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SketchUp 5

By David Spooner, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, College of Environment and Design






Cued Edges and Endpoints options make lines in the foreground darker and emphasize the endpoints of lines making them pop visually. The illustrations above shows examples of these graphic features.


One of the most popular software packages for designing in three dimensions has recently issued its fifth release. True to earlier versions, SketchUp 5 is designed to be an intuitive and sketchy 3D modeling program. SketchUp 5 allows you to explore multiple design ideas quickly as if you were scribbling on trace paper testing 3-D relationships. This review serves to introduce the new tools and changes in the latest release.

One of the most popular software packages for designing in three dimensions has recently issued its fifth release. True to earlier versions, SketchUp 5 is designed to be an intuitive and sketchy 3D modeling program. SketchUp 5 allows you to explore multiple design ideas quickly as if you were scribbling on trace paper testing 3-D relationships. This review serves to introduce the new tools and changes in the latest release.






STEP ONE is the Insert site plan with the Drape Tool. The Drape Tool allows you to add two dimensional objects to three dimensional surfaces. This is particularly useful when adding roads, parking, rivers, and lakes to existing topography. Image by Matthew Alfele


User Interface

The designers of SketchUp have an established motto to "keep it simple". This motto is implemented effectively in the visual changes to the work environment. The updates to the user interface are new icons and toolbars that are graphically intuitive and symbolically suggestive of their function. Dialog boxes have "sticky" behavior which allow for easy positioning without cluttering the work surface. Clicking on the title bars of each set of tools will expand or collapse them accordingly, allowing the maximum viewing area to be displayed during model production. These simple alterations make SketchUp 5 visually stimulating and easy to navigate.






STEP TWO is the Develop Model. Once the site design is inserted, you can easily develop the model. Image by Matthew Alfele


Tool and Component Updates

Several of the proven tools from previous versions have slight upgrades in version 5. The Push/Pull, Polygon, Circle, Rotate and Walk Tools have minor changes that improve the way in which users can manipulate designed forms. For example, the Walk Tool has "collision" detection that makes walk-through tours more realistic. The tool accounts for ramps, stairs and slopes by moving the viewing height according to the changes in ground plane elevation. The Push/Pull Tool has an enhanced selection feature that allows you to select the edges of a face, rather than the face itself, while pressing the CTRL key. This simple modification makes object selection and manipulation significantly easier.

Components, or the building blocks of SketchUp models, have several new additions in the latest release. Selecting, replacing, and locking components has been linked to a new Outliner palette. The palette allows users to see and manipulate component hierarchies by illustrating their position within the overall model. Component commands such as Select All Instances and Replace Selected allow you to quickly pick and change components efficiently without spending time making individual selections. Finally, The FaceMe function casts realistic shadows on components by projecting shadows according to the sun's position in your model regardless of the viewing angle.






STEP THREE: Step three is the render model. Image by Jim Griffith


Sketchy Graphics

Several new rendering types developed for the latest release, allow models to take on a loose or sketchy appearance. Specifically, the Jitter and Extended Edges options create models that appear hand drawn and schematic in their presentation. Often this is helpful when trying to communicate conceptual ideas to clients or keep presentations informal. Similarly, Depth Cued Edges and Endpoints options make lines in the foreground darker and emphasize the endpoints of lines making them pop visually. The illustrations below show examples of these graphic features.






Once a Triangulated Information Network has been created, the Smoove Tool allows for quick manipulation of terrain to represent hills and valleys.


Drawing Conversions

One of the most powerful enhancements in version five is a smoother export feature of models to DWG/DXF files that can be opened in AutoCad and similar drawing programs. The export feature converts SketchUp faces into polylines that can be easily manipulated and turned into technical drawings. The text and component layers set up in SketchUp models are transferred as well. Despite the successes converting a SketchUp model to a DWG file, conversions of DWG files into a SketchUp format has limitations. One unresolved drawback is the conversion of arcs and curves in DWG files to SketchUp faces. Often arcs and curves come into SketchUp as independent line segments that are difficult and time consuming to connect and turn into workable faces. Considerable time must be invested to "clean up" the model.

SandBox Tools

The most exciting addition to version five is the SandBox. These new tools are designed to manipulate contours and landform. The seven tools in the SandBox are the From Scratch Tool, From Contours Tool, Stamp Tool, Drape Tool, Smoove Tool, Add Detail Tool and Flip Edge Tool.






The Jitter and Extended Edges options create models that appear hand drawn and schematic in their presentation. Often this is helpful when trying to communicate conceptual ideas to clients or keep presentations informal. Images from SketchUp.com


Creating Contours

There are two ways to create terrain when using the SandBox. The From Scratch Tool creates a grid of triangles or Triangulated Information Network (TIN) that allows easy manipulation of hills and valleys. Once a TIN has been created, the Smoove Tool allows for quick manipulation of terrain to represent hills and valleys (see figure below). It is not intended to be a realistic model of real topographic information, but rather a schematic design tool to see grade relationships in three dimensions. If greater accuracy is desired, the From Contours Tool allows you to quickly turn existing topographic information into a three dimensional model. This tool allows you to cover imported contour information of actual site conditions. Once a TIN is created, adding detail to berms and hills or removing unwanted flat areas in terrain models can be accomplished with the Add Detail and Flip Edge tools. Each tool allows you to manipulate individual faces that make up the terrain model.

Draping and Stamping

The two final tools in the SandBox allow you to add other information to an existing contour model. The Drape Tool allows you to add two dimensional objects to three dimensional surfaces. This is particularly useful when adding roads, parking, rivers, and lakes to existing topography. Once the site design is inserted, you can easily develop the model (see images below). Golf course fairways and putting greens are easily dropped in and become realistic objects when rendered (see image below). The example below shows this feature. The Stamp Tool allows you to create an imprint of an object onto the surface of the model. Once its position is established, you can move the object up or down depending on whether the object is above or below existing grade. Using the Soften/Smooth Edges tool you can visually blend the topography to meet fixed objects.

Step One - Insert site plan with the Drape Tool (Image by Matthew Alfele)

Step Two - Develop Model (Image by Matthew Alfele)

Step Three - Render Model (Image by Jim Griffith)

Conclusions

The developers of SketchUp strive to upgrade their product based on comments from those who actually use it. Landscape Architects have repeatedly remarked about the lack of ability to efficiently model terrain and manipulate landforms. The SandBox tools developed for version 5 are a direct response to these voiced concerns. As a professor of landscape architecture and a practicing professional in the real world, I find this program to be a remarkable design tool not only to teach students, but to sell clients on design proposals. Whether you use the software to develop conceptual ideas or produce finished presentation models, the software can quickly turn your design thinking into a three dimensional reality.







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June 15, 2019, 10:32 pm PDT

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