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It's been a long wait for Google SketchUp Pro 6.0. This updated version of the intuitive 3D modelling program is free to registered 5.0 users, so there is no reason not to give it a go. But, for critical usage situations, it may be wiser to wait until some of the bugs have been ironed out.

SketchUp is an intuitive 3D modeller which enables the easy exploration of design ideas, from simple massing studies through to full-scale urban planning layouts - a sort of digital foamboard, heliodon and model camera all rolled into one.

It has been an odd year for SketchUp and its users.

The buy-out by internet behemoth Google, followed by the release of SketchUp as a free application (under the name Google SketchUp), left seasoned users with a bitter taste in their mouths.

After all, £370 seems a lot for some export filters and the SandBox tools - the essential difference between Pro and free versions.

Google has largely addressed these fears with the release of SketchUp Pro 6.0. Your cash gets you the new application and also the long-awaited LayOut program (codenamed 'Grizzly') that allows the direct embedding of SketchUp models into page layouts for client presentations - although it should be noted that this is still a beta version.

The main modelling application, SketchUp Pro, has actually not changed substantially in comparison with the jump from version 4.0 to 5.0. The most whizz-bang feature in version 6.0 is PhotoMatch modelling, a process that allows you to build geometry using on-site photos as a guide, and then use those same photos to texture map the resultant model. The process consists of importing a site photo, then aligning the red, green and blue (RGB) axes with known parallels/perpendiculars in the model.

This matches the modelling perspective with the photo view, and you can then start modelling using your picture as a template and SketchUp's X-ray mode to see through to the background.

PhotoMatch works extremely well in practice, although its accuracy is, of course, limited by the original photo. Conversely, you can use it on an existing model to match a perspective to a site photo - something that was quite a chore in previous versions.

Another modelling addition is 3D text, which will prove ideal for signage and exhibition displays. Blocks of text are created as components and therefore align themselves to geometry in your model. However, we couldn't get every font on our system to display. At the moment only OpenType fonts are supported, since there is no TrueType/PostScript font support. Another longawaited feature is the ability to paste an entity back into the exact spot it was cut from. A small change, but one that makes new workows possible. A further feature that aids smooth workow is the ability to use the cursor keys to lock actions to the RGB axes, and the introduction of 'sticky' modifier keys.

One question on everybody's lips at the 6.0 release was: 'Is the Shadow Volume bug still there?' Unfortunately yes, this deep-seated OpenGL bug is still present and, from conversations that we've had with Google, it looks likely to stay, for reasons to do with licensing issues for the workaround. The only workaround available is to export and render animations in version 4.0, where this bug was temporarily fixed.

SketchUp's ability to apply a variety of hand-drawn styles to a 3D model has been consolidated under the new Styles palette.

Whereas before a set of line styles would be associated with a particular page, Styles are now entities in their own right, and can be applied to a particular page (or 'scene' as they are now called) with a single click. SketchUp now ships with libraries of these, from blueprint and watercolour styles to marker-on-detail-paper styles.

There is also considerable control over aspects like stroke shape, length, bleed and level of detail. It's not Piranesi, but it's a very welcome addition. Style libraries are likely to grow as users develop and share their own.

A subsection of the Styles palette is the watermark feature.

This allows you to have permanent graphic information either behind or overlaid on your model, although we found this to be a little aky in practice - the watermarks would often disappear when moving between scenes, and the positioning options are rather limited. But be aware that this is emphatically not the long-awaited locked-3D--le-with-watermark feature - these watermarks relate to 2D output only.

SketchUp has always been a resource hog when it comes to OpenGL, constantly demanding the best graphics cards, but the new version's OpenGL speed is remarkably smooth (even with a middling GeForce 7300 card), handling orbiting and page transitions (without shadows) in near real-time. However, the speed of rendering animations remains a contentious issue: even with a quad-processor Mac Pro workstation, SketchUp still only uses one of the cores. This is a fundamental limitation of the way OpenGL works, not a lack of programming skill on the part of SketchUp's engineers. Plus, if you use a Mac there is a nasty 'ashing' bug in animation output. SketchUp are aware of this and are currently working on a fix.

The bundled LayOut program is used to produce boards for presentations, and has the unique ability to embed a SketchUp model directly in the page. The model can then be rotated to set up particular views, or any of the Scenes in the original model can be called up. LayOut's interface is extremely simple, offering box, line, polygon and curve tools, all of which use SketchUp's patented inferencing system for aligning objects on the page. Model views can be dimensioned and annotated, as in SketchUp, and, more importantly, can be set to print out at a particular scale. While still a beta - there are problems recognising certain fonts on the system, and performance can be a little clunky due to memory issues - it shows a great deal of promise.

For more information about SketchUp: www. sketchup. com Distributor: Computers Unlimited.

www. unlimited. com Price: £370 including VAT Tim Danaher is an architectural-visualisation specialist.

www. vizarch. blogspot. com


LayOut application is bundled in the price;

intuitive modelling tools make construction a breeze;

tight integration with Google Earth for retrieval of site information and placing site models;

PhotoMatch modelling works extremely well in practice and can be used for perspective alignment;

sketch effects and new Styles browser will help greatly with presentations; now Intelfinative for Mac users; and free upgrade from version 5.0.


LayOut is still in beta;

main SketchUp application hasn't changed much;

'flashing' animation output bug;

shadow Volume problem still not addressed; and

can't make use of multiple processors.

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