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Interview with Laurent Brixius, a French-speaking Belgian architect, CG Artist and SketchUp trainer.

Interviewer : Rajib Dey (Editor-in-chief)

Since graduating as an architect, I work in the field of CGI for almost 20 years, always with great passion and pleasure. In addition to my SketchUp models and CGI production activities, I am also author and editor of several books and training videos on SketchUp in French. I am also an international SketchUp and Thea Render trainer for firms, training centers and individuals both off-line and on-line.

I began to 3D modeling with AutoCAD and 3ds Max but I was looking for a way to get fast opinions of my clients to minimize changes in later, much more time-consuming stages of production. So I wanted a quick 3D modeling software allowing me to present an easy to understand 3D sketch in a few hours to my clients ... I discovered SketchUp and never let it go since.

SketchUp allows for very fast modeling of 3D models, from simple to complex. With a good mastery of the tools and especially a good organization of the model using components, it is possible to produce very quickly a 3D model of a project and modify it easily afterwards.

The current availability of many rendering plugins then allows generating photo-realistic images without leaving SketchUp, which is a huge time saver and a significant reduction of the risk of data loss or errors, especially when projects keeps changing frequently. Purchasing a license of Thea Render and its "live" plugin for SketchUp is definitely my best investment in recent years.

Working for many customers, each with their own preferencies, my images do not share a recognizable "signature". I adapt to customer requirements and its sometimes very limited budget. But I pay much attention to light and especially to the realism of shadows relative to the location and orientation of the building.

Interview with Laurent Brixius

With new photorealistic rendering features available in many architectural software, I see more and more images by non-professionals. Logically enough, these images show the main defects we found among beginners CGI artists like the use of poor quality textures with visible seams (we call it “wallpaper effect” in French) and erroneous scales, extremely distorted perspectives or flat, boring views, missing background and so on.

At the same time, customers requirements are increasing, requiring still more practical experience and resources (quality 3D components, highly realistic materials, HDR images, etc.) out of reach for those who make only a few pictures a year, so there is still a future for talented CGI artists. But those who do not bring added value to these one-time users will have a hard time because competition is increasingly fierce and outsourcing is easier than ever.

In terms of realism, current rendering software are already able to produce CG images indistinguishable from a photograph, if it is the desired goal. So I think that the growing power of computers will allow to move the ambitions of architectural visualization to real-time and augmented reality. I remember a short film by Bruce Branit, "World Builder" that showed a man who created a world using holographic tools. THIS is the future of architectural visualization! Link to the movie:

As usual, this new version of SketchUp is an evolution rather than a revolution. But SketchUp 2015 offers many new convenient features that really save time, as the Rotated Rectangle tool, the improvements of the 2 Points Arc tool and huge improvements in Label Auto-Text. And for those who work in a BIM environment, the new Classifier tool and the ability to export to IFC finally open SketchUp to BIM.

As for the long-awaited transition to 64-bit mode, if it won't be useful to many users of SketchUp, this is great news for those who, like me, can use plugins to use more than 3GB RAM.

And those who still wonder if they should go the Pro way, the extension of the trial period to 30 days is a huge improvement compared to the 8 hours limit of previous versions.

In conclusion, this is the first time I use a new version of SketchUp production right out.

All my projects are sorted by priority order. So I'm focusing on the most important and urgent projects. When I have free time, such as when I wait for an answer form a customer, I optimizes SketchUp components and I create Thea Render new materials from a huge To-do list. These optimized components and materials comes realy handy when I have a very short dead-line, which is very likely as most of the works are “for yesterday”.

Regularly, I devote a little time to evaluate my work and training methods. I ask myself the question, "Isn'it it possible to make it better / faster? "... And I try to answer!

Besides SketchUp for 3D modeling and Thea Render for photo-realistic rendering, I also use Photoshop and 3ds Max. With only occasional needs for DWG file processing, I use now DraftSight to fix and optimize DWG files before importing into SketchUp.

To plan my complex projects, my books and training courses, I also use the mind-mapping software Xmind. And I also use a lot of plugins for SketchUp but it would take many pages to list them all. My top 10 would be, in no particular order, FredoTools and Joint Push Pull from Fredo6, Material Replacer and Raytracer from Thomthom, Artisan and Profile Builder from Whaat, CLF_Scale Rotate Multiple and Repeat Copy from Chris Fullmer, Projection V2 from Didier Bur and the good old Make Faces from Todd Burch.

Interview with Laurent Brixius

One of the striking features of SketchUp is the large number of plugins available (see above). I remember receiving from a client a large project full of group copies instead of components. This SketchUp model had many problems for rendering quality and, as time was running, I was initially scared by the amount of work needed to edit or replace the groups copies with copies of components. The number of copies of one group being displayed in the Entity Info dialog box, I thought that there should be a plugin that could transform groups copies to component copies. After some research, I discovered the Selection Toys plugin from ThomThom and its Convert to components tool. This plugin has saved me hours of work and allowed me to meet the deadline. Thanks a lot, Thomthom!

And I would have many more stories where a plugin has saved me a lot of time!

Following my discovery of SketchUp, I then started to write articles about SketchUp on my blog www,arch-image.com/blog/. A publisher seeking authors about SketchUp noticed me and offered to become an author and finaly editor of the first collective book in French on SketchUp, a book which was then translated into English under the title Google SketchUp Workshop. One thing led to another and I recorded a first SketchUp video training for Elephorm and offered my services as a corporate trainer and for many training centers and now on the Internet. I then published a second book on SketchUp for beginners and next a new collective book with several authors from various areas of activity sharing their experience and tips about SketchUp. And I have released three new training modules on SketchUp 2015 Make and Pro since the beginning of the year.

  • Be creative in your visuals but also in the way you work. Look how to continually improve.
  • Architectural visualization is a changing world. Never take anything for granted. Evolve !
  • Master the reading plans skill and architectural vocabulary. And challenge what you see : many drawings contain errors. Ask for confirmation when needed.
  • Always respect your commitments even if it means spending a few sleepless nights or seek outside help.
  • Learn to fully master your tools, especially your softwares. Always look for what a new version of SketchUp (or another software) can do for you. The more you master your software the better you can develop your creativity.

Interview with Laurent Brixius

I think SketchUp-ur-space is a good mix of usefull tips for beginner ou advanced SketchUp users alike, fresh news about SketchUp and new plugins and refreshing points of view from power users around the world in various areas of activity. A close match to what I want to achieve in French with my own blog... I am honored to have been invited to share my previous articles and this interview. Keep on publishing great contents for the SketchUp community !

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