Google Earth to Sketchup Video Tutorial

5 02 2014

I’ve created my first video tutorial this evening.  Recently I’ve found myself needed to create a number of very quick context models for various project sites.  Fortunately for me, I remembered a technique that I learned a while ago, using buildings from Google Earth (and more specifically the Google 3d warehouse) to bring into sketchup.  I know that a number of you have heard my rants on sketchup and for those who haven’t I’m sure it’ll come up in the future.  Needless to say, I’m not typically a sketchup user, but I do have to say, this technique is VERY helpful.  Because of the past connection between Google, Google Earth, and (formerly) Google Sketchup, this technique starts and is fundamentally rooted in Sketchup.  Don’t worry fellow Rhino and 3D Max users, the next tutorial will talk about how to pull this out of sketchup and into another program.

Check out my video on youtube:


Hopefully this helps!  As always, please leave a comment or let me know if there’s anything that needs clarification.


What I did on my hiatus

2 03 2013

To those who use to follow me, my apologies for taking a year off, but it’s been a busy one! Don’t worry, I’m making a new concerted effort to get back to blogging.

I’m going to make a few video tutorials on the upcoming weeks and want to throw this out to those of you out there. What would you like to learn? I’m thinking about doing something in Rhino or Vray for Rhino, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Submit a comment and let me know what you’d like to know more about! Don’t forget to check back soon to see what we’ve come up with!!

Vray Dome Light Tutorial via Chaos Group

15 02 2012

So because I have been a bit behind on my promise to upload the tutorial about the new features to Vray for Rhino v.1.5, I thought I’d cheat it a bit and point you in the direction of a video done by the Chaos Group, describing the dome light.
Dome Light Tutorial

Hope this tides everyone over for a day or two…

Photoshop – Smart Objects

4 02 2012

Since I’m on a roll, I’ve got a few minutes, and I’m in the middle of processing some digital photos that I’ve took, I thought I’d write another little post about something else Photoshop related…Smart Objects.  I’m going to hit on 2 main pieces of Smart Objects during this post, first using smart objects as a way to create embedded and easily update-able images in Photoshop or Illustrator files in Photoshop, second using multiple images to create make a busy street appear empty by using stack modes.

Smart Objects as links:

As I mentioned in my previous post today, shrinking an image or layer down and then enlarging it forces Photoshop to lose a lot of valuable data but then guess to try to make up for the lost data.  Is there a way around this?  YES!  Smart Objects create embedded Photoshop files within a Photoshop file.  How does this work?

To create a Smart Object, open the image and go to Layer>Smart Object>Convert to Smart Objects

The Smart Object is now created, you can tell because the layer will have a new black box in the preview of the layer.  When the Smart Objects are created, create a new layer and make some changes on the new layer.

Now we’ll make changes to the original image and watch it update.  Double Click on the layer containing the Smart Object to open it.  the following message will pop up:

Notice you can tell you’re working in the Smart Object because you’ll see the tab at the top is a .PSB file.  To create a noticeable difference, I’ll invert the original image and then save it again.

When you save the original layer again, close it and look at the update automatically made to the previous .PSD file.

Through this technique you can work in multiple layers and multiple files to ensure maximum flexibility while working!  The other great thing about this is the non-destructive to the original image.  The other cool thing about this is the way that you can use Illustrator files as Smart Objects in Photoshop.  For more on this, check out Colin Smith’s video via

Stack Modes:

So often times you’ll be out taking some photos and want a nice shot of a building, but there are people who are walking by, cars driving, or other things that happen to be bothersome to your artistic vision.  Well now with the use of Smart Objects, we can eliminate anything that’s moved throughout the sequence of images.  Using this technique is fairly simple, but takes a bit of forethought when actually taking the photos.

1) If possible use a tripod to stead the photos.  If not tripod is around, that’s ok, Photoshop can guess and try to align them, just don’t move!  Try to take a set of images in succession without moving, looking down, or shifting your camera.

2) Take multiple images and allow some time in between images.  This will certainly help when we get into the Photoshopping process because of the algorithm used to eliminate the moving objects.

3) Be artistic and have fun with it.  Don’t forget to experiment and see what cool images and post processing you can create!

I must admit that I stole this technique from Scott Onstott’s tutorial years ago.  I’ve taken a few images of a neighborhood here in Cleveland and will be using them as the basis for this exploration.


Once you get back to your computer (and defrosted in my case) download the images and then we’ll look at post-processing.  There’s two ways to create the Stacked Mode Smart Objects.

The first way is to open all the images of a single sequence in Photoshop.  Go to File>Scripts>Load Files into Stack

When the Load Layers Dialogue appears, select Add Open Files (or Browse and select Files…this is the second way of creating stacks)  Ensure that the check box for “Create Smart Object after Loading Layers” is checked.  If you didn’t use a tripod (or if you did and just want to ensure alignment) select “Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images”.

You will then most likely have time to go to the bathroom, get some coffee, or change the laundry out as it processes.  When it’s done you’ll see the stacked images on top of each other.

Notice the Smart Object icon in the layer palette.

Once the stack is created is as simple as going to Layer>Smart Objects>Stack Mode>Median.

Again, it’s time to get some coffee, change the laundry, go to the bathroom, or whichever you didn’t just do 5 minutes ago.  When you come back, you should a much cleaner version of the sequence.

Stacked Sequence - Median - click for full size image

The way that this works that Photoshop looks at all the images and only keeps the pixels that are the same in 50% or more of the images.  This is why it’s generally good to wait a second or two between images.  As you can tell, I was not so patient and while the car in the middle of the scene has vanished, the turning van on the right has created a bit of a trail.  It looks pretty cool, but the van certainly doesn’t create as clean of an image as I’d have liked, so next time I should take more time between images, or I could try with less images, for example the first image(DSCN007.jpeg), the middle image (DSCN011.jpeg), and the last image (DSCN014.jpeg).  Note:  I haven’t tried this for the sequence above, so I’m not sure if it will work, but sometimes it’s worth a shot.

Now that we’ve cleaned up the image, experiment with some of the other stack modes!








Standard Deviation



DPI and Output Size – what you need to know

4 02 2012

Ok, so I know that I promised I’d come up with a post about how to pull all the previous discussed techniques together, and trust me, I will.  However a conversation at the office yesterday arose and I thought it’d be a really good thing to post about…output size and how large should we be saving our images.

Keys to remember:

1)   It’s all about pixels!

Remember this, as it’s very important and the common factor between most of what we’ll talk about for the rest of the post.

2)  There’s going to need to be a bit of math, but trust me…it’s not that hard.

Go back to your days of Algebra I and you’ll be fine.  We’ll be using the equation DPI * Inches = Pixels.  From this equation, if we have 2 of the 3 variables, we can always solve for the other.  More on this to come later.

3)  It’s about the distance at which the object is going to be seen.

The human eye can differentiate pixels at about 120-150 dpi when being held and read in one’s hand.  As you step further away, less definition is needed.  Think about those various pixelated images that when you get close you see they are a montage of small pictures, but when you stand back appear to be one image.  This is exactly the same principle.

Image courtesy of Sabri Farouki at

Also, as you get older and are in lower light, you will be able to differentiate less dpi.  The other thing to keep in mind is that vector based information done in a raster based program will show effects dependent on the dpi.  The best example of this is text in Photoshop.  While working with a 72 dpi image, the text will look fairly pixelated and jagged.  The reason is because the linework of the font has to fit within the pixel.  For this reason, I’d suggest working with text in either Indesign or Illustrator.  Working in Photoshop will force you to use a higher resolution (200dpi-300 dpi) because of the text issue which will force you to render or use a larger image, negating the speed of using the smaller rendering or image.  See below for an example of the pixelated text and how the text needs to fit within a pixel as opposed to remaining vector based.

Text in Photoshop - click to see full size

4)  What is the output media going to be?  Print? Video? Billboard?

Typical video/computer/projectors use a 72 dpi standard.  HD video uses 1920 px X 1080 px (hence your tv is a 1080).  The computer monitor or projector will have their own resolution.  The laptop I’m writing this on for example is 1400 x  900 px.   As previously stated, printed material for hand outs should be min. 150 dpi and then printed presentation boards could go down to 100 dpi.  If you’re looking to create a billboard or rendering for site signage, you can get down to 50-25 dpi even.  I have even seen freeway billboard images that get down to 5 dpi and look fine from 100′ away.


5)  Think about what you are going to use the image for, both now and in the future.

If you need it at one size now, will you need it at a larger size for print/projection/etc later?  It’s always easier to reduce the file and reduce than it is to enlarge.  The reason for this is a bit technical but essentially, the algorithms that a program uses to “guess” what color a pixel needs to be when it’s enlarged struggle to execute effectively as they are asked to enlarge and compute more and more pixels.  Therefore if you’re asking Photoshop to increase an image 110%, it might do a decent job.  If you ask to increase that image 200% however, you’ll notice the image struggles to create accurate results.  Essentially, the enlargements that you see on NCIS, CSI, etc don’t really exist…sorry to burst your bubble!

Yes, there are ways that you can enlarge an image in Photoshop using “Resample Image” selection but remember, this still is an algorithm calculating it’s best guess as to what the color of the image should be.

The software will guess what color goes in each red square based on the color and surrounding colors from the white squares.

Just remember that these algorithms can cause problems if you reduce and image just to enlarge it again.  See what I mean below as I take an image, reduce it and then enlarge it to it’s original size.  the problem is that when going from small to large, it looks blurry or more pixelated because the computer is guessing what the pixel color should be.

Original Image Size - click to see full size

File reduced to 520 pixels - click for full size

Reduced file enlarged again to 1040 px - click to see full size


Now when you are working about to create a rendering, it starts off by figuring out what size the rendering needs to be.  For example, let’s say I need a rendering for a hand out.  This tells me that I’ll need at minimum 150dpi.  Go back to our pixel equation from above and we can calculate that our output should be 1650 pixels (150 dpi X 11 inches) by 2550 pixels (150 dpi X 17 inches).  What this also tells me is that with the same output or image, I can crop the image to fit my 1400×900 pixel laptop screen.

You don’t want to create an output too much larger than necessary because time is always going to be an issue.  Remember doubling the output isn’t actually doubling it.  A 11×17 image at 300dpi is actually 4 times (twice the pixels in height times twice the pixels in width)  the pixels as an 11×17 image at 150 dpi.  This means that it will take 4 times longer to render the 300 dpi image than the 150 dpi image!

White square = 1 px @ 150 dpi, Red Square = 1 px @ 300dpi

Again, because it’s easier to reduce rather than enlarge, I can reduce that same image to 8.5×11 easier than enlarge it to 18×24.  However, if I needed that image on a board that would be seen from 5-10 feet away, I know I can get away with about 100dpi which would allow me to enlarge the image to 16.5 inches (1650 pixels/100dpi) by 25.5 inches (2550 pixels/100dpi).

You can now understand how with a decent knowledge of this information a lot of time can be saved without reducing the quality of the image.  I know this was a bit off topic, but hope it helped.

Vray Materials Part 5 – Emissive

28 01 2012

Ok, so I just finished my Architectural Registration Exam study session, my wife is out for a while, and I’ve got a few hours before I’m meeting my sister and her boyfriend for dinner, (for those keeping track of my day)…let’s see if we can finish up the last material layer…Emissive Materials.

Emissive Layer:

The emissive layer is the final tutorial on the various layers for Vray.  An emissive layer allows the material to emit light.  These types of material can be used to create effects such as a neon sign, a glowing lamp shade, or a tv/computer screen.

I will bring up a few things to keep in mind when using a material that uses an emissive layer.

  1. These materials will increase render times, possibly to extreme amounts
  2. Do not use these materials as the sole lighting for a scene.


Now let’s jump right into it!  First we’ll create a new material (which I’ll cleverly name “Emissive Material”).  There are a lot less parameters than the previous two layers, and luckily, they are all fairly straight forward.  First I’ll render the scene that I’ve been using previously with a default material.

Now let’s create an emissive layer and look at the default parameters.

…and we’ll apply it and render

Now to better show the emissive quality, I’m going to turn off the lights and the environmental light, leaving the material as the only thing in the scene emitting light (I know, I know I told you never to do this in Rule 2 above, but take a look and you can see why never to do this).

Notice the “Splotchy-ness” and uneven lighting quality around the objects?  That’s because our render settings are fairly low for the amount of light that is needed to calculate.  Essentially, we need more light or to increase our light in the scene?  The increase of render settings will increase our rendering time (potentially substantially i.e 10-100 times)  As a result, it’s suggested for best results, let’s use a light in the scene and only use emissive materials for the glowing that they’re meant for.

Notice the Splotchy-ness (Note you may have to view enlarged full scale image)

For the sake of working correctly, and speed, I’ll turn the lights back on and turn them all down to .125 on the multiplier and then turn the environment on and turn it down to .1 on the multiplier.  Render again and see the splotches have pretty much gone away  (there’s still some, but not to the extent previously.  I could tweak settings to make them completely disappear but don’t have the time nor patience right now, you get the idea).

Turning the lights and environmental lighting on, but low multiplier

It’s important to remember that the changes that we make in the Emissive layer will effect the light emitted from the material, not the underlying color itself.  While these two work in conjunction with each other, there is an important and distinct difference especially when working with lower emiited lighting materials.  I’ll change the Color parameter to a red color and re-render.

Emitting Red Colored Light

Now I can hear you from the depths of the internet looking at that last image and questioning my credibility right now.  “Matt you said it wouldn’t change the color of the object, but the light.”  Well that’s true, but think about it this way…the light is being emitted from the material so especially when the amount of light being emitted is fairly high in relation to the existing light in the scene, you’ll get a larger influence than if it’s a lower amount of light being emitted.  Also, it doesn’t help that our underlying diffuse color is something light, in this case white, and our light is emitting a very saturated color like this red.  So we’ll turn the lighting Intensity down.  In this case, I’ll turn it down to 0.1 for a dramatic difference.  Let’s re-render and see what we get.

Turn the Intensity down to 0.1

I can tell, even less confidence in the last few hours you’ve spent listening and reading through my blog, huh?  Well the light being emitted from the material certainly is less.  The amount of red “glow” that we were getting is non-existent (0.1 was intentionally used as it’s WAY too low).  There’s one last parameter in the emissive layer that we still need to talk about.  The “Transparency” parameter!  This one is what controls the transparency of the light emitted from the material.  You have no reason to trust me, so let’s test it out together.  First thing first, I’ll change the diffuse color to something obnoxious (cyan usually does the trick), ensuring that my transparency map color is set to 100% black.

Change diffuse color

Now I’ll set the Emissive transparancy to Light Grey (230-230-230) and increase the Intensity back to .5 and re-render.

All the sudden, we can see the objects are no longer red, but instead have some of the cyan showing through with the light still glowing a bit of red.  Increase the Intensity to 1 and still see a muted red color on the objects, with stronger red lighting around the edges.

And for good measure let’s change the diffuse color to a Yellow.  Leaving everything else the same.

Change Diffuse Color to Yellow

You’ll notice there is a lot that affects the output color, the color of the light, the transparency of the light, the intensity of the light and underlying diffuse color.  The relationship of color values and saturation between the diffuse and light color also has an impact on the output as you can see.

When, Where, and How to use Emissive Materials

The next thing we’ll look at is when and how to use this in your work flow.  Let’s take a look at an interior scene that I’ve showed before and we’ll get back to in the next tutorial.  I have used an emissive material in two places throughout this scene.  Can you find them?

Spot the Emissive Materials?

If you said the TV screen and the light bulbs on the wall sconces, you’d be correct.  You’d also be able to remember that I mentioned that about 1000 words ago at the beginning of this post, so congrats on either or both accounts.  How and why did I do this?

Let’s take a look at the TV screen first.  If you sit in a dark room, turn on a tv, or open your laptop.  Then move to the side of the object or better, move behind it if possible.  You’ll notice that it sends a massive amount of light out projecting from the screen.  This should seem fairly obvious when take the time to think about it.  That is EXACTLY how tvs work, LED TVs, LCD Monitors, etc.  they are all Light Emitting (I.E. the “L” and the “E” of LED).  Now turn the lights on and look from the same views.  Even during the daylight and with the lights on in the room you can still see the light being emitted from the TV or Monitor.

With that being said, let’s look at how to make that material.  First thing I do is take a screen shot (if doing a CPU monitor {make sure you don’t have anything embarrassing on the screen when you do that}) or google your favorite tv station or program and search through google images until you find something that you want to put on the TV screen.  Save the image.  In this case, I used the following image.

Who can get upset or offended by Anderson Cooper?

I created a new material, named it, and added an emissive layer.  I immediately added the .jpg as a map to the Diffuse Color and the Emissive Color maps.  I adjusted the diffuse transparency color to 100% white.  Adjust the Emissive Transparancy color to Light Grey (230-230-230).  Render.  Adjustments will need to be made to the Emissive Intensity according to the scene.  For my scene, I ended up at an Intensity of 20.0.  Previously I’ve been anywhere between 5 and 100.  It’s unfortunately a trial an error process but it’s also a judgement call on the digital artist’s part.  Remember after all you are an artist, not just a render monkey!

If you’re having trouble with getting the image to look the way you want it to, check out the UVW mapping tutorial.


Now onto the light bulb.   Look at the wireframe image of the lamp.

Wireframe of Lamp - Notice Rectangular light

As you can see, I have a rectangular light (the golden colored rectangle) that fits inside the lamp.  Because I want the light to go both up and down, I simple click on the check box that makes this light double sided.  See the Lighting Tutorial for more info)  Because I wanted the lamp shade to be something semi-transparent (a linen in this case) I knew that you would see the actual light bulb and thus wanted to give it an emissive material to give the effect of slowing through the linen.  However, (back to rule #2, I didn’t use the emissive material as the light source to light the scene, hence the rectangular light).  I then created a new emissive material that I applied to the light bulb.  When I got my linen set the way I wanted to, I was able to see the glow from the bulb through the translucent shade.  To adjust the color of your light to the actual color temperature of your particular light, use this website that translates color temperature into color pixel RGB values.  It’s a quick way to add a good amount of realism to your scene!

Final Lamp with rectangular light and emissive material


Coming up next: Putting it all together: Tips and Tricks

Vray Materials Part 4 – Refractions

18 01 2012

For those who aren’t keeping up, I have gone through a brief explanation of the differences between reflection and refraction in my previous post.  But to review, refraction is the visual distortion that occurs as a result of a transparent or translucent material having some level of density to it.  The light waves are deflected or change angle between the top surface of the material and the back surface.  As a result, any object that you apply a material with a refraction layer to MUST have a thickness.  Otherwise, the computer will try to calculate this difference, but be unable to (think of it as dividing by 0) and freak out, resulting in a black output.  As a side note, you will notice that adding a reflection layer and/or a refraction layer will cause an increase in render time because of the increase in computing the machine is asked to do.  It now must not only calculate the lighting and material, but also the way in which the light/materials reflect or refract and what will be seen as a result.  It’s just something that needs to be kept in mind, especially when working with large scenes, tight deadlines, slow machines, and impatient clients/bosses.


Refraction is often found in conjunction with reflective surfaces, think of a window that you can both see through and has a reflection, so it is most likely the case that you will add both a reflection layer and a refraction layer to your material.  I’m going to start by simply adding those two layers to a brand new material I’ll call “Refraction layer”.

When I apply that material to the scene, I find that our initial rendering shows the highly reflective material, but no refraction.

Let’s remember that in order to see the refraction, we are seeing through the material.  How do we see through a material?  The  diffuse transparency!  Right now, it’s showing as black which makes the object 100% opaque.  Let’s change this to white, making it 100% transparent and there we go!

It’s important to make sure that you change the transparency color on the diffuse layer, not on the refraction layer.  We want the overall object to appear transparent, not the amount of refraction.  I will be sure to explain this further later in this tutorial.  Looking at our rendering we can see that these objects, specifically the sphere are beginning to show a bit of distortion and look very glass like.  To accentuate this, I’m going to change the floor material to a check board pattern and re-render.

With the new rendering we can better see how the materials both reflect the light (which is why the pyramid to the left is all white…it’s reflecting the direct light at a harsh angle) and refract the light.  Now that we understand what these features are and how they work and are applied to materials, let’s look at how to better control the features of the refraction layer.


The IOR as it deals with refraction will increase the amount of distortion in the material as the IOR increases.  It’s important to keep in mind that the IOR for refraction and reflection are different, however for the most accurate results they should be the same.  A few good values to keep in mind according to the Rhino Manual:

Vacuum = 1.0          Air = 1.00029          Alcohol=1.329          Ice=1.309

Water=1.33          Glass=1.517 (I like to use 1.42)          Crystal=2.0          Diamond=2.417

 For a full list of IOR listing, check out

Below I have borrowed a matrix created by Chia Fu Chiang and Damien Alomar that shows an incremental increase in IOR and the amount of distortion.

Matrix part of Vray for Rhino Manual by Chia Fu Chiang and Damien Alomar


Similarly to the IOR, Glossiness is a  parameter in both Reflective and Refractive layers.  The difference between the two is that the Reflective Glossiness deals strictly with the amount of reflection dealing with the surface.  The refraction glossiness will have an effect on what happend inside the material, therefore having and effect on the transparency.  It’s through this parameter that the materials can appear frosted.  The refraction will become more blurry based as the Refraction Glossiness decreases.

Again, below I’m borrowing a matrix from the Vray for Rhino Manual.  The matrix below sets the IOR at 1.55 but changes the Glossiness.  It’s important to see that the transparency changes rapidly between a glossiness of 0.80 to .75.

Matrix part of Vray for Rhino Manual by Chia Fu Chiang and Damien Alomar


The Fog parameter allows you to give a refractive surface a tint of color.  This can be useful when attempting to create a tinted glass, blue, green or otherwise.

I have added a color (63-191-191) to the fog, see settings below:

Notice how the color is added to the material.  The strength of the color depends on both the thickness of the material and the fog color multiplier.

Notice that certain geometry above appears to have black refraction.  This has to do with the “Exit color” and the Abbe number of the Dispersion.  These are new parameters to VfR 2.0.  I will go over all of the new features in an upcoming tutorial.

Below is a sample of the fog multiplier color number.  From left to right the number is 0, 0.2, 0.5.  It’s clear that the higher the color multiplier, the more more the color affects the material.  As a side note, I find that for a tinted glass, a fog number between .15 and .4 generally work for the my taste.

2" thick glass - Fog Color Multiplier L to R (0, 0.2, 0.5)

General Settings


The two parameters that I’ll discuss in this tutorial is the “Affect Shadows” and “Affect Alpha” options.  The “Affect Shadows” does what the name would suggest.  It uses the color and refraction to affect the shadows being cast.  This will give the shadows a hint of the color of the glass or refractive material.  The “Affect Alpha” option also is fairly straightforward and affects the alpha channel, giving a colored tint to the alpha channel.

Affect Shadow only L to R Fog color (0, 0.2, 0.5)

Affect Alpha only L to R Fog color (0, 0.2, 0.5)

Affect Alpha + Shadow L to R Fog color (0, 0.2, 0.5)


Again, because I feel the need to be 100% honest to you, my loyal readers, I must disclose to you that I have a tough time with the Translucency parameters (and considering I haven’t been able to find anything online that really makes sense, I feel that you don’t get it either).  I think that I struggle primarily because the numbers mean absolutely nothing and as far as I can tell just are a value relative to each other.  However, in an effort to gain your faith back, I will tell you know I do know or have figured out for Translucency.  This type of material is often referred to as Sub-surface Scattering material (SSS)

Translucency will have an effect on the material, allowing light to penetrate through the material based on the thickness of the material at a given point.  As a result, this is a very helpful material type to use for wax, skin, milk, plastic, etc.

1)  Always change the IOR to 1.0

2) Change the transparency away from pure white.  Try value 80-150.

3) Uncheck Double sided material under “Options”

4) Lower the Refraction Glossiness to something under 1.0

5) Be careful that your light is properly adjusted to ensure material appears as desired.  A light that is too strong will not give the desired effect, and will appear washed out.  A light that isn’t strong enough will not properly penetrate the material’s surfaces, giving it a dark or black look.

Translucency with Value 80

Please follow back up and check out my Research section.  As I have more time and will investigate some of these parameter, I will post it there, giving us all a better understanding of the stuff I haven’t fully explained here.

Coming up next:  Lesson 5 – Emissive Layer