version of Sketchup can open and save previous Sketchup version files (right back to Sketchup Version 3!) so you will still have access to your older models. Also, any new plugins developed for Sketchup are likely to be written for the current version only.

Now I know that I have talked about Lightup in a previous article and noted its differences from other 3d rendering plugins that are available for Sketchup. I just wanted to show you a couple of other things that it can do.

Lux Analysis - Lightup can help you out if you need to check your lux levels in your model. You need to assign .ies files to all of your lights if you want it to work properly, but turning the render mode to Lux Contours will give you a hybrid render with a spectrum colour analysis of your lux levels which you can use to check against your lighting design. Very cool!

Animations/Video - Just to be clear, Lightup can produce realtime rendered interactive walkthrough models as well as the more traditional kind where you generate a series of animation frames to form a video. It is very easy to do and uses your Sketchup scenes and animation settings to determine the walkthrough path and timings. Have a look at the video below. Note that this video only took about 5 minutes to create on my PC laptop. For a traditional rendering plugin, creating this many frames at this size video would take several days or more.

Lightup For Sketchup is available at: https://www.light-up.co.uk/

This is a bit more of a practical tutorial compared to some of the recent tips that I have been creating. One of my previous Sketchup Modelling Essentials students who is an engineer, does a lot of swimming pool design and she came to me with a section profile of a pool wall and shape of the pool, wanting to know how one would go about creating this particular model.

Have a look at the video as I go through each step of the process using a number of different tools including Offset, Push/Pull, Follow-me and the plugin “Roundcorner” by Fredo6 which is available from the Sketchucation extension store.

To download and install the Sketchucation extension store where you will find the "Roundcorner" plugin, go to HERE and follow the instructions.

Happy modelling!

Unreal 4I have been exploring the use of gaming engines lately because it is definitely possible to do a high end interactive architectural presentation to a client using these programs. I already looked at Unity in a previous article and now the more popular and flashy Unreal 4. Sketchup has a bad name in the Unreal 4 Gaming Engine community. The main issue that appears to cause the most mirth is Sketchup’s proprietary texturing system which does not work with UV coordinate systems commonly favoured by gaming engines. When you export a Sketchup model straight into Unreal you will get overlapping UV Coordinate error messages when you go to build your lighting solution, causing terrible artifacting as shown in the screenshot below. It might be possible to fix the problem with the overlapping coordinates inside Unreal, but after reading many forum threads, there does not appear to be an obvious solution. So then this issue must be fixed before exporting to Unreal. For the nay-sayers that believe exporting Sketchup models directly to Unreal 4 is too hard, I have worked out a reasonably simple workflow that allows you to import your Sketchup models with all of its textures into Unreal 4. Read on or watch the movie…

If you have ever tried to import a decent sized level from Sketchup into Unreal 4, you might get a result something like the picture below - it looks okay when you first import the model, but once the lighting solution builds things go bad. This is caused by overlapping texture UV coordinates. I have put the error message in the bottom right corner.

It is fixable but you need to do a couple of things in Sketchup first.

Preparing your Sketchup model for exporting:

When creating your model, you need to model things carefully. Make sure that all front faces of your objects face outwards. Check that they are by changing your Style to display front and back colours, flipping anything which is not correctly oriented. Make sure that you group shared geometry and apply basic layering which will help you in the exporting process later on to turn parts on and off, because it is better to export small items into Unreal and combine them to form larger objects from what I have found.

Be wary of putting too much detail into your model. One mistake that caused me a lot of grief was to use a complex follow-me astragal shape that had lots of rounded edges. Avoid this where possible because the UV texturing process that I am about to describe can stuff up - but even then you can still get around it (though I’m not going to go into that here).

SketchUVTexturing Your Model:

Contrary to popular belief, you can texture your model in Sketchup no problem; you just need to set up the UV Coordinate system on your models for the texture maps and colours. The way to do this is to use a plugin call SketchUV (by Whaat) which is available from the Sketchup Extensions Warehouse for free. You need to follow the instructions for the plugin, but to describe the process in basic terms, you use your camera alignment to apply a special grid using the various texturing options in the SketchUV plugin. The Sketchup texture is remapped according to this grid. And that is pretty much it. If you have an organic shape and need to be a bit more careful with the location of texture seams, you can use the special rainbow coloured grid to help you line things up, then save the UV coordinate solution, apply the final texture and reload in the saved UV coordinate solution again so that it remaps the Sketchup material into UV coordinates. Watch the demo of the chair on the plugin page as an example of this method.

If you are exporting an object with 3d curved faces that has non-triangulated faces, like a sphere or revolved solid for example, you need to use the triangulate faces tool inside SketchUV, otherwise you will get a separate material for each face of your object - so for example, a 100 sided object will generate 100 similar materials in Unreal - something not desirable at all.

Once your model has been assigned UV textures (and triangulated), it is ready for export. If you miss doing the UV process on any particular part of your model, you can still go back to your Sketchup model later, apply the UV texture and then re-export it out again. Unreal allows you to reload/update an existing model file very easily.

Exporting from Sketchup:

Unreal 4 can handle FBX and OBJ files and Sketchup Pro can export to either of these formats. (I believe there is a plugin called OBJexporter available on Sketchucation for people that only have Sketchup Make).

In most articles/videos that I have read/watched about exporting Sketchup models to Unreal, they export as FBX; but I have found OBJ exporting to work a little better than FBX. With the OBJ exporter, textures stay linked to the model unlike the FBX exporter. Sketchup’s FBX export puts the texture maps into a separate folder and you have to move the map files back into the same folder as the FBX file manually for them to be recognised by Unreal 4. I have also found objects with smooth curved faces, like a sphere for example, maintain their smoothness better when exported to OBJ format for some reason but not sure exactly why.

When you exporting your model, use the following settings for FBX and OBJ:

  

You don't need to tick anything else. Although it sounds like a good idea, don't use Export two-sided faces and in my experience, it is not necessary to use Triangulate all faces. For the textures to work properly, you must use SketchUV to triangulate your 3d curves in the previous step. And when using FBX, don't forget to move the model and textures into the same folder after it is finished.

Importing into Unreal 4:

This may not happen to everyone, but when I go to import my OBJ file from the top pulldown menu choosing File->Import Into Level, Unreal 4 crashes on my PC; so if this happens to you, use the Import button in the content browser instead; it is much more convenient anyway.

Once the file is imported and model and materials are linked up inside Unreal, you can create subfolders and separate out the textures and materials from the model files. Use the content browser in Unreal to move them so that they remain linked to their source files.

I learnt many other things while briefly mucking around with Unreal. One particularly annoying thing was if you imported multiple objects in the one import file, Unreal will create a collision object between all of the objects. The effect of this is you will not be able to walk between the objects, or if your player is spawned inside the bounds of this object, you won’t be able to move! You have to use Unreal’s object editor to go in and delete the collision object. Not such a big deal but if you have to work it out yourself and the collision object is not visible by default, you can spend several hours like me scratching your head wondering what is wrong!

Anyway to sum it all up, Sketchup and Unreal 4 can work together quite well and hopefully my little video below is proof of this. I should also mention that there is another Sketchup plugin (paid) which I believe automates some of the processes described above. It is called Play Tools which can be found here. A secondary plugin must also be installed into Unreal 4 which looks a bit fiddly when I eyeballed the instructions, but if you can get it working, US$50 is nothing if you are serious about making content for Unreal 4 with Sketchup.

 Unreal 4 is free to download at: https://www.unrealengine.com/

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