From top: a simple, accessible creation by Eoin – now just imagine this pulsing around and some effects and you’ve got a VJ project, too. And a video shows Google really is hoping to bring 3D to the masses.

Visualists entering the world of 3D face a major hurdle: making 3D models. Google SketchUp is one of our heroes. Its interface is stunningly intuitive, making navigation of 3D geometry surprisingly simple by streamlining the tasks used to create models to produce understandable concepts. And the basic version is free. I’ve used SketchUp to create geometry for use in Processing and elsewhere, and I hope we’ll cover more 3D technique in the near future.

SketchUp is not only a great tool, but has quite a bit of news coming out of Google-land. Version 7 adds easier line crossing (huge deal to anyone who’s already used it), interactive objects, component option editing, easy scaling, new collaborative tools, lovely layout features and image export workflows, and lots more:

What’s new in SketchUp 7

From my inbox this week, Google is using their SketchUp and Google Earth tech to help teachers show off ancient Rome. (As a history geek and sometimes-teacher, can’t help but share this – educational grants, visualists?)

SketchUp isn’t your only option, but with its unique versatility, it’s worth a look – and it’s ideal for beginners.To kick things off, I turn things over to CD(Music) writer Eoin Rossney. The basic models he’s done of controllers should appeal to anyone designing DIY controllers for your live visual sets. And even if that’s not your interest, they make a great starting point for getting through some of the basic SketchUp concepts. (For more, be sure to check out Google’s own wonderful tutorials.)

Let us know what you think, and you’ve done work in SketchUp yourself. (At the other end of the pool, I see the open source Blender is getting some treatment here at New York’s Harvestworks, so more on that soon, as well – its live 3D engine ought to generate some interest.)

Previously, we saw Microsoft’s own rival: the Windows-only but very powerful and now completely free (no “pro” version required") Caligari TrueSpace 7.

Here’s Eoin:

I’m always harping on to anyone who’ll listen about SketchUp, the free Windows/OSX 3D drawing tool from Google.  I’ve submitted models both on CDM and Kore @ CDM for anyone who might be interested.  I’m enthusiastic about it because I believe this is a great tool for bringing 3D design (actually, you can even remove the ‘3D’) to new audiences – with very training required it’s possible to get a sense of what it feels like to create virtual environments and models, and even basic 3D ‘narratives’.

I’d like to do a really quick run-through of how I used SketchUp to model my Kore 1 hardware.  The approach here is to make a rough outline of the profile of the item to be modeled, and then extrude that into 3D – the idea being that it’s much easier to make a change to the framework before you go into 3D rather than after.  I assume that SketchUp is installed on your system and you’re modeling a real-world item of some description.

I should note that SketchUp has an alternative way of doing this, which is to simply draw a 3D rectangle and map a photo onto that (called Photo Matching).  This can be really effective, but the technique requires a bit of practice (check out the tutorials on YouTube) and patience.  I tried this out with the Kore controller and found that its off-axis angles weren’t really suited to this method – also since Kore is a fairly integral part of my setup, I wanted it to look as natural as possible in my 3D studio mockup, hence going the fully-modeled route.

First a couple of quick keyboard shortcuts:

Shift+Z | Zoom Extents – makes the contents of your sketch fit the window (very handy if you get lost)
O | Orbit Tool – you’ll get to know this pretty quickly, but there are a couple of extra things you can do.  With any tool selected, you can Orbit by clicking and holding the middle mouse button – releasing brings you back to the original tool.  This also works on the Mac by pressing Ctrl+Cmd and left-clicking.
Another major hint with the Orbit tool is that holding Shift puts you temporarily in Pan mode.  This, in combination with scrolling your mouse wheel to zoom in/out, makes Orbit almost all you need for navigation.

Attack of the Clones:

1. Get the dimensions of the outer bounds of the item, i.e. find the highest and deepest points on your item and with the Rectangle (R) tool, make a rectangle that describes the space between the two:

2. Start ‘cutting out’ the profile of the item to be copied with the Line (L) tool, taking exact measurements from your real-life item with a tape/ruler etc.

3.  You’re encouraged here to make heavy use of the Tape Measure (T), Dimension (no default shortcut) and Line (L) tools – try as much as possible to put guide measurement lines into your sketch for own aid.   You’ll find that as well as serving as a constant reminder of distances, they’ll actually give you an increase sense of perspective and dimension as you work.

When you’re done tracing the outline, you can user the Eraser (E) tool to discard the ‘waste’ parts of the outline.

4.  Once you’ve made the outline as accurate as you can, it’s time to extrude that in 3D.  Press (P) for the Push-Pull tool, and click-drag.  While dragging with your mouse, simply enter the length in numbers with your other hand to get an exact fix on how far to extrude.


5.  The Offset (F) tool can be really handy for things like outlines and indented parts.  Simply click the edge you’d like to create the outline on and drag the cursor towards the centre.  Again, type in your dimensions (2mm here) and hit Return to complete your offset.  (Hint: You may find you’ll first have to ‘trace’ around some of the lines of the offset with the Line (L) tool in order to complete some connections, especially in fid
dly corners like the top right corner above)


6.  Again, use the Push-Pull (P) tool to extrude the centre part of your offset inwards a little. 

7.  From there you can start adding knobs, buttons and the rest of the little details.  For knobs you can just draw a simple circle and Push-Pull up a centimeter or so. 


8.  To make the tapered knobs like the ones on the Kore model, create the simple cone-shaped knob using a circle/push-pull.  Then create an offset of one or two millimetres and select the outer rim.  Using the Move tool, drag this down to the bottom of the knob and snap into place – much better!

Making a tapered control in Sketchup from Eoin Rossney on Vimeo.

n.b. creating the hybrid transparent/plastic knobs was simply a matter of creating one segment first (and applying a slightly wider offset), then creating another on top of that and going back and coloring the first.

9. Once you’ve got everything how you like, you can fill in textures using ToolsPaint Bucket, and import images using FileImport (the Kore logo was simply a matter of taking NI’s logo from their press kit and introducing a little alpha with GIMP).  You can also visit the 3D Warehouse for components if you’re not too keen on reproducing an exact replica of a MIDI jack from scratch, for example. 

Hopefully this exercise in modeling has got you acquainted enough with the SketchUp tools to get you comfortable in the application.  Where things get really fun is when you start getting creative and coming up with completely original designs – how about your own take on a MIDI/VJ controller, or your ultimate studio/instrument/aircraft carrier?

Eoin Rossney:

Eoin Rossney is a reformed stenographer, evening/weekend musician & tech freak.

Eoin’s instrument of choice is keyboards, and he has studied classical & jazz piano. When not working his nine-to-five in IT, he plays ‘immersive composition’ games, obsessively tends his Kore database, and DJs. He’s looking forward to learning object-oriented programming through, and finding a concrete process for songwriting.

“I got into writing articles through a desire to learn. I find the best way for me to learn a particular technique is to document it in my own words – so far it’s been a very rewarding process.”