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SketchUp has been around in it's various incarnations since 2000 when @last software released it to public acclaim. In April this year internet search engine Google bought the company and released Google SketchUp 5 as a free download and opened up the world of powerful 3D modelling for free.
Don't be fooled by SketchUp's simplistic approach to 3D modelling. Anyone who has used 3D graphics packages before will be familiar with the 3 view layout of screen whereby you have to design from both the side, top and front and using the array of tools provided create your model, shade it, apply textures, lighting... so on and so forth. SketchUp takes the easy to understand idea of here is a cube. I want to pull this side to here. I want to split it down the middle and raise this half to twice the height. How about a hole through the middle? Point, click and drag and it's done.
It sounds simple and more like a tool for teaching children about shapes but it is much more powerful than that. You literally do push and pull shapes around in real time until they are how you need them to be and with a few further clicks of the mouse you can add textures from the selection available.
One of the best uses for SketchUp, and perhaps the reason Google aquired it, is that it can be used in conjunction with Google Earth to create scale models of buildings and landmark features from the real world which can then be overlaid in your copy of Google Earth or uploaded onto Google's web warehouse for other users to share. Taking a look around the web at some of the models available the Eiffel Tower model is very impressive and created exclusively in SketchUp, just another example of the power of this simple to use program.
I downloaded it after my dad sent me a link and tried it out. The controls are easy to get to grips with and pushing and pulling shapes around the 3D space is fun and quickly helps you understand how things work.
You can create a whole model in one go or you can model individual elements as objects, group them together and duplicate them. To apply a texture you select the face or faces to apply the texture to, select the texture from the drop down menu, click the face(s) again and the job is done. By adding a line or a shape to a surface you create two surfaces to play with which can be pushed and pulled in any direction.
After just two hours of playing and reading the tips and hints that are available both in the program and in online help files I had managed to recreate a simple model of my living room including two sofas, a sideboard, coffee table and television. I even added the doors and window. SketchUp gives you to option to walk through your model as if you were really there which again gives you the option to see what you've designed. As an architect's tool this would be really useful, especially as you can draw to perfect scale. As a hobbiest you can, like I did, redesign the floor layout of your home before all the sweaty labour of moving furniture around only to find it was better the way it was.
Adding lighting to the scene helps add to the realism and when you explore the huge online warehouse you'll find you can recreate entire cityscapes complete with vehicles, trees and people without any artistic talent whatsoever.
On top of this the whole package is free and at only a 19Mb download, which at broadband speeds equates to a 10 minute download, you are given the power to create your entire world for nothing. You can export it to Google Earth and share your creations with the whole planet to enjoy.
Learning to work in the realtime 3D environment is a challenge that once you meet will have you modelling everything in sight. I modelled one of the speakers on my desk two days after installation which took less than half an hour to do. If I can figure out how I'll attach a picture of it with this review.
I can recommend this program to anyone who wants an easy to use, powerful 3D package with no cost this is ideal. Of course you can upgrade to the full professional version of the program for around £300 but this is only if you're serious about graphics.
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