Home > Features > Product Review: SketchUp 3.x

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Presentations and Movies

SketchUp 3.1 has a nice simple animation and presentation tool. The user defines what the program calls "pages". These pages then serve as key frames in an animation process with SketchUp automatically tweening a certain amount of frames between key frames (pages). Not only is this process fairly automated and simple, but the program does something very interesting which you can sort of see in our animation example. (see 009) When you change a sectional orientation, say shifting from a series of horizontal cuts to a series of vertical cuts the transition between can rotate around. You end up with these angled sectional views which are the tweened frames between your last horizontal sectional view and your first vertical sectional view. The effect can be quite nice and interesting.


With each page saved you can define attributes of the model's presentation. Such things as shadows and transparency can be turned on or off. Additionally, you can set the time of day for shadow casting. Moreover, you can easily produce animated sun studies by creating a series of pages each with a different time of day. You have full control over the location in the world and the date in the year. In the beginning of our little animation sun studies are shown for a building in Boston in June. (See QuickTime animation above, 009)

Other thoughts

Like default Mac OS X applications done the way Apple wants you to do them, SketchUp has a customizable toolbar. This is a nice feature because the default settings in Mac OS X leave much to be desired.

There are a number of items which have not been discussed in this review. One such series of items is SketchUp's use of preconfigured doors, windows and other objects which SketchUp calls "components". The user can make his own components and common examples of this would be roof dormers complete with windows cut into them. Such roof components self heal their openings when they are moved on the roof, Additionally, they can respond to surface changes in the roof plane they are placed on. That means if you decide to increase the slope of a roof with dormers on it the dormers adjust but they don't respond intelligently enough to know that their ridge is now not level.

Like symbols in many CAD programs, SketchUp's components will propagate changes to all components when there are multiple instances of the same component in the model. In future reviews we will dig deeper into the whole use of components and how they save the user modeling time.

Closing Comments and Recommendations

While many readers have likely heard glowing reviews of SketchUp the program is not without some areas that need improvement. While the interface under Mac OS X is simple and retains a Mac-like elegance it is different enough from the Windows interface that it can be hard to learn from the included tutorial files which switch back in forth between each operating system environment. The folks at @Last Software should strive to make the two more common if they are able to. I much prefer the OS X interface—especially in regards to some of the dialog boxes and palette designs.

There are a couple of interface items which could be better in the OS X version. The window palettes are nice in OS X as they auto-dock with each other and auto-move when one is taken away (such as pulling that palette out into the workspace). However, sometimes when you add a palette to the mix it pushes the palettes below the lower edge of your computer screen so that you now have to pull it back out to work in it. It would nice if this didn't happen. It would also be nice if the palettes could be designed to have collapsible forms so that the most common controls are up top and the less common or more detailed controls are down below. This would allow you to get more palettes on the screen and keep them all in one large column.

One can't be too critical about SketchUp's Mac OS X interface. You have to remember that these guys are Windows programmers who just became Mac programmers. And they did a wonderful job using Apple's Cocoa environment.

One complaint that I have heard about SketchUp and I tend to agree with is the quality of the line weights. There is something deliberately chunky in SketchUp's lines in the model. I spent considerable time both hunting down where to change this (because it wasn't obvious, not like a line weight palette in a CAD program) and getting lines to look the way I would like them to look. I hope that in future versions there is considerable more control for the user in regards to the appearance of lines.

In closing, SketchUp 3 is one great piece of software. I imagine that many architects who buy a copy will alter their design process because of the software. Unlike any piece of 3D modeling or rendering software I have ever used or explored—and I've touched just about most of them—SketchUp clearly stands out from the pack in its ease of use. Because it is so easy it becomes addictive right away. I highly recommend SketchUp to just about any architect or environmental designer who needs to do quick and fluid 3D design work. And the program is a must have for urban designers. ---- ANTHONY FRAUSTO-ROBLEDO, Editor in Chief.

[Edited: 23 June 2004 - minor edits and corrections.]


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Home > Features > Product Review: SketchUp 3.x




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