Parametric Animation Plugin For Sketchup

There have been several animation plugins created for Sketchup but they have been less than ideal for a lot of presentations for a number of reasons, mainly in their ability to create complicated movements.

Fredo6, who has created many “can’t do without them” extensions for Sketchup, has a new animation plugin in beta right now that has many people excited.

Fat Pencil Studio has been testing the plugin and has created some interesting animations which seem to demonstrate an animation plugin that could be very useful for film-related work, both previz and set design. The plugin is not based on the native animation mechanism in Sketchup and thus seems to be much more adjustable to the needs of the designer. Here is one of the animations from Fat Pencil. Go here to see all of their work.

Sculpting Tools For Sketchup

Most people think of Sketchup as a program that just draws boxes. As a poly-modeler it was always handicapped when it came to modeling compound curved surfaces and even with the built-in Sandbox tools, drawing terrain was never truly easy.

Now there are two different plugins that make not only terrain construction but organic and vehicle construction possible without having the urge to jump out the nearest window. I use both regularly and because they each have different attributes, I think their capabilities really complement each other when you are constructing complex shapes.


The first is a plugin called Artisan which is a great solution for creating organic shapes. Created by Dale Martens, who has produced numerous other free plugins including Subdivide & Smooth, has created a set of sculpting tools that work very much like the sculpting tools in Maya and are incredibly easy to learn and use. The site has nice tutorial videos as well as a nice gallery of others work using the plugin. You have a series of settings which allows to to adjust the pressure of the brush, either positive or negative, and after setting the width of the ‘brush’, you drag it over the area to create the sculpted surface. The demo video below will give you an idea of the process.

One of the tools that alone is worth the $39 cost, is a poly-reducer which is a huge help when you import models from a NERB software package like Rhino or Maya. The tool allows you to select how much you want to reduce the poly count of a model to get it down to the size you need. You can also reverse the process and take a low-poly model and increase the detail.

I consider this plugin to be an absolute must for people who want to be able to build anything besides flat walls in Sketchup. Here are some examples of Sketchup models created using Artisan:

scooter by Pete Stoppel using Artisan

Motorbikes by Pete Stoppel

creature by Erik Lay

terrain by Pete Stoppel

Vertex Tools

The other plugin is called Vertex ToolsThis program has tools which work differently than Artisan but has some advantages over it in the way the selection tools work. Designed by Thom Thomassen, a modelmaker from Norway who has also designed an incredible number of other useful free plugins, has designed a set of tools that are what the Sandbox Tools aspire to be.  At $20 it, like Artisan, is a real bargain. The video below will give you a quick overview.

The selection tools allow you to set how the tool affects the surrounding polys with either a linear or cosine fall-off. This one is really a must when you are creating terrain.

At a total cost of $59 dollars, these plugins will give you a huge boost in your modeling capabilities. If you use Sketchup, they should be your next purchase. You won’t be sorry.

Understanding RED Camera Formats & Camera Angles

In the Sketchup™ Camera Tools seminar this past weekend I talked about the current trend in digital cameras and how they relate in using camera lens angles to view 3D models and illustrations.

The RED Epic™

A camera that is creating a great deal of excitement in the camera world, and a lot of confusion in Art Departments, is the RED camera. Just over three years ago the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company  entered the market with what they called a DSMC system, or Digital Still and Motion camera system. The camera was basically a component system with the body, or brain, containing the sensor and the other various components needed to record an image. The system was designed to be configured and upgraded as the user saw best to fit their work needs. The design of a camera with dual capabilities would fuel the current trend of high-end still cameras which also record HD video, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Designed with a 35mm sized chip, the camera is able to record video with the same depth of field as 35mm as well as having similar focal lengths, allowing for the use of existing lenses from other camera and 35mm systems.

The system allows the user to record in four different formats: 4.5k, 4k, 3k, and 2k and each of these can be framed or extracted in different aspect ratios. With the new Epic, whose sensor is 5k (5000 pixels across), the choices are 5k, 4.5k, 4k, 3k, 2k, 1080p, and 720p.

At this point your eyes are probably crossing and you’re saying, “so what?” Basically, what you need to know is that each successive format is a smaller cropped version of the previous one.

diagram showing a Super 35mm frame and the three extracted ratios

In Super 35mm, the frame, or negative is cropped according to the aspect ratio for the release. The difference is,  the cropping only occurs vertically. The width of all the formats is (nearly) the same, so that a lens focal length will be similar in each of them. Here is a diagram explaining the Super 35mm format from an article comparing digital and film formats that I wrote for theAug-Sept. 2010 issue of Perspective Magazine.

With RED, each format will have a narrower horizontal field of view than the previous one. Meaning that a 50mm lens in in 3k will have a much narrower field of view than it does shooting in full sensor 5k.

Below is a viewport in Sketchup™ set up using the Advanced Camera Tool pluging. The “camera” is set up for the full sensor option with the safe areas turned on for the other formats.

screen capture showing RED Camera full sensor area and 2K, 3K and 4K crop areas

In this screen shot of a model viewed with a 14mm lens, you can see how each progressively smaller ‘k’ format crops the sensor and has a narrower angle of view with the same lens. So, when you are setting up a model to view from a specific position with a particular lens, it’s important to know at what ‘k’ is the set going to be shot. Click on the image to enlarge it on your screen.

Chart of horizontal fields of view for various focal length lenses in the three different shooting formats

Here is a chart that breaks down the horizontal angle of views depending on which format the film is going to be shot in. The lenses listed are generic focal lengths and do not cover the entire range of lenses available. But, this should give you an idea of the proportional change in the horizontal angle of the captured frame based on the different shooting formats.

Camera Tools For Sketchup Pro

( Note: There is a half-day seminar on using the Camera Tool plugin on January 15 in Sherman Oaks. The cost is $50 but ADG members get in for $25. See the site below for more details: )

Years ago Sketchup developed a plugin for the industry called the Film & Stage plugin which allowed you to view a model with a set aspect ratio and allowed you to control the focal length of the viewing window.

The plugin was never updated for newer versions and was eventually put aside once the company was acquired by Google. Many of us have moaned for years, begging for an update. I devised a way of setting the view window to get a correct view with specific focal lengths, but it was a tedious process and a painful one to try to demonstrate to others.

In March Sketchup released a completely retooled version of the plugin that was everything I had hoped for and more. The new plugin, now called Advanced Camera Tools allows you to view your model with virtually any camera now available with any aspect ratio and with any focal length you choose. There is even a method of adding new cameras.

Nearly every camera in use in the industry is included with the pre-sets as well as all the RED cameras.

Aidan Chopra, product evangelist for Sketchup told me that updating the plugin really hadn’t been on the company’s radar until they held their semi-annual Basecamp last year in Boulder. The event was attended by Local 800 member Brad Rubin who pitched an update to them at that time. While it still didn’t make it onto their hotlist, the idea was intriguing to one of their software engineers, Brian Brown. The company offers to let their employees use 20% of their time working on side projects and Brian decided to use his time reworking the old Film & Stage plugin. So, we really have Brian and Brad to thank for making these tools available again.

While the plugin is as intuitive to use as Sketchup, there are things about the plugin that work differently when you are working inside it as opposed to the normal Sketchup tools.

The plugin is free, but works only with Sketchup Pro versions.

You can get it here:

With a little effort you can quickly save multiple camera views and know that they are fully editable without having to create entirely new views if the lens or camera information changes.