by Nandaka Jayasinghe

Illustrations by Bhagya Gunatilake and Mekala Wanniarachchi

Traditionally, in order to get an idea of the character and functionality of a space, a design needed to be resolved in terms of plan, section, and elevation. The images conveyed by these are inter-dependant, and are equally important in understanding and conceiving the considered space, one plane at a time.

The human eye is incapable of seeing in plan, in section, or in elevation. Depth perception causes the eye to see only in 3D. So, perspective drawings and computer generated 3D images are far more effective in conveying a more realistic image.

Many software such as 3dMAX, AUTOCAD, and MAYA are already very popular among users. Using these require a fair deal of skill and experience. Many are capable of producing extremely life-like images, but in order to do so many parameters need to be fed in. This process is quite time consuming and needs to be done meticulously by a person who is technically adept with the software.

SketchUp, a relatively new software which is fast gaining popularity, is quicker, simpler, and more user friendly. It’s designed to be more intuitive, flexible and easier to learn than other 3D modelling tools.

Within a few minutes of experimenting one can easily understand the basics of using this application. For the less adventurous, a wealth of information is offered in the form of step-by-step video tutorials and tips which pop up at the start of the application.

One of the many differences between SketchUp and other 3D modelling tools is that it uses a very simple interface with a single view that allows users to draw in 3D, as opposed to several views in different planes offered by most other applications.

Drawing lines, and connecting them is made easy as the pointer automatically locks on to endpoints, midpoints, extensions, and a host of other points. Planes thus created can be turned into forms using the push-pull function. The faces of these objects can very easily be shifted around and altered.

A minimum number of tools adds to the simplicity of the application without hindering its capabilities, as most tools have multiple functions.

But the simplicity of the programme also has several drawbacks. For instance, the modelling interface can at times be very stubborn, and the need for individual planar views occasionally arises, especially when dealing with angular forms. Another is that organic and spherical forms are more difficult to model using SketchUp, and once created these forms cannot be edited.

SketchUp proves to be extremely useful when doing massing studies, and developing the conceptual form of buildings. One can easily get carried away with the whole process of designing, as interesting forms and spaces are created with every twist and turn of planes and objects.

A unique feature allows users to give dimensions in both metric and imperial at the same time. This is most useful when detailing.

While being able to pan, zoom, and rotate a model, this application is also capable of toggling through different camera points and creating walkthroughs. Another very useful tool allows for the (precise) study of the play of light, throughout different times of the day, providing an opportunity to not only test the aesthetic qualities but also the functional qualities of form and space.

In addition to the wire frame view, SketchUp also offers shaded and textured views. The programme comes complete with a material library which can be used to create realistic images, and it’s also possible to play around with the transparence of materials to achieve a more layered image. Its trademark feature is the ability to play around with the line style to achieve sketchy wire frames much like hand drawn sketches.

Of the two versions of SketchUp available in the market, Google SketchUp is a free version which has all the modelling capabilities of the more powerful SketchUp Pro, but lacks the ability to export the models into other formats such as CAD and 3dMAX. SketchUp Pro can also be supplemented with a multitude of add-ons. While Google SketchUp is limited with the use of only natural light, SketchUp Pro offers plug-ins which can be used to create artificial lighting effects.

SketchUp offers a simple and time efficient solution to 3D modelling, which is both fun and addictive to use.

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