Friday, October 11, 2013

SketchUp for Interior Design :: 3 Basic Aspects of Workflow

Design :: SketchUp is an invaluable tool when it comes to visualizing. Its intuitive interface is easy to learn and quickly becomes second nature leaving your energy entirely to the design process. With the 3D Warehouse, you can quickly populate an empty scene and do everything from space planning to exploring real world objects you cannot see or handle in person.

SketchUp allows users to quickly visualize ideas in 3D and present them in a wide variety of ways -- from photo-realistic renders to basic floor plans used for space planning.

Assuming that you don't need to be sold on using SketchUp and instead are looking for some potentially new methods to incorporate into your workflow, the following are 5 basic aspects used at Helios Works when doing interior design visualizing. This, mind you, is our workflow, and is one of many possible alternatives that may work depending on your preferences and requirements. If you feel you have a better way of handling an interior design project, let us know.

1. Starting Out :: Most of our interior design projects start out as a CAD file (easiest) or a scanned floor plan in the form of a .jpeg file (slightly more difficult). Sometimes even that much is not available, and instead we are given site pictures from which we must make an approximate floor plan (the most difficult). It's good to be familiar with the dimensions of common interior features such as doors, chairs, and tables to get a sense of scale and to double check your work as you go along.

To import a CAD file, you must go to File>Import and then navigate to the folder your CAD file is in. Then you need to scale it. This is done by making sure your imported CAD lines are in a single group, entering the group by double clicking on it, and then picking a line you are certain you know the dimensions of. Usually this is a doorway (the standard doorway is about 900mm wide).

Whether a CAD file or a .jpeg of a floor plan, resizing it inside the component using the tape measure tool is a quick and easy way to get your dimensions accurate. Here I am "exploding" the .jpeg and then preparing to regroup it using "G" and "enter" before resizing it. This also works with CAD files to make sure they are proper components before attempting to manipulate them further.

Use the tape measure tool and click from one side of the doorway to the other. In the bottom right of the workspace you will see dimensions. These are probably not going to be anywhere near 900mm. Before clicking anything else, simply type in 900 and hit enter. This will then prompt you with the following, "Do you want to resize the active group or component?" You will click "Yes."

As long as you were inside your component when you did this, the component and only the component will resize everything in proportion so that the doorway will be 900mm wide and everything else will be proportional to it. If you did not receive the prompt or your component scaled incorrectly, be patient, check your settings, and try again. This technique may take some practice.

Importing a .jpeg floor plan is as easy as dragging it from its folder and into your SketchUp workspace. Next you have to scale it. Usually I right-click>explode, then immediately regroup it by hitting the "G" key and then enter. This makes sure your .jpeg is converted into a component and can then be scaled by using the process described above for CAD imports.

Building up your model is a fairly straight forward process if you are familiar with SketchUp. Make sure to make everything into separate components. This helps immensely when applying materials and editing the file in the future when it comes time to make revisions. A window, for example, should have glass panes, frames, and latches all as separate components contained within one single, larger component.

From here, you are ready to start converting your model into 3D. This is simply building up the walls, windows, floor, and ceiling according to the floor plan. Make sure everything is made into separate components -- that includes window glass separate from window frames, and then all the window's various components grouped together as well. This allows you to leverage the power of SketchUp components -- letting you change their color, shape, and configuration (opened or closed doors and windows for example) all at once. Exceptions can always be made by right clicking a component and then clicking "Make Unique."

Failing to make components as you model a scene and having one lump of geometry will cause huge headaches as you begin editing the scene based on client feedback and surely when it comes time to render your scene no matter which rendering software you use.

2. Importing Components & Models :: When importing a component from the 3D Warehouse, it is important to keep in mind that all of these models are made by different people using different workflows. Some are managed well as a series of components, others are not. The coloring schemes may be simple and efficient, or bloated and containing material names your rendering software will not process and instead return an error.

The easiest way to get around this is to first, make sure your imported components are real components and that when you make copies of them, they all dynamically change when you change one. There is nothing worse than populating an entire food court full of chairs only to find out that they are all unique instances and you must change their color individually (or start over with actual dynamic components). Usually exploding an imported model once and regrouping it with "G" will do the trick.

The next issue will be managing the color schemes if you plan on doing any rendering. There is a Ruby script designed just for doing this called "Remove Materials" and can be downloaded for free here. The larger the component you are trying to remove materials from, and the more materials it has, the longer it will take. Be patient and make sure you save before you try this, just in case it takes an unreasonable amount of time to work and you'd like to restart your computer.

Once your component is "erased" of materials, make sure you go into your material window, click on the "In Model" house, then click on the "Details" arrow before clicking on "purge unused." If you don't do this, SketchUp will save all of your materials, whether you are using them or not. SketchUp does the same thing for components, so it is important to click on the "In Model" house icon in the components window, and then the "Details" arrow before clicking on "purge unused." Doing this also vastly reduces the size of your file making it easier to pass back and forth through e-mail to other members of your team and/or clients.

Find the "In Model" house icon (left), then click the "Details" arrow (center), and finally click "Purge Unused" to erase all the materials you are no longer using in your SketchUp project. This keeps your file size small and simplifies the process of applying properties to your materials come time to render.

You are now free to create your own range of materials and apply them using your own naming conventions. Having only 5-10 materials you are familiar with when it comes time to apply properties to them in Vray will make your life much easier than having 20-50 materials, many of which you have no idea where they are even applied to, if you fail to remove and purge them as you are building up your model with imported components.

3.Producing Quick Renders :: Quick renders rely on a variety of elements. First you need to have a fast computer. For SketchUp and Vray it seems the only difference is made in your processing power. The faster your processor, the faster your renders will come out. The difference between a dual core and a quad core is like night and day, and projects that took a day or two to complete might only take an hour with a decent processor.

If this is what you are going to do for a living, splurge on a good processor.

Quick renders also depend on having a clean model that simplifies where it can, and entirely cuts corners where possible. Building a scene in SketchUp is a lot like building a movie set. If you aren't taking a shot from one particular angle, there is no need to model it.

Projects usually end up going to CAD drafters who use the SketchUp model as a starting point for producing construction drawings -- so leaving out entire walls isn't usually an option. However, they are not using the blinds in the windows -- so feel free to minimize the geometry as much as possible.  Exterior features that may appear through windows can be Photoshopped (or GIMP'd) in later -- so leave that out as well.

Using components whenever possible also cuts down on file size and rendering times.

Being creative with materials is also another time saver. Red laminate is the same as red plastic, and is the same as the red on the hot spigot on an office water cooler. Using the same reflective material for all of these instead of using different materials for each will still produce convincing results and cut down on rendering time. Visualizations are a lot like optical illusions. Understanding how people (including yourself) look at pictures helps streamline your workflow to focus on what is most effective, while leaving out what isn't.

Usually a project requires several views of a scene. SketchUp with Vray allows users to render several scenes in series, automatically saving them and moving to the next if your settings are correct.

Finally -- at least with Vray -- it is possible to have several scenes render automatically in series allowing you to step away from the computer without worrying about lost time if you don't get back to render the next scene manually when the first one is completed. This process also automatically saves your renders as they finish, so if the power goes out after a render is completed, it is already saved on your hard drive, not lost forever in the ether.

1. Make your Scenes: When you have a camera angle you like, simply click on View>Animation>Add Scene. Eventually you will have several scene tabs along the top of your workspace that you can click on to double check your camera angles.

2. Set your Animation Settings: This is by far the EASIEST step to forget as you are setting up everything else!  Go to View>Animation>Settings. A window will pop up with three settings under "Scene Transitions." "Enable Scene Transitions" should be checked, and 1 second put in the box. Under it is "Scene Delay." That should be set to 0. If you do not set "Scene Delay" to zero, you will end up with renders in between your selected scenes as the camera transitions from one scene to the other. Instead of the 5 scenes you may have selected, you will be dismayed to find your computer doing 10 or more and not finished when you come back at the estimated time of completion.

3. Set your Vray Settings: This works for SketchUp Pro 7 and Vray . It may or may not work with newer versions of SketchUp or Vray. You need to open Vray Options (the "O" icon usually placed in the Vray toolbar). Here you must check "Save File," navigate to a location you want the file saved in, and give it a base file name. Vray will append this name with numbers as the scenes are rendered. If you use "Office" as the file name, your renders will come out as Office.000, Office.001, etc.

Next you must look a little further below at the options under "Animation." Check "Animation on," check "Include Frame Number,"  set "Frame Rate" to "Custom," and finally FPS (Frames Per Second) to 1. If you remember, your SketchUp animation settings set the scene transition to 1 second. These will match up and make sure that each frame Vray renders corresponds to a scene tab you selected, and nothing else in between.

In Summation.... There are many ways to do any given task with SketchUp. If these tips don't work, and you'd like some help, let us know. Alternatively, there are many other tutorials out there concerning 3D interior and architectural design, including workflow recommendations and the specifics of rendering. This is what is used here at Helios Works. It is what's appropriate for the projects we work on, but may not be for you.

Because so many people before us have shared their workflows, we've been able to find a balance that works well for us. We hope by making this information available here and in future tutorials, others can learn from us.

Thanks for reading!