Saturday, July 23, 2005


This SketchUp product for 3-d drawing got rave reviews on Cool Tools. The reviewers praised its excellent, intuitive design and feature set. Since I've always been tempted by the idea of designing 3-d Victorian mansions, castle ruins, and haunted houses, yet can't believe this could ever be easy, I watched the movie demos on their site.

Although I'm dubious about how fast one could get up to speed with it, it does look like they did some hard things right. The app looks like a lot of other drawing tools (e.g., Adobe products), offering a big palette of modal mouse tools; and there's a persistent "help" text on the bottom telling you what to do and what key combinations extend the function of the tool (very Adobe-esque). It's the keyboard shortcuts, of course, that would be the hardest to learn as a new user. Once you know those, you're probably focused on the art and not the mechanics, which is what you want in any creative activity.

They've got a clever function for "bookmarking" important views of the buildings for showing clients; they have a nice shadows-by-time-of-day slider bar that looks fun to play with; and they give useful feedback during drawing via tooltips that pop up to tell you what your current status is while you're manipulating the building and objects ("on face" etc.). You do still need to know something about physical objects -- to create a roof from a flat surface, you have to know how to draw the joints that will bend in the right form when you move the lines upwards. All the connections are "smart" and pieces move as units, but you've got to know what you're aiming for, too. (Just like when using Photoshop -- if you don't know what saturation is, you can't use that tool well).

little house in sketchup site

Perhaps most compelling of all, there are downloadable plugins and scripts and "components" (like trees and buildings and people), reminding me of extensible game worlds like the Sims. I'd like to get them together -- my problem with the Sims is that I don't want to start with a white trash shack and build up to a good life, I want a beautiful mansion right from the start. And their building tools aren't so hot, either.

I digress -- SketchUp is, alas, $500. I may still try the free trial, good for 8 hours.


Anonymous said...

SketchUp is so cool. Alas, my trial ran out weeks ago and SketchUp was not $500 useful to me.

If it had been $100, though, ....


Anonymous said...

Ah tools ...

I made the mistake of downloading the 15 day demo of Alias Sketchbook Pro.

What an amazing little program. Very limited, but for someone who sketches it does just about everything you need and the interface (which requires some getting used to after years of other products) is actually nice. After a few hours I found myself really wanting it.

Sadly it is spendy enough that I can't justify it for just sketching. I will continue to use paper, pen, pencil, marker, etc ... and then my scanner.


I wonder how much business companies like this would get if they had hobbiest pricing. Anything less than $100 and I'd be a happy Sketchbook user.

Anonymous said...

I occasionally use the free version of Alias Sketchbook. Painter is no good on the tablet PC (it really wants you to use the keyboard shortcuts).

I would totally have both SketchUp and Alias Sketchbook Pro if they weren't so expensive.


Anonymous said...

I was pretty skeptical about this, looking at their short marketing-style movie. But now that I've looked through the bigger feature overview, as we watch a modest building sketched out from start to finish, with no mistakes hidden, I'm very impressed.

I'll have to check it out myself to see how it deals with curves and how useful it is for less building-like objects, like designing furniture.

Lynn said...

I admit that I'd be more tempted to try it if it could easily do more standard product design -- 3d small objects, with curves like Pavel says. I would like to play with the houses and yards, but since I don't design houses or landscape for a living, $500 is too much. I don't do physical product design either, but it's at least closer to my job and a good skill to grow into.

I have to try this Alias Sketchbook thingy.