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Google SketchUp WorkshopModeling, Visualizing, and Illustrating
Focal PressCopyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCreating Virtual Concept Models in SketchUp
Jean Thiriet is an architect, qualified in 2008 by the ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture de Nancy (also called EAN). A passionate user of 3D, he has been working for a practice that creates real-time virtual models since finishing his studies. His other interest is teaching, and in 2009, he created the website wip-archi.com, which is dedicated to conveying the concepts of modeling and rendering, so indispensable in today's profession, to both students and professionals alike.
Project: Virtual models in SketchUp.
Tools: SketchUp 6, Artlantis, Vray, Photoshop, and Internet.
Jean Thiriet: "The last few years have seen an unprecedented boom in the use of 3D tools. More and more professionals are beginning to notice the undeniable advantages of these virtual approaches, and the growing presence of SketchUp in architecture practices is the best proof of this. In spite of its novel approach, SketchUp often still finds its place in the production pipeline at the same stage as traditional model makers: at the end of the design process. However, given the potential that it possesses, it would be interesting to try to push for new working methodologies based on a simple concept: the virtual model."
"This model grew and was added to as the project evolved, and it was possible to use it throughout the process to create more traditional graphics (rendered images, for example), whose common origin guaranteed an overall visual coherence."
Although many people consider it to be a "basic" program, SketchUp can be integrated into a rich and complex creative process, while at the same time remaining quick and easy to use.
Since this project was based on existing building, the design process started with a site survey and desk study, followed by importation of all the data into AutoCAD. This laid the groundwork for future design work.
We soon realized that we would need a virtual model. Using this model, we were able to easily visualize the impact of the many design choices throughout the conceptual stage, something that is indispensable when working with renovations. The 3D construction of the surrounding site backed up this approach and made it easy to take decisions that affected the overall, wider urban vision.
The model for the conceptual phase was often constructed using a fairly empirical method, the volumes being drawn in space with neither a priori research nor the use of clearly defined structural elements (walls, windows, slabs, etc.).
As the project progressed, these purely geometric objects – which were, at this stage, fairly malleable – were transformed into groups and components that were then organized into a hierarchy of layers, the implementation of which makes sense of the whole project, making it more usable and concrete.
This free-form approach explains the success of SketchUp in the conceptual research phases, since it offers a flexibility that other architectural software that is based on parametric objects simply cannot match.
Once the project design had stabilized, the next step was the presentation stage. First of all, the model showed a relative uniformity of scale and definition of space (here, at about 1:200), and details were then added to certain specific areas. This method reduced the construction time for the whole project and left more flexibility for further adjustments.
In order to create high-quality images, it is often necessary to go beyond SketchUp's rendering capabilities, notably in terms of complex reflection effects, material rendering, or lighting calculations. There are many programs capable of utilizing the data from the 3D model, and for this project, we used two programs in particular: Artlantis Studio and Vray for SketchUp.
Artlantis is a stand-alone application that takes in the data exported from another 3D modeling program. This program offers a real-time preview of applied material effects, coupled with a very approachable interface; it makes it very easy to adjust the overall look of a scene (lights, textures, etc.).
Vray is a rendering engine, developed originally for 3D studio Max, then ported to several other programs, with SketchUp being one among them. Unlike Artlantis, it is integrated directly within Google's program, where it posts its own toolbar. The renderer offers many advanced control possibilities, something that can put off new users at first. Luckily, sets of parameters can be saved as preset files that can be easily reused, and only a few clicks are necessary to generate a basic render.
Treating the modeling phase as something intimately tied up with project development, and seeing the images produced as a spur to further development, rather than as an end in themselves, is quite far removed from the classic approach. However, it is bound up with the very nature of SketchUp.
Having a discussion about the model, asking yourselves the questions raised by it, and then creating renders to answer those questions are much more interesting than arbitrarily choosing some points of view in your model, simply rendering them out in 3D, and showing them to the client.
Finally, this "decompartmentalized" use of software in a dynamic, collaborative pipeline (SketchUp, Vray, Artlantis, Photoshop, Internet, etc.) and the exchange of data in various formats represent an original and efficient approach.
To illustrate this, we are going to look at three distinct cases: three images generated from the project. They were not intended to convey the same information and would, therefore, be produced using different methods. Nevertheless, they were all created from the same 3D model that formed the basis of the project.
An Aerial View
Presenting the building in its entirety, showing its relationship with the urban fabric, entailed the creation of an overall view that summed up the intentions and the impact of the project.
Stage 1: Define a Composition
Objectives: Make choices that optimize how the image will be read.
Data: 3D model.
Tools: SketchUp and Vray.
Here, we tried to get over a notion of the hierarchy of the elements shown, in order to stress the major points of the project in relation to its environment.
To do this, the urban context was modeled entirely of schematic blocks rendered in "clay render" mode. The easiest way of achieving this is to choose an appropriate preset within Vray: In Vray's options, click on File > Load, choose a preset (the file extension is .visopt) and start the render.
Thanks to this approach, it was easy to see the scale and relation of the principal elements, without overburdening the image with graphic information.
The building, framed at the center of the scene, was going to be rendered in color, primarily to stress the importance of the landscaping aspects of the project. The numerous clusters of trees were largely responsible for the character of the spaces, and a graphic representation of this was needed.
Stage 2: Updating the Model
Objectives: Adding elements to communicate the intentions of the project.
Data: SketchUp components.
Tools: SketchUp and Component Spray plug-in.
At this scale and viewing angle, it was apparent that placing photorealistic 2D trees would not make reading the project any easier and would entail long hours of manipulation in Photoshop.
We, therefore, went for schematic 3D trees that had sufficient explicit volume to render the image readable. However, in light of the number of elements that we needed to place, this was going to be a complex operation: SketchUp does not have any tools that could help in this regard.
Luckily, a Ruby script programmer has come up with a solution to get around this constraint. Ruby plug-ins, often free and developed independently by a dynamic community of enthusiasts, provide quick-andeasy solutions in cases too numerous to mention and fill many of the holes in the original program. We used the Component Spray plug-in, which allows you to easily duplicate components across a surface using a simple click (or across a chosen geometric shape: square, circle, etc.). The script also includes a function that randomly changes component scale and rotation, which gives a very natural-looking appearance to the results of multiple copy operations. The same method was used to place the people in the scene.
Stage 3: Refining the Render Further
Objectives: Compositing the different elements to obtain the final image.
Data: Renders from SketchUp and Vray.
Tools: SketchUp, Vray, and Photoshop CS.
Once we have the two images (both the "clay render" and color images produced withVray), it was simply a matter of compositing them in Photoshop and applying a mask to allow the one layer to show through the other where necessary.
In order to increase the readability of the whole image, and in particular the white of the massing model, we composited the edges from the SketchUp render on to the render created in Vray. If your software allows you to create a renderer with exactly the same camera position and angle as in your SketchUp scene, it is easy to composite the two. To do this, you simply need to take a screenshot in SketchUp's Hidden Line mode (with the background set to white) and place it in a new layer in Photoshop, overlaying the previous render. You then simply need to change the layer's Blending Mode (usually to Multiply). This will knock out the white of the black-and-white layer, revealing the full-color image underneath, but will keep the black edges intact.
Using this method, you can create some fairly original-looking renders, halfway between photorealism and a hand-drawn effect.
Finally, since the green spaces are particularly important as regards the use of the space as a whole, they were brought more to the fore by giving them a specific texture using Photoshop's Clone Stamp tool.
Since the project was based on an existing building and the brief called for a multifunction use, the final scheme consisted of many complex, interlocking spaces and varying usage zones. It was, therefore, necessary to communicate these clearly in order to convey the overall idea of the project. With this in mind, a section seemed ideal in this regard.
Stage 1: Choose an Approach and Understand the Constraints
Objectives: Decide on the type of render and the method that will allow you to achieve it.
Data: 3D model.
From the start, we chose a "clay render" style, in order to place the accent on the building volumes themselves and not on the extraneous details that might hinder the reading of the whole scheme. The section view for this stage is further accentuated by rendering it in perspective, something that is richer and more dynamic than a simple 2D cut.
SketchUp makes it easy to dynamically place section cuts, thanks to its dynamic Section Plane tool. However, these cuts are "virtual," and the model always remains intact.
Unfortunately, rendering engines work on the entire geometry of the model so that the section cuts would not appear in any renders produced by third-party programs. This means we needed to turn to other methods to achieve the desired result.
If you are using Artlantis, it is possible to get the same effect by using its own Section Cut tool. Unfortunately, to get a monochrome model, it would be necessary to replace all the materials one by one with a uniform white texture, something that entails a considerable time investment. For these reasons, we chose at this stage to work with Vray, to obtain a very high-quality "clay render," but this approach would require some modification to the model.
Excerpted from Google SketchUp Workshop Copyright © 2011 by Elsevier Inc. . Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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