Years ago, 3D modeling was the privilege of a limited group of computer gurus. You couldn’t even dream about getting to know how to build those beautiful computer generated, photorealistic images and scenes. However, over developers began to think about programs for the average computer user, as the 3D market grew. It was just a matter of time till the first free 3D app was launched, opening a wide gate for any computer users with patience and a little bit of imagination.
From a large amount of 3D software available out there, I’ve chosen three to talk about, following a few criteria: they must be free, to have a smooth learning curve, be simple with good results and user friendly. Before getting into details, I should talk about the three tasks these programs can be used for:
– Building in 3D – is more about geometry; regular shapes, e.g. circles and polygons, are used for extrusion, push, pull and some sculpting in order to get to your goal; suitable for architectural 3D building
– Modeling in 3D – more complex than building; usually you start with a basic sphere or cube and effectively sculpt it until you get the desired results; you are a sculptor who removes the excess to reach the form
– Rendering and animation 3D – the most complex form of 3D building and modeling; after the model is done you give it a photorealistic touch. Here, you are a painter who struggles to catch the daylight or the beauty of the night on its canvas.
Google Sketchup – 3D builder
When I first discovered Google Sketchup I was working for an architect, making 2D draft plans for his projects. For me, it was like a dream come true. Simple, intuitive, fast and powerful – Sketchup had everything I needed to bring my 2D plans to life, and even more. The latest version is Sketchup 2014, which doesn’t belong to Google anymore, but runs too slow for my taste. I can’t see a noticeable difference of features – so I will show you Sketchup 8, the last vertsion that Google’s developers worked on.
You may find Google Sketchup 8 here. Download it and install it. After installation, the first run will bring you the following window.
My version of Sketchup is the commercial Pro version, but don’t worry, it is very much the same with the free version. In the start window you may access the basic lessons about using Sketchup, adding a license, and choosing the template you wish to work with. I would advise you to check the “Always show on startup” option. You have the option to choose between imperial and metric measurement combined with templates like: simple, architectural, woodworking and more.
Once you hit the “Start using Sketchup” button, the main window will open.
It’s quite simple. You have the menu, the toolbar and the workspace. The natural size figure is automatically placed as a dimension reference. You may click it and delete it, if you want, by pressing DEL key.
The menu lets you create new, open, save or export your model, editing some options, adding toolbars and accessing various features. You will not use it much; almost anything you need is placed on the large toolbar which you will open following the next step.
Click View ->> Toolbars ->> Large Tool Set. On the left side will appear a toolbar containing the main buttons and some supplementary ones.
Usually I keep both toolbars, although they are completely customizable and I could add the missing buttons from one to another.
In part 2 of this article – we’ll look at more features of SketchUp.