We've long been a fan of SketchUp, stretching back well before the involvement of Google. What caught our eye was the way the program made it simple to explore creative ideas both as precision 3D models and as artistic 2D sketches. What Google saw in SketchUp was very different: it saw it as the simplest way to enable end users to model buildings to turn its flat maps into 3D localities.
Google’s geo-modelling ambitions lie at the heart of this latest release. To begin with the old Get Snapshot command has been replaced with the new Add Location command. Rather than opening up Google Earth, this now opens an integrated Google Maps window where you can enter an address or postcode to display an aerial view of where your building is, or will be, located. You can then use the Get Region command to copy a full-colour aerial shot along with terrain and geo-location data into SketchUp to use as the basis for your work.
That’s only the start, though. Add a basic box-modelled version of your building and you can then use SketchUp 8’s revamped Photo Textures command to open another window where you can see the same geolocation using Google’s Street View (assuming the imagery is available in the first). You can then explore the area to find the best view of your building and take snapshots that are applied to your model’s currently selected faces to bring it quickly to life.
Google has also been working on another way of creating simple photo-textured models of existing buildings called Building Maker. This can be accessed online in a browser, but is also now available directly within SketchUp 8 via another integrated window. Essentially, Building Maker lets you add boxes, gables and blocks to build the geometry of the building, which you can then align with Google’s multiple angled aerial shots of the area. You can then save your geo-referenced model to Google’s central 3D Warehouse and export it to SketchUp.
For fine-tuning, a number of further advances have been made. The Igloo tool lets you see each of the Building Maker images associated with your model hovering over it. You can then navigate between images and use SketchUp’s enhanced Match Photo tool to add detail to the model. Meanwhile, the Outer Shell tool lets you quickly remove unwanted internal geometry from buildings you’ve downloaded. The Outer Shell tool shows how SketchUp 8 is no longer limited to treating models as connected faces and can now think of them as solid objects. Google SketchUp 8 also adds the ability to display currently obscured edges as dashed lines, an enhanced Scenes Panel with scene preview thumbnails and a Push/Pull tool that can now work interactively, or with preselected faces.
Google SketchUp 8 Pro
That’s about it for the free Google SketchUp, but users wanting more power can turn to Google SketchUp 8 Pro (US$495). The main advantage of the commercial release is that it goes beyond bitmap and KMZ/DAE output to offer a much wider range of 2D and 3D export options such as EPS, PDF, 3DS, OBJ and FBX. Support has been further extended in this latest release to include the popular DWG/DXF 2010 format.
Pro takes further advantage of the program’s volumetric handling to offer five new tools – Union, Intersect, Subtract, Trim and Split – for creatively combining solid objects. Such subtractive and additive modelling can certainly make life easier, but SketchUp’s system only works with groups and components with no holes and no overlaps. It’s also worth pointing out that users of the free version can achieve the same results if they can to get to grips with the existing Intersect with Model command.
SketchUp Pro also includes two important support applications for handling presentation: Style Builder, where you control the hand-drawn styles that helped give the program its name; and LayOut, where you can place, orientate and annotate your models to produce advanced 2D plans and drawings. Disappointingly, Style Builder is unchanged and the new editing capabilities in LayOut 3, such as support for precision moving, angular dimensions and customisable dashed line styles, fall into the tweaks category.
The ability to export LayOut 3 drawings to the DXF/DWG format for ongoing workflows is more useful and, along with the new solid tools, is just about enough to justify the upgrade price (US$95). However, SketchUp 8 Pro and LayOut 3 add little to previous releases and raise questions about Google’s commitment to SketchUp’s original user-base and those new users who want to move beyond geo-modelling.
For the average user, however, there’s little to complain about. SketchUp has always offered exceptional 3D creativity and version 8’s deeper and wider integration with Google’s online technologies – Earth/Maps, Street View, 3D Warehouse and now Building Maker – make it more powerful than ever. And the fact that it’s still completely free doesn’t do it any harm either.
This article originally appeared at pcpro.co.uk