“Hand Hewn” vs. Machine Made – Part 2

In the first part of this article I mentioned that traditional hand tools could create a finish superior to their modern day counterparts. Rather than just expect you to take my word for it, I’ll show you the proof.

Traditionally the way to surface wood once it was cut to approximate size with a saw is by using various types of  hand planes.

modern woodworking hand planes

modern woodworking hand planes by Lie-Nielsen

Used for thousands of years the plane is believed to have been designed by the Romans. Basically it was a base of wood or metal which used a wedge to hold a piece of steel with a single-bevel cutting edge at a set angle to the cutting surface. Modern planes have a more refined system for controlling the cut but the basic layout of the tool is still the same.

For bulk planing it’s hard to beat a modern powered thickness planer but for some operations like fitting doors, which requires very careful trimming, the traditional hand plane excels in a number of ways. I thought I’d do a little test and compare the quality of the surface of some wood run through a power planer as compared to a hand plane.

Lie-Neilsen block plane

Lie-Neilsen block plane

the block plane in action

the block plane in action

Here’s a block plane, which is great for quick jobs like fitting doors. This particular plane is an exceptionally good one made by Lie-Neilsen in Maine. The wheel on the rear allows you to adjust the depth of the cut even while planing by as little as a thousandth of an inch.

When the blade is set properly and the plane is held parallel to the wood, you get a beautiful, continuous strip of wood that comes off the work piece. Instead of sawdust from a modern power tool you get this lovely pile of curly shavings. The bottom photo is of the final plane shaving. It’s a few thou of an inch thick or about the thickness of a piece of 1000H vellum. It’s impossible to do that with a power tool.

 

hand plane shaving about the thickness of drafting vellum

hand plane shaving about the thickness of drafting vellum

 

Look closely and you can see the individual wood cells. Great, you say, but who needs wood ribbon? Stay with me, I’m getting to my point.

 

 

 

 

 

below is a piece of wood run through a power thickness planer with a new head.

Surface of wood after being run through a planer

Surface of wood after being run through a planer

 

 

 

 

 

 

It looks pretty smooth, until you do a side-by-side comparison with the hand plane shaving. You can see below that the hand plane shaving is much smoother than the “fuzzy” appearance of the power planer sample. But why?

comparison of power planer cut (left) with a hand plane shaving (right)

comparison of power planer cut (left) with a hand plane shaving (right)

The cutting head on the thickness planer looks like this:

spiral cutter head for a thickness planer

spiral cutter head for a thickness planer

Instead of a single blade that stays in continuous contact like the hand plane, the power plane’s cutter is made up of dozens of small knives that cut at thousands of revolutions a minute, which instead of one continuous cut creates a lot of this:

power planer shavings

power planer shavings

Smoothing planes and card scrapers were used to create a finish as smooth as that created by modern tools using sandpaper. Sandpaper wouldn’t become used universally until the second half of the 19th century. Abrasive material, mainly fish skin, existed during that earlier period but was used mainly for the final polishing of a finish rather than as a way to surface wood like we do today as a replacement for planes.

One national woodworking magazine recently conducted a test, pitting a man with hand planes against another with a power sander to see which could finish a set of doors faster.The hand planes won, smoothing the pieces in less time than the sandpaper process which required sanding the pieces multiple times with different grits of sandpaper.

So why were planes replaced by sandpaper? Because you can hand a power sander to a complete novice and they will be able to get an acceptable finish with very little help. The use of hand planes requires the person to know how to use the tools as well as knowing how to sharpen and adjust them. Power tools have great advantages over hand powered tools when it comes to general output speed and during the industrial revolution they had another advantage; they allowed for the use of a fairly unskilled labor force. With power tools the real control is in the hands of the tool, not the operator. That’s why with power tools there is usually a lot of work involved in setting up or creating jigs  to gain more control over the cutting process.

Because woodworking using had tools was labor intensive, and because prices for items like furniture was usually set by local organizations, only surfaces which were seen were finished to a highly smooth surface. here’s a photo of the underside of a table in the Chicago Art Institute. You can see the plane marks on the underside of the table top:

table top bottom

 

An easy way to tell if a piece of furniture is a period piece or a modern day reproduction is to run your hand along the back of the piece or the underside of a drawer. If it’s an antique it won’t be smooth.

Traditional wood moldings were made much the same way but instead of a flat blade, the blade was cut in a reverse profile to the mould that was to be made. Here are two of the moulding planes from my collection. The oldest of the two, made in London over 250 years ago, still works perfectly once I tuned up the blade. You can see the results, a surface so smooth it doesn’t need to be scraped, much less sanded.

wood moulding planes

wood moulding planes

 

Cyma reversa cut with an 18th century moulding plane

Cyma reversa cut with an 18th century moulding plane

moulding plane1

Moulding plane and the profile it cuts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, if the plane was developed by the Romans that should mean that woodworking before that time must have been pretty bad, right? Nope.

Take the Greeks. The Greek Trireme was as amazing ship for its time for a number of reasons.

Greek_GalleysIn the ancient world ships were built in a completely different way that we think of them. Since around the 1st century ships have been built by making a framework first and then applying boards over the frame. In the ancient world ships were built hull-first., and only after that was a structural frame added for stability. The timber making up the hull was joined edge-to-edge with what is known as loose tenons. These were inserted into slots, or mortises and then pinned with dowels through holes drilled in the sides of the timbers to pull the two pieces together making a glue-less bond that didn’t require any kind of metal fasteners. The average small Greek ship had about 8000 of these tenons.

Greek ship construction - illustration by Eric Gaba

Greek ship construction – illustration by Eric Gaba

 

More modern wood ships had planks nailed to a wooden frame and then tarred rope, or caulking was hammered into the cracks between them to make them watertight. There is no indication the Greeks used any caulking in their ships, which means they were skilled enough with their tools, adzes and chisels, to make the joint between the edges of the planks tight enough that once the wood was exposed to water, the planks would swell together creating a watertight vessel. That’s some pretty amazing woodworking.

Of course this also means that not only was Noah a wiz with a mortise chisel, since a ship the size of the Ark must have contained some 100,000 tenons, but every modern recreation of it I’ve seen is completely wrong.

 

‘Hand-Hewn’ vs. Machine Made: Comparing Historic Tool Finishes To Modern Methods – Part 1

Creating period wood finishes for film and television scenery always involves a certain amount of subjective and creative interpretation. Usually the wood surfaces are finished to a level having more to do with the time period’s distance from modern times more than how old the set would look in relation to the time of the story. So usually anything set in ancient Roman times looks like it’s been through several hundred sandstorms, attacked with a grinder and sand blasted until the early growth rings are worn away from the late growth rings. There were certainly buildings that were very old at that time but there were plenty that looked much newer than the photo below.

weathered wood showing sunken early growth rings

weathered wood showing sunken early growth rings

I was working on a period film several years ago and I noticed that one of the other designers had called out the wood surfaces of their set to be finished as ‘hand-hewn’. I knew the surfaces would have actually been surfaced to a finer finish than a rough hewn beam and I asked why it needed to be so rough. They answered that being pre-machine age, other than furniture which would have required lots of sandpaper, they wouldn’t have had the ability to give the wood a smooth finish. I said that not only was that not true,  in many ways hand tools gave a superior finish to the tools of the machine age, and they had something better than sandpaper.  They laughed until they realized I wasn’t kidding.

Let’s take timber framing. When most people think of a timber frame building they tend to think of the wood looking like this:

fachwerk3

16th century German timber frame or Fachwerk house.

The wood didn’t look anything like this when it was built. The faces of the wood probably looked more like this (minus the checking or cracks):

restored German Fachwerk building from the mid 1600's.

restored German Fachwerk building from the mid 1600’s.

 

Partly because of this trend toward artistic license, and not understanding period construction which leads to misinterpreting the photographic research available (such as the photo below), wood buildings get designed and built with anachronistic finishes.

 

fachwerk2

The timbers of this fachwerk building were originally as smooth as those in the previous example. Many years later the faces were scored to act as a grip for the
plaster stucco-like finish that was applied at one time to ‘modernize’ it, much like some old interior brick walls were scored to accept plaster.

 

Even the building industry can take some of the blame. Here’s a photo of a popular flooring with a simulated jack plane finish. The plane had a curved blade that was used to quickly take a plank down before being planed smooth to its final thickness. A board with tool marks like this would not likely have been used in a decent dwelling.

fake jack plane tool marks

 

 

Today it’s hard to imagine doing all the work involved in processing wood from logs to a finished form without power machinery. How could a hand tool created a finish smoother than a modern tool, much less sandpaper? first of all, the way the tools work today is much different than the way period tools work. And, because it was  a much more labor-intensive process, they didn’t finish surfaces that wouldn’t be seen.

Let’s start with the big stuff. The process of taking logs from a tree to a piece of framing timber in the European tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries involved a number of types of hatchets.

Here’s a video by Christopher Schwarz on the use of hewing axes by Plimoth Plantation’s master joiner, Peter Follansbee:

 

 

By the 18th century the process involved not only the hewing axes and saws but an adze to square the sides followed by a broadax to smooth the sides, and possibly a drawknife to remove the axe and adze marks.

Here is a great little video by Ken Koons explaining the process:

 

 

Once the mortises and tenons were cut they were cleaned up and smoothed using chisels and slicks, which were basically large chisels meant to be pushed by hand rather than hit with a mallet. The photo below is of the largest slick in my collection. Made in the late 1860’s in Ohio, it has a 3 inch wide blade. This big blade is certainly closer to a chisel than an axe as you can see from the closeup of the blade as it shaves off a sliver of my thumbnail. The blade will leave a very smooth surface.

 

A three inch wide framing slick from the mid 1800's

A three inch wide framing slick from the mid 1800’s

framing slick2

 

Here is a short video by John Neeman of a framing slick in use, you can see how quickly and cleanly it cuts a tenon.

 

 

 

Cut timber surfaces were as smooth as their maker wanted, or needed them to be. Here are two photos of the Daniel Trabue cabin near Lexington, KY. The cabin was restored some years ago and returned to it’s 1797 appearance. The clapboard which had been applied later had protected most of the logs from decay. Notice the tool marks on the exterior logs. Now look at the second picture of an interior wall on the second floor. Here the German maker has signed his name with an 18th century cipher. Notice how clear the signature is. It was made with a traditional crayon made of beeswax and powdered vermillion used for marking out work while building. The crayon was found during the restoration, tucked above the front door lintel. The clarity is only possible because the wood surface is so smooth.

front door of the Daniel Trabue cabin

front door of the Daniel Trabue cabin

18th century cipher of the cabin's builder

18th century cipher of the cabin’s builder

 

Next week, in Part 2 of this post I’ll talk about and show you how traditional hand tools can actually create a finish that’s superior to their modern day counterparts and why our ancestors didn’t use, or need sandpaper to surface wood. Also, you’ll learn why every recreation of Noah’s Ark you’ve ever seen is dead wrong.

3D Scanners For Your Pocket – Coming Soon, Very Soon.

There must be something in the water in Boulder. A lot of technology is coming out of that little town including two new devices which could continue to revolutionize the way we work. Location survey work has never been much fun and always comes with unknown challenges that often leave you stymied, ike that billboard you suddenly learn you have to measure, or the block-long row of buildings that you have to survey with two hours of sunlight left in the day.

Using 3D scanners for location surveying and object duplication in the past has been something people have wanted, but the price of most of these devices usually makes their use too cost prohibitive. The iPhone and the many apps that accompanied its popularity have been a real help in many Art Department workflows but their uses are currently limited as far as true 3D capture and augmented reality functions.

Two companies, Ike GPS and Occipital are trying to fill a need for low cost 3D scanners with two inventions which act as add-on devices for digital phones and tablets. By harnessing the power of these devices, their creations enhance products that most people are already using.

Ike is a company which has had previous success with hand-held scanners and was looking to create a device which could be small enough to fit on a smart phone. They’ve come up with a small device called Spike which attaches to an iPhone or other smart phone and uses the devices built-in accelerometer, compass and GPS functions to make it possible to measure the size, height or even the volume of buildings and even create a 3D model to export to a modeling program.

5543da38df27e38fafd40a7ac07248a7_large

The company is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise interest as well as funds to develop the device which they plan on having ready for the market by next May. The device will come in two versions; the Basic version and the Pro version which will generate 3D model files, geolocate buildings and allow for pulling measurements from the digital image.

f5b20da41992f026ed2e151a0ad21154_large

For a donation of $389, you’ll get a prerelease Spike Pro which the company says is around half of the final retail price, meaning the street price of the Pro unit is going to be somewhere in the $800 range. That may seem pricy but the next closest device I know of that can provide similar functions is about 5 times more,  both in size and price.

Here’s a video from the company website:

 

 

Occipital has developed a device they are calling the Structure Sensor which attaches to an iPad and can create 3D scans of objects or rooms up to about 550 square feet with a range of 3 1/2 meters. The file can be imported into a CAD package or output for 3D printing.

Structure Sensor

The Sensor Kickstarter program is fully funded but for a $330 pledge you can still get a Sensor at a significantly reduced price than it will retail for when it becomes available early next year.

Check out the video below:

Here are the links to the Kickstarter pages:

Structure Sensor

Spike Pro

Designing Without A Ruler – “By Hand & Eye” Explores Designing With Dividers.

By Hand and Eye

There are a lot of design books published every year and occasionally a few get written that are actually worth buying. By Hand & Eye is one of those. It’s a book that delivers where a lot of others have gone and failed. Written in an easy, nonsense-free style, the book sets out to explain the “art” of designing with proportions rather than numbers. I’ve found that a lot of books on design tend to read more like a doctoral thesis than something that will actually explain the material in easily understandable language. By Hand & Eye succeeds because  authors Walker and Tolpin are actually practitioners of their craft rather than just writers. It’s like taking a film course from someone who’s actually made a film rather than just talk about it.

Lost Art Press is a relatively new publisher who’s books are primarily aimed at the traditional woodworking crowd but you’ll be missing out on some gems if you assume their books are only useful to furniture makers. Their books are quality products both in their content and their construction. These are not the cheap perfect-bound high-acid tomes that are the product of most publishers and will end up disintegrating on you shelves. (With that in mind, If you do happen to be a furniture and book lover, and the name Andre Roubo means anything to you, you need to must check this page out immediately.)

Jim Tolpin was the most familiar to me as I own a number of his other books, but George Walker is relatively new to the publishing world. George writes a blog called Design Matters which is a record of his journey in the search for understanding what makes for good design. He and Tolpin met several years ago and found they were both on the same path but had approached it from different directions; Walker from a preference for traditional furniture and Tolpin from a more modern bent. Both were determined to discover the “magic formula” that meant the difference between a chair or building being handsome or ugly.

What they discovered is that numbers don’t matter. In fact much of the time they just get in the way. Most of the treasured icons of furniture and architecture were made before the measured rule was in use. It was the divider that ruled rather than the inch or foot. And this system of working when far beyond architecture and furniture.

The exercises they outline are especially helpful if you have only worked on a computer as you’ll be forced to think purely about the design process without the intrusion of a ‘digital helper’. By learning to think proportionally you’ll approach design from a much less restricted footing. A lot of times computers just get in the way of good design instead of enhancing it. Once you stop using numbers and just concentrating on ratios you’ll realize you can make things much easier for yourself.

The book are also a great introduction to traditional geometry and proportion if you haven’t really studied it before or a great refresher if it’s been a while since you exchanged a mouse for a compass. They are developing a website for online access to exercises in the book and you can download some sample animations of the exercises from this web page. You can also read more about the book and download a sample chapter on this page.

While the book does concentrate on furniture design the information translates to everything else in the design world as most of the principals are found in classic architecture.

column cannon ship

For example, traditional sailing ships and cannon have a lot in common with the classical orders in that they were all based on a proportional system. This not only insured that all the moulds would be in proportion to the length of a cannon barrel but that the trunions would be sturdy enough to carry the barrels weight and that the wall thickness of the tube would handle the explosions of the powder charges. The ship’s rigging was based on a similar system. If you knew the mast length you could figure the thickness of the mast stays and the diameter of every piece of rigging on the ship, all without a calculator.

Even an entire structure could and can be built with just a stick and a piece of cordage. Take a hewn log cabin. The picture below illustrates the only drawing you need for a house. It would be scratched out in the dirt with the cord and stick using the cabin width as the main unit of measure.

cabin plan

The length is easily determined in relationship to the width, resulting in a 1.6 plan ratio. The wall height is determined as 5/8s of the width. The same length determines the diagonal roof line which results in a 3/8 rise or a 9/12 pitch. The intersections would be marked with stakes and used as a full size pattern for cutting the timbers and joints without having to use a bevel gauge or fuss with estimating angles.

By doubling the cord the lengths are easily halved into eighths. The metric system is good if you’re working with numbers, multiples of 2 are better if you are laying out a pattern with simple tools.

At one time or another you have probably struggled with a badly proportioned room without realizing it. If you have ever had to design a paneled room and find that it’s impossible to get the panel sizes to work out correctly from one wall to the next, it’s most likely because the room was designed to a bad proportion. Get the proportion of width to length wrong and period details become a nightmare.

By Hand & Eye is now available through the Lost Art Press website. You can order the book here for $34. Also, if you have a peculiar aversion to quality paper products there’s a digital edition available for $16.

Three Types Of Dividers You Should Own

Thinking that you don’t need dividers if you work on a computer is a real mistake. If you have a set of compasses, a set of proportional dividers and a set of equal-space dividers you can accomplish a lot of things in less time than it takes for you to start your computer.

Here are the three types of dividers you should have and where to find them.

Compasses / Dividers

There are a large number of compass and divider styles available. You need to find the best type to fit your work methods

There are a large number of compass and divider styles available. You need to find the best type to fit your work methods.

Dividers and compasses are both the easiest and cheapest of all three types to find and have the greatest variety. If you are just doing the exercises from the book or doing small design drawings on vellum you only need a typical compass. You don’t need to settle for a cheap office store/elementary school type, there are plenty of quality compasses available on Ebay for as little as a few dollars. Usually they will come as part of complete drafting sets, which aren’t a bad thing to own, but often you can find them as one-offs. A compass around 6″ in length should be all you need. If you are feeling like drawing something larger, you’ll need a beam compass. I own one like this which is the best I have ever found. It’s called a Feranco Beam Compass and it was made by a small firm in Cincinnati. They’re out of business but you can find them second hand. Or, you can use a metal straight edge with a set of trammel points like these.

Proportional Dividers

proportional dividers come in a number of styles, most will work for design except for the type manufactured for nautical calculations.

proportional dividers come in a number of styles, most will work for design except for the type manufactured for nautical calculations.

These are definitely more expensive than a set of dividers but are a huge time saver if you are trying to scale a drawing to a different size or want to design to a giver proportion. The cost for a set of these will run anywhere from $30 to $300 depending on the vintage and make. The pair on the left are a 1810 pair made in London. The legs are of iron which are dove-tailed into the German silver body. The tolerances are very tight on these dividers and they stay put when you set them which is often a problem with cheaper dividers. The vintage sets have points which are triangular in shape and come to a very sharp point, which they need to be. Dull points require tuning with a very fine file or emery cloth. This should be avoided if possible because the accuracy depends on the lengths of the legs being a definitive ratio to each other. The modern sets have round pins which come to a point. The advantage of this being that if the dividers are dropped the pins can be replaced, something impossible with traditional sets.

The vintage sets came in two types: standard or second quality in which the indicators ‘Lines’ and ‘Circles’ are engraved on the front, and first quality in which besides these the indicators ‘Plans’ and ‘Solids’ are engraved on the reverse side. For 2D line work you only need the first two indicators. Also, when you are looking for a used set, be sure that one of the indicators does not say ‘Speed”. These are a pair made for nautical use and won’t be very useful for our purposes.

The better quality sets had designations for solids and planes which are for volumetric calculations

The better quality sets had designations for solids and planes which are for volumetric calculations

When you set the dividers to a ratio, the difference in distance between the longer and shorter legs will mirror this. Set the ‘Line’ scale to 8 and then spread the long set of legs along a straight line. The distance between the short legs will be 1/8th the distance. The same method works with circles. Set the scale to , say 5, and them spread the long legs across the diameter of a circle. You ‘walk’ the legs around the circumference of the circle to divide it into 5 equal segments.

The '10' setting under circles gives you the ratio for the Golden Proportion.

The ’10’ setting under circles gives you the ratio for the Golden Proportion.

If you like designing to the Golden Proportion, you can set the Circle scale to ’10’ and you will have a proportion of 1.618 between the two sets of legs.

Equal Space Dividers

Equal space divider come in two sizes: 6" and 12"

Equal space divider come in two sizes: 6″ and 12″

This type of divider is the most expensive of the three, but for scaling or proportion work from drawings or photographs they are impossible to beat. These are the dividers I use the most of all I own and if I lost them I’d have to replace them immediately, despite the steep price. I bought my set decades ago for $130, new now they list for $350. Ouch. My 12″ set were handmade my Alteneder & Sons in Philadelphia and are collectors items. You may get lucky and find a pair on Ebay. New, a 12″ pair runs from $400 to $500. I’d recommend finding a second-hand pair but make sure the tips are not bent or the accuracy will be nil. These dividers are sometimes referred to as 10-space or 11-point dividers. Check the Ebay sites in Britain and Canada. I’ve seen them show up there as well.

DSC_0044

With these dividers you can very quickly divide a space into as many as 10 units. I used to use them mainly for laying out stairs or room paneling but now they are irreplaceable for scaling off a photograph or drawing while simultaneously drafting on the computer. Trying to scale the material from the computer screen while doing this would be much slower. For the times I do have an image in digital form and need to scale from the screen, I’ll flip a piece of acetate over the monitor to keep the sharp teeth from scratching the screen. It’s fun to watch people with expensive monitors see me do this and gasp in horror.

Rendering In Sketchup

For those of you who work in Sketchup and are new to rendering, or are confused by all the different rendering software packages available, a new book is coming out March 25 that will help. Daniel Tal, landscape architect and author of Sketchup For Site Design, has written a new book, Rendering In Sketchup, which is now available for pre-order or as a digital download.

rendering in sketchup

There are now a number of rendering programs on the market for use with Sketchup, with a majority of them working from within Sketchup without having to exit the program. This can be a plus or a minus depending on how you work. Even though most of the programs offer free-use trial periods of their software, It can be pretty difficult and time-consuming to decide which is  the best one for your workflow and budget.

Daniel is an excellent teacher and has written a very thorough and detailed book on the process of rendering from Sketchup using a variety of software programs as well as explaining post-rendering work with Photoshop. While not every rendering engine is covered, he does go into a great amount of detail explaining not only the basics of rendering, but his own methods using Shaderlight, SU Podium and Twilight Render.

The book covers workflow, hardware requirements, how to model efficiently for renders, use and teaching of textures and a lot more. At over 600 pages, the book is both a reference and a guide and can be read for pertinent chapters rather than just cover to cover.

You can get more information on the book here, and you can view the videos on Daniel’s Youtube site here

Here is a really good tutorial by Daniel you should watch which is based on the material from his book:

Land8 Webinar: Rendering in SketchUp – Daniel Tal from Land8.com on Vimeo.

If you want to know all of your rendering engine options, here is a list of rendering programs that work with or within Sketchup;   ( Prices are as of March, 2013. )

From within Sketchup:

Shaderlight – $299 full license; timed access from $50

Twilight Render – $99

V-Ray – $800

ArielVision – $175

Bloom Unit – free software , cloud-based, priced per render

Caravaggio – $295

Indigo Renderer – $220

IRender nXt – $499

Light Up – $189

LumenRT – $295

Maxwell – $995

Raylectron – $99

Render[in] – $160

Renditioner –  $99,  Pro $199

SU Podium – $198

Thea Render – $420

Standalone Software

Artlantis

Kerkythea – free

Understanding Model Scales – A Comparison Study

Comparative Scale Figure Diagram – You can download a pdf copy of this diagram below.

Even with the large number of computer 3D modeling programs available to designers, there is  (and I think always will be)  a place for physical scale models. Although the modeling programs continue to produce more and more realistic looking images, they are still only a 2D image that utilizes correct perspective. And even the programs or systems that are ‘true 3D’ are really only offset 2D images meant to trick the mind into thinking it’s seeing a dimensional physical shape.

Some of the advantages of a physical scale model are:

-The physical size of a set are much easier to grasp than from a digital model where you can zoom in endlessly.  I once built a model of an area of geography that the producers couldn’t seen to understand exactly how big an area it was until I put in the final piece, a model of the 260 foot ship they planned to use for a crew base. The huge ship measured only 3/16″ in the model scale. They got it instantly.

-A number of people are able to simultaneously view the model and discuss it. A lot of revelations often come from being able to look at a model from many different angles at once.

-The brain isn’t spending effort trying to do the mental tricks required to process fake 3D images. The model is somehow “more real”, because it is.

The Diagrams

I created the chart above as well as the list below from many years worth of notes and scribbles. The calculations are mine so any mistakes are solely mine as well. The visual chart will give you an easy way of determining the size of figures in the various scales that will be most common to concept models.

The list describes what I think are the most useful model sizes  from 1:700 to 1:6 with inch equivalents for each scale as well as the length of a linear foot and meter for each as well. The last column gives the common uses for the scale to help you determine what products exists for purchase. The Size Chart also lists the most common Imperial and metric drawing scales so you can find the model sizes that most closely match.

Download the full list below.

Determining The Size Of Your Model

Your first calculation will probably be how large the overall model needs to be. You’ll want the model to be as detailed as possible but probably won’t want it to take up and entire room. Using the Size Chart, multiply the overall actual size of the area you need to cover by the foot or meter equivalents and then determine which scale is best for the space you have available. Also note that 1/32 and 1:32 refer to the same scale.

Next, determine what model items exist in that scale. For the most variety in objects and vehicles, stick with the train gauge scales. If you need a lot of detailed plastic trucks or cars, 1/24th scale is going to probably be best, which is also the same as 1/2″ to the foot and is close to the German “G” train gauge.

Download The Files Here

Comparative Scale Figure Diagram

When you print this diagram, be sure that you print it at 100%. Check the inch and metric scales to be sure it is at full size for an accurate representation.

Scale Model Size Chart

Other Articles

For more information, you can refer to the following articles:

List Of Scale Model Sizes

Combining Figures With Models

Converting Scale Ratios

Finding The Right Scale For Your Model

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?