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3-D modeling methods


Even when presented with sophisticated modeling tools, artists often use pencils to think about models before specifying them with software. This process forces a three-dimensional problem to be thought about in two-dimensions.

Steven Schkolne makes these statements in his paper titled Surface Drawing and it is this same problem that SketchUp from @Last Software, Inc. is trying to solve.

While they probably never read this quote @Last recognized that architects, engineers, and other designers needed to solve this same problem. However, they embarked on a different strategy to achieve this goal. Instead of using hardware, @Last devised a software program called SketchUp to simulate the pen and paper sketching experience.

SketchUp is optimized to draw straight lines and precise arcs, which means it is great for creating inanimate objects, but if you need organic objects look elsewhere.

Because it doesn't try to do everything for everyone SketchUp is very easy to use. Arguably the most intuitive program on the market.

Two key features make SketchUp unique.

  1. Polygons are created by drawing the outline of a shape. The inside is automatically filled.
  2. Snap tools help the designer align new lines to existing ones and make it easy to draw right angles.

Since it's hard to describe a visual interface with words you should take the time to watch a small online demonstration. A more thorough demonstration is included with the trial download.

In addition to being useful for architects, SketchUp is useful for video game level designers. Sketching allows game developers to quickly layout a level and see what it looks like in 3D. This basic model can then be exported to the usual animation and modeling tools.

Bottom Line

If you're not happy with traditional 3D modeling tools try SketchUp. Combine this program with a pen based drawing tablet and it really could be the closest thing available to sketching a 3D model. The intuitive snap tools and automatic polygon filling set this product apart from the crowd.

It's rare to find a program that you can learn to use well after watching just a few short tutorials. In addition, SketchUp is a blast to use.

Update: @Last Software was bought by Google and a free version has been made available.

It's Not All About SketchUp

SketchUp is great for modeling inorganic objects like structures, but it's not the best for organic objects like animals. This is where Archipelis steps in.

Archipelis has an ambitious goal, to infer a three dimensional object from a two dimensional shape. Its goal is to make modeling organic objects in 3D easy and fast. A short animation can explain the concept better than words and there are a few animations on Archipelis' main page.

It's still early in the life of Archipelis and we'll be watching to see how it develops.

The January/February 2007 issue of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications is titled Sketch-Based Interaction and it contains more examples of sketch based interfaces. Along with an introduction to the field articles include:

In October 2008 ILoveSketch was presented at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. ILoveSketch is part of the Dynamic Graphics Project at the University of Toronto and it desribes a pen based interface for drawing in three dimensions. Check out the videos at the ILoveSketch site to get a feel for the potential of this research project.


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