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Back to 3D Modeling
But SketchUp is at its heart a 3D modeling software tool. Right? Well, let’s take a look at this question from the point of view of what is new. Like all the past three or so versions (maybe going back to version 6) SketchUp 2014 doesn’t introduce any new big features in the areas of modeling. Its basic modeling toolset is the same and has been for a very long time. True, there were additions along the way like Dynamic Components and 3D Warehouse keeps growing. Instead, new core modeling features have been handled through many third-party add-on makers which are all accessible from Extension Warehouse.
New in version 2014 is an updated Ruby 2.0, the programming language that third-party developers and Trimble itself uses to program add-ons and features. This new modern 2.0 version will help developers by offering new capabilities like the ability to create section plane plugins. This may help with new 3D features in future plugins.
The SketchUp team itself focused on faster shadows in large models, with up to 15x improvement. Bacus said that the programmers rewrote the shadow engine code, code named ShadowMaster. I pressed Bacus last year on the issue of performance within SketchUp and wanted answers to several issues. When asked again what else could be done to speed up SketchUp with models getting especially large or highly populated, he focused on things like what was done to the shadow engine code.
“Raw performance of the core modeler is handled serially,” said Bacus. Noting that unlike rendering or lighting programs which lend themselves to parallelization, in a 3D modeler you program actually doesn’t know what the user is going to do next nor can it do much prediction work. It is therefore very difficult to apply parallelization coding techniques–the techniques that work so well in rendering programs–to a modeler like SketchUp. Unfortunately, says Bacus, “modeling operations need to be done in a serial way.”
A Deeper Look at Performance
Bacus was quick to note that programs like Revit and Catia also all work this way. “They are singled-threaded programs just like SketchUp.” In fact, Architosh wrote a popular piece on why the new Mac Pro wasn’t necessarily the best machine for Revit that touched on this very issue–the difference between single-threaded and multi-threaded apps and what makes each tic.
So how does a SketchUp user tune for maximum performance? It turns out much the same way for Revit. Bacus noted that Trimble does take performance very seriously, that’s why up to one third of development resources are spent on tuning and optimizing for performance. Yet the company is being strategic about it.
For example, SketchUp 2014 is still a 32-bit application. As a realtime rendering system (OpenGL-driven) there is no performance benefit for making SketchUp a 64-bit application. Bacus writes, “While there are increasing numbers of CAD developers offering 64-bit versions of their applications, it really isn’t a given that 64-bit computing (access to more memory) improves their performance.” So the company is being strategic with its development resources, instead implementing things like (LAA) “long address aware” flags on the Windows version (since version 8) and “Tile Rendering” now finally on Windows but initially on the Mac, which breaks up huge bitmaps up to 9999 x 9999 pixels into smaller more easily rendered tiles during rendering.
Although some users claim to have massive models over 200 or so megabytes, Bacus notes “SketchUp won’t run out of system memory until there are tens of millions of polygons in a model, well past the point where any modern graphics card is capable of rendering the scene.”
As for performance Bacus notes that not all hardware impacts SketchUp performance equally. VRAM on the GPU ends up used mainly to store textures,” Bacus notes, “the memory dedicated to rendering triangles ends up being a diminishingly small part of the whole equation.” “GPU clock speed can make a difference, though what makes the biggest difference is the speed of your main processor (CPU). A single, fast processor core is the best way to improve SketchUp’s overall performance,” says Bacus.
Concentrating on Community and Ecosystem
Since Trimble has take ownership of SketchUp the past two releases have truly focused on the larger SketchUp ecosystem. In version 2013 we noted the brilliant way version 2013 implemented its third-party ecosystem deep into the SketchUp program with the new Extension Warehouse. Now in version 2014 that community commitment goes further with a revamped 3D Warehouse.
3D Warehouse has been rewritten from the ground up. It also features a new WebGL Viewer built right in. Not only that, you can utilize the WebGL technology inside your Web browser and the latest SketchUp technology to embed models you have uploaded to 3D Warehouse directly into company or project websites. Another improvement is the ability to upload SketchUp models directly from your web browser without the need to open up SketchUp. And the maximum size a model can be uploaded to Warehouse has been increased by 5x–meaning from 10 to 50 megabytes.
Bacus said in a call “we want to shine a spotlight on product manufacturers,” referring to many of the new features as well as the latest developer SDK (software developer kit) which when taken together with Ruby 2.0 and the new Warehouse technologies strengthens the SketchUp ecosystem for manufacturers and model parts suppliers very well. But the chief new feature aimed at manufacturers is the new Catalogs within 3D Warehouse, making it easy for users and manufacturers to partake in packages of models.
Closing Comments and BIM Libre
It is clear that SketchUp isn’t just a modeler application anymore. It has clearly become an ecosystem, a platform for third-party development, a file format manufacturers cannot afford to completely ignore–or put another way a format they can be rewarded in supporting–plus a software tool that has universal familiarity among both academics and professionals. On this last point, SketchUp has always earned its stripes purely on its merits. Nobody has ever said–at least to my knowledge–“I’m using SketchUp because that is what the government requires!”
SketchUp is no doubt a force to be reckoned with. Which makes the IFC (industry foundation classes) support all the more enticing. When discussing SketchUp 2014 on the phone with Bacus he made a very interesting statement. He said, in regards to the IFC support new in 2014, that other BIM packages force you to choose the type of element you want and then make an object limited to the options chosen. “It’s like pre-made molecules…” says Bacus, referring to the way you first decide you need a “slab” or “roof” or “door” and then construct it in BIM. “With SketchUp 2014” says Bacus, “you get to build up your own atoms.” You are not forced to think in terms of wall, roof or what-have-you. As a designer that flexibility has value.
It was this suggestion that made me think of a type of freedom in SketchUp 2014, a type of BIM libre, that basically works somewhat in reverse of the regular BIM method of working. As the screen shots show above you can model just like you always have in SketchUp 2014. It’s just that after you have modeled you can selectively go back and assign schema–IFC, gbXML, et cetera–to convert your dumb 3D model into an intelligent building information model (BIM).
Whether this method of approaching the BIM process catches on with architects or not, one thing that clearly stands out with the BIM-ness of SketchUp 2014 is that its adherence to the IFC standard, governed by buildingSMART, is sure to be appreciated by all those in the pro-IFC and pro Open BIM camp.