Google SketchUp – Overview for TV and Film
Pre-Viz / Storyboarding - Blocking, Coverage, Layout,
“The coverage and basic layout of a commercial I shot recently”
In essence, SketchUp is a 3D modeling program, so naturally production designers can use it to create and previsualize sets they are going to build. So what makes this program so great for Pre-Viz/Storyboarding?
- Google SketchUp has a large user base who contribute free models of pretty much anything you can imagine. This makes the task of adding people, famous bulidings, cars, Ikea Furniture (literally hundreds of Ikea models), trees, animals, etc. a breeze.
- The program sticks to real world scale standards like feet(imperial) and meters(metric), so when you import things or work off a floor plan everything scales proportionately and easily
- The user interface was designed to be intutive and to strip away some of the more complicated intricacies of normal 3D Polygonal modelling i.e. it’s easy to learn
- Google Earth has a MASSIVE collection of satellite and street view photos of the entire world. On top of that it has topography of mountains and increasing amount of 3D data (3DXML) of cities like NYC, France, etc. that you can download into SketchUp and use to previze massive exterior war scenes … or love scenes.
- There are many 3rd party plug-ins for rending, making doors, etc. The most useful for cinematographers and anyone using it for storyboarding is a new plug-in called Advanced Camera Tools [WINDOWS | MAC]. This add-on allows you to create real world cameras (RED, 35mm, HDSLR, etc.) and literally see your pre-viz set through a film lens. All the features like aspect ratio, focal length, etc. are adjustable and make it snap to create storyboards and even animatics if you want to really dig in.
LIGHTING CHARTS / SET LOGISTICS
“A lighting chart for a white cyc shoot”
After the director and AD have figured out the blocking and a rough shot list is created from the storyboarding process, we can move into actually lighting and moving the camera. Along with the production designer we can now fully flesh out the materials, tones, etc. of the set and determine what tools we’ll need.
Like I mentioned earlier there is a massive database of film lights, stands, cameras, etc. already built that we can use to make lighting charts, brainstorm solutions to unique problems, and just troubleshoot the subtleties of a particular shot without stepping foot on a set.
Communication is key for a successful relationship between a director, DP, and production designer. By working with a storyboard we know what angles we are shooting, what walls we see, how high up we see, and where we can hide lights, etc. Inevitably things will deviate from the plan or shot list, but it’s comforting to have a jumping off point when getting to set and attacking a challenging shoot schedule.
Camera / Lighting / Misc. Design
“My very rough concept for a handheld rig for an Epic”
Ever since the movie camera was invented, DPs and operators have innovated ways to make them faster, lighter, and more like Rambo’s machine gun. The steadicam, car mounts, dollies, technocranes, etc. While we leave the optics and electrical engineering to the pros as Sony, Arri, RED, etc. there has been an explosion of 3rd party companies creating camera accessories and new tools for the film industry. While you can’t necessarily take a model from SketchUp right into production, it is a great tool to brainstorm and experiment with new ideas in a safe environment.
I always here that the Bartech wireless follow focus was created and manufactured by someone in their garage, or the hydroflex undercamera systems were created by someone in their bath tub. The technology is here that if you have beef with the equipment you use, instead of trolling forums and Facebook all day you can grab a computer and start designing new ones and maybe be the next Zacuto, RED, or Redrock Micro.
Honestly there are an infinite amount of uses for Google SketchUp for the TV and Film community beyond the obvious ones I’ve started to discussed. Adding a 3D sun tracking plug-in to track where the sun will be in your 3D pre-viz would be amazing, keeping libraries of locations for location scouting online in 3D, pre-visualizing complex camera moves or lighting cues with pre-setup lighting plans, etc. I consider it a new tool for the modern filmmaker to solve problems that will come up every single day on set.
Google SketchUp by itself is just another lightweight 3D modeler, but because of it’s social/public databases and integration with Google Earth and cross-industry standards it’s an amazing way to solve problems and communicate and share ideas.