11 December 2011

Designers: Use Google SketchUp!

A while ago I discovered and became addicted to Google SketchUp. 3D was a part of the Communications curriculum and the software I got from the district just wasn't very easy to use. Long story short, I switched to SketchUp and my 3D unit went from being dreaded to eagerly anticipated.

But recently I've been using SketchUp more as a designer. For example, look at the poster design at the left. I had an idea of bold, 3D objects. I chose 1s and 0s because we're using computers, and if you translated the binary you'd see "3D3D3D." But anyway, the idea was incredibly easy to produce in SketchUp, export a .png, throw it in Illustrator to add the "3D design" text, which of course has a 3D Rotate effect on it.

That's one way to use it. 1s and 0s are easy enough to draw and extrude. Then use the Styles palette and you're set. But what if you need something a little more complex, and you're just not much of a 3D modeler? That's where the Warehouse comes in. Nearly everything that ever existed in real life or in fiction has been modeled by someone, somewhere, and uploaded to the warehouse. For example, for my Back to the Future DVD case redesign I went out and found a DeLorean, created a wireframe style with thick enough lines, and boom, instant stylish technical drawing turned into a vector object with the help of Live Trace in Illustrator.

So now we've got simple 3D objects and technical-style drawings. One more use I've found is creating accurate silhouettes. I'm a HUGE fan of silhouette vectors, maybe due to my t-shirt designing heritage. (Oh and you should have seen my reaction to the silhouette level on Donkey Kong Country Returns.) By using Styles to make the background white, and the entire model black, you have an instant silhouette creator from any angle you want.

To illustrate, I took less than two minutes to create these images using SketchUp:
This is the model I found on the Warehouse.

This is the technical-style version.

And here is the silhouette.

One thing I'd like to try someday is to create a virtual background for scenes filmed in front of a green screen. But as I have no green screen at the moment, I haven't tried it yet. Also, I recently had my students use SketchUp to create scenes for comic strips. Although the quality of turned-in projects was largely very poor, the students had a lot of fun and I think with some refinement it can be a great project in the future. (Blog post forthcoming.)

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