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TurboSketch Studio

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TurboSketch Studio is a plug-in for Google SketchUp (   ), and includes the free version of the program in the box. It works with both the free and the Pro versions of this powerful 3-D program, which is typically used for architectural renderings that ship with rather minimal lighting and surfacing effects.

That’s where TurboSketch Studio enters the picture. Applying a realistic-looking brick surface, for example, transforms a stark 2-D model into a subtle, lifelike environment. TurboSketch textures and lighting also add a dimension of realism to SketchUp models.

With TurboSketch lighting effects, you can use any object as a light source—for instance, you can transform a street light in a drawing into an actual light source that affects other objects in the picture.

TurboSketch’s package of lighting effects and surfaces is useful for more than just architectural renderings, but that’s its main appeal.

TurboSketch’s plug-in effects are accessible in SketchUp by adding features to the SketchUp menu; alternately, you can apply TurboSketch effects in SketchUp by opening a separate toolbar to access TurboSketch’s effects.

Managing performance

There’s a downside to TurboSketch’s photorealistic renderings—they significantly slow down the operation of both versions of SketchUp. Because TurboSketch Studio uses ray tracing (and other related processor-intensive techniques) to calculate complex interrelationships between light and surfaces, there’s a noticeable drain on system resources; as a result, effects are not applied in real time.

You can manage these performance challenges by adjusting the level of detail rendering in several ways. You can, for example, choose from several scales of rendering: a site (a shopping center or apartment complex), a building, a room, a large object (like a desk), or a small object (like a pen). The efficient way to work in TurboSketch is to apply effects only to large objects first. For example, you might apply effects to the walls of a building, but not to smaller objects in the model like a desk or a chair. Once you have chosen surfaces and lighting, take a coffee break and let TurboSketch apply the effects to every object in your model. When you apply full photorealistic rendering to objects as small as a pen, you can wait as long as 40 minutes for the effects to render, depending on your hardware.

Another dimension to managing processing time is choosing how much detail to use when applying lighting effects. For example, if you apply a mirror-like surface to a large wall of windows in a building, light reflecting from those windows will then bounce off other surfaces, and reflect in turn on additional surfaces. Applying optimal lighting effects is not practical in real-time design, so TurboSketch allows you to reduce lighting accuracy and quality while you experiment. Then, after you have a rough picture of how the effect will look, you can again take a coffee break and let the lighting effects render.

Macworld’s buying advice

Before purchasing a photorealistic plug-in like TurboSketch Studio, play with SketchUp to see if the basic rendering options that come with the program are sufficient for your needs. If you require more high-powered lighting and surface effects to use in presentations, TurboSketch provides them ably—but slowly.

[ David Karlins is the author of Dreamweaver CS3 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques (Adobe Press; 2007) and Illustrator CS3 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques (Adobe Press; 2007), along with dozens of other books on digital graphic and interactive design. ]

TurboSketch Studio can render a SketchUp scene so that it looks more pleasing and realistic.
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