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.

Google Earth Pro Price Drops From $400 To $0

Google announced last Friday that they were going to start offering their Pro version of Google Earth at no cost. The Pro version was meant mainly for developer, architects, contractors and real estate agencies who need both more advance measuring tools than the basic version offered plus higher resolution printouts.

 

 

Here is a table showing the differences between the two versions.

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.54.07 AM

The Superdome is 66.82 Smoots In Diameter

Unlike with the free version the Pro version allows you to measure diameters, heights and 3D paths and polygons.

Google Earth Pro 2 Google Earth Pro

 

How Accurate Is It?

I decided I’d test the measuring tools on something small to test the accuracy. I zoomed over to Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse which I built the model of years ago based on HABS surveys. The footprint measured out to be accurate within 99% and the height to within 98% accuracy. That’s pretty amazing.

williamsburg courthouse

 

You can download the model here and check the results for yourself.

The Future Of Sketchup

On Monday morning I, along with about 280 others, packed into the Boulder Theater in downtown Boulder, Colorado in the hope of finding answers. It was the first day of Sketchup Basecamp, a semi-annual event that attracts Sketchup users from around the world for a three-day conference that’s more like a cross between a family reunion and a college party than a traditional industry conference.

When it was announced on April 26 of this year that Google was planning to sell Sketchup, a lot of people ( myself included ) got more than a little nervous. Sketchup is the sole piece of software I use for modeling sets and creating working drawings. Since purchasing the program in 2006, Sketchup has become the most-used modeler in the world with it’s user base growing to over 30 million people. The program was obviously very successful, so why was Google selling it off when it normally doesn’t divest itself of products. The last time they had sold a product investment was in 2009. A Sketchup blog article by Product Manager John Baucus on the same day helped to allay fears but there were still a lot of unanswered questions and concerns.

Google had purchased Sketchup’s parent company, @Last Software in 2006 to provide content for Google Earth. The idea was to provide a free 3D modeling package that would allow people to create buildings for use in Google Earth. Even with a paid version of Google Earth it seems that Earth was never a profit generator for them and with the introduction of a new system which allows Google to now create models from auto-generated 3D mesh buildings from photo-grammatical data gathered from satellites and unmanned aircraft, it seems that they no longer saw a need for a 3D modeling program. There was speculation in the engineering industry that the company would be sold to Dassault Systemes, but when the announcement was made it was revealed that Sketchup would be purchased by Trimble Navigation.

Trimble Who?

So, who is Trimble Navigation and why did they buy Sketchup? It turns out Trimble is a billion dollar company located in Sunnyvale, California and is a leader in developing systems which use GPS technology for the surveying and construction industries. They have offices in over 30 countries and have over 1,800 patents relating to GPS systems. Sketchup is just just one of a number of acquisitions Trimble has made this year, including Tekla, a BIM modeling program from Europe. On Trimble’s website they describe the company as having integrated  “a wide range of positioning technologies including GPS, laser, optical and inertial technologies with application software, wireless communications, and services to provide complete commercial solutions. Its integrated solutions allow customers to collect, manage and analyze complex information faster and easier, making them more productive, efficient and profitable.”

Far from dumping the software in a fire-sale, Google wanted to make sure Sketchup went to a good home. Google had a previous relationship with Trimble having used their GPS systems in developing Google Earth.

Trimble Vice President Bryn Fosburgh was there in Boulder at the opening session to explain how they saw Sketchup’s position in the company’s structure. Having established itself in the engineering and construction side of the industry, the acquisition of Sketchup is seen as a way of extending the firm’s footprint into the design phase of the industries as well. He said they saw the modeling company as becoming seamlessly integrated with the other companies’ software and hardware products and said his only surprise after the purchase was getting used to the unusual dog-rich environment of the Sketchup offices.

Users of their products like the Robotic Total Station will be able to bring the file from a Sketchup model of a house into the device and have it’s laser lay out the corners of the building with 1 centimeter accuracy.

More Tasty Sketchup Biscuits To Come

A problem most companies have is learning when to leave acquisitions alone. Much like biscuits, where over-handling the mix leads to leaden,  inedible lumps. Trimble seems to have a record for buying quality companies, integrating them into the family, and then leaving the work to the people that know best how to implement it.

Joined on stage by Sketchup Product Manager John Baucus, Product Evangelist Aidan Chopra and a number of others from the company, the group quickly explained the plans Trimble has set for the 3D modeler: the program is going to stay simple to use, and it’s going to get a lot more complex as well. The company sees Sketchup as a platform as well as an application.

Here’s the abbreviated breakdown:

– There will always be a free version of Sketchup available and the basic program will     never be more complicated to learn.

-The Pro version will continue to be developed and you will see a continually greater difference between it’s abilities and those of the free version.

-They will continue to support 3rd party developers in creating compatible software and plugins to work within Sketchup. Over 45% of users have and use 3rd party plugins with Sketchup and they want to continue to support the creation of useful additions that they would never develop in-house, hoping that each industry will take the initiative in creating plugins for specific needs.

-They will continue to support “everyone else” as well. Since the program is used in so many varied industries and vocations, the company wants the software to be truly useful to anyone who uses it to create.

-They plan to continue to make the software run bigger and more complex models as fast as possible by any means they can.

-The company is ramping up their team size and is currently looking for new talent. Trimble is pumping a lot of money into the company, especially in Layout, their software for creating construction drawings from Sketchup models. They plan on continuing to improve the drawing program to equal any CAD package out there.

-Starting in 2013 with the release of the next version, the company will now go to annual updates instead of the random release dates we’ve become used to. Another sign that the software’s development is going to proceed at a much faster rate than it did at Google.

Also, there are plans to overhaul the 3D Warehouse. The Warehouse now contains over 2 million models with over 1000 new models added each week, many by major manufacturers. They plan to update it to make it easier to use and easier to find content.

And, it was announced that the company has developed an STL importer/exporter for creating model files for use in stereolithography and 3D printing. Now that companies like Makerbot have made desk-top 3D printers available in the $2000 range, 3D printing may soon become as common as paper printers.

They have licensed STL plugin code from three outside developers, streamlined it and offer it as a free plugin. You can download it here.

All in all, the switch to Trimble ownership looks like a much better fit than it did with Google. Although as John Baucus will say, plenty of good things came from the Google purchase. It was at Google that the free version of the software was launched and the 3D Warehouse came into being. And, kudos to Google for making sure the company went to a good new home and wasn’t just cut loose.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I left the conference relieved. It looks like Sketchup has a very long and productive future ahead. Aidan Chopra joked at the opening session, “Sketchup 17 is going to be awesome!”

P.S. – Your Rendering Software Is Obsolete

An article at PC Magazine.com last November talked about how real-time rendering is changing the movies, mainly in terms of how it affects the workflow and the time involved in creating animated films. Because of the advances in processor speeds and the continuing evolution of software programming, animators are beginning to be able to animate in real time. The giant rendering farms of the Far East may soon be a thing of the past.

Creating renders, at least for me, is a tedious affair that ends up eating hours of time while processing images, and renders ( pun intended ) my computer a slave to the rendering engine, useless for working on anything else.

The new wave in rendering software is for real-time execution with full motion and lighting effects as well as physical atmospheric effects like water, fog, etc.

While not cheap, there are a number of real-time, full motion options that cut the normal still-image render time from hours to seconds.

LumenRT

The least expensive option I’m aware of is LumenRT. This is a real-time rendering engine designed for use with Sketchup, but is currently being developed for use with other modeling software. Unlike the other programs I’ll discuss, there is a calculation process involved that does take more time but the advantage of this is that you can output what is called a LiveCube, which is an executable file you can send to anyone that they can navigate in and explore the model without the need for any software. Pretty neat. The downside is that once this is done, if you make any changes you need to recompute everything.

The program boast very accurate lighting and reflection effects and this affects the render speed. The company’s site advises that you may experience slower processing speeds if your model exceeds 40,000 square feet or 500,000 polys.

Normally price at $295, the program is currently on sale for $195 at their site. You can watch a promo film below, and read a review of it here.

 

 

Lumion

The next option is a program called Lumion, which was designed based on the object-oriented analysis approach of Quest 3D, a virtual reality program designed for 3D fly-throughs and simulations.

Lumion’s interface

Lumion is a true real-time rendering engine that can import nearly any 3D model. Instead of using ray-tracing technology like most other renderers, it uses a system more like those found in gaming systems to simulate light effects. This would seem to suggest that the specular effects and reflections are not accurate but a viewing of several sample videos of the product seems to suggest otherwise. Because of the way the program operates, objects in the background are rendered at lesser resolutions meaning it can handle models with millions of polys without bogging down.

The program is touted as having a short learning curve and is able to generate full motion renders in a fraction of the time it once took to do them in programs like Maya.

Lumion isn’t cheap by any means. The price of the basic program is about $1,900 with the pro version running about $3,700. There is a free version, which is limited and there is a trial version as well. It also runs only on the Windows operating system. Check out the amazing promo videos below and read the reviews here and here.

Lumion quick overview from Lumion on Vimeo.

Waterfall Lumion techpreview from Lumion on Vimeo.

Lumion demonstration from Lumion on Vimeo.

Twinmotion 2

Twinmotion 2 bills itself as “the render killer”. It was developed by an architectural film as an in-house application but was made available to the public. Like Lumion it is capable of handling huge models because of its Level Of Detail technology that renders distant objects with less detail and increases the poly count as you move closer to them.

Twinmotion 2 interface

Twinmotion seems to have more accurate geo-locating controls as well as sun controls, but Lumion is constantly changing so that may no longer be the case. Twinmotion does create excellent renders as seen below in this side-by-side comparison of a render to actual film of the location.

At $2900, Twinmotion 2 is in the same range as Lumion. Plus, there is a $850 annual subscription fee, similar to Revit. It’s hardly a purchase one could take lightly.

So what does this mean for the Art Department? Do we need full-motion renders? Considering that renders are becoming more and more common at each step of the design process, creating full-motion renders that can be done in a fraction of the time of traditional renders might become the norm.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe they could provide a good transistion step into the pre-viz process. Or maybe they’ll bring some of the pre-viz work back into the Art Department.

What do you think?

“Where’s That Submarine Research?” – Cataloging Your Stuff

I took the big file of submarine research, surveys and photos and tossed it in the trash. Then I stopped to think about it. Was I really ever going to use this information again? I’d done three sub movies before, what were the chances of ever doing another one. I looked at it sitting on the trash pile and then scooped it back out, just in case.

That’s been my constant dilemma, what to do with the dozens of boxes of files from past film projects. I finally decided that if  there was no way to easily put my hands on a file, I might as well toss all of them.

I’ve been in the midst of trying to catalogue and organize my collection of +2000 books and decided the research needed to get catalogued the same way.

The thought of trying to manually type in the info of all those books kept me from even starting the project until I found Delicious Library. When you open the program you are presented with a virtual bookshelf.

This is the way your books appear on the virtual bookshelf

You just wave the barcode on the book in front of the screen and the program searches the internet and within 3 seconds it loads a photo of the cover of the book onto the shelf. The window along the side records the publisher, date, value, reviews and a lot more. There are multiple ways of organizing and viewing the items including by Dewey decimal system, author, title, location or value.

If the book is older and doesn’t have a barcode, you can enter the ISBN number and it will log it. You can also input older books by inputting the title and author and it will search for all the books editions.  If, like me, you have a LOT of books, or DVDs, when you purchase the program you can also purchase a handheld barcode reader that allows you to scan about a hundred items at a time. When you plug the scanner into your computer, the program will download and record the items onto the ‘shelf’.

The program is also a great way of cataloguing anything else, including research. I created a system of boxes and have the various files noted as to which box they are in so I can do a word search in the system and an icon of the file and its location pop up.

The only downside is that Delicious Library is  for Macs only. For PC users, the nearest similar products which work similarly are  Librarian Pro 2, or All My Books.

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.

Artisan

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.