Strange Brouhaha

Friday, October 05, 2007


I need to sketch a few things, just to get an idea of how this model I'm working on is going to look, whether the proportions are going to be right, that kind of thing. There are a couple of traditional ways to do this. First, of course, is to grab a pencil and a piece of paper and just start drawing. The second is to get a block of lightweight, easy-to-carve material like foam or balsa and just start carving.

The problem with the first approach is that...well, to be honest, my drawing skills are not the greatest. Oh, I can draw, and I can draw out a traditional three-view plan. I do pretty well for myself in mechanical drawing and drafting. The problem is that translating that into an isometric view is not my forte. Straight lines are no problem, of course, but pretty much anything else is going to turn out looking like a glob of crap, because it's tough for me to keep things to scale.

The problem with the second approach is that it's time-consuming, messy, and unforgiving of errors. Not to mention expensive, as the ruined blanks pile up.

I hit on the idea--probably given to me by one or another of the modeling sites on the Internet--to try roughing out shapes in a 3d drawing application. This turns out to be a pretty good solution; I know the shapes I'm going for, I know the size I want them to be. I can mess around with what I come up with, and if I make a mistake, all I've lost is time--and mistakes are easily fixable thanks to the magic of Undo.

But with 3d apps comes another huge headache: this stuff is EXPENSIVE. And rightly so, since most of them are professional-grade tools for professional artists and animators, both of which I am not.

My favorite, Cinema 4d, lists out at just under $900 for the core edition, with the XL clocking in over two grand. Autodesk 3ds Max...$3500. Autodesk Maya...$2000. Lightwave is a thousand bucks. Cinema 4d and 3ds Max have demo versions, and I've tried them out. I haven't tried Lightwave yet. And of course, there's always the Maya Personal Learning Edition, which is free as in beer as long as you don't use it commercially, which I wouldn't. I'll need to try that out.

Then there's Blender. Blender is free both ways, but...I don't know, I just don't like the interface. As with anything, I suppose I'd get used to it in time, but it's just so offputting at the start that I'm not really inclined to bother. For me, all it's got going for it is the price.

Someone at work reminded me about Google SketchUp, which turns out to be perfect for my needs. It's not as robust as Cinema 4d, but nobody ever claimed it was, and it absolutely suits what I want to do: draw out a shape, extrude it into three dimensions, rotate, add details. It has all the tools I need, and while I do wish it had a larger variety of primitive shapes, it's pretty easy to make them.

So I've been using SketchUp, and it's good enough. I just save $2000...I wonder what I should do with it. You know, I need a new computer...


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