Today, I want to introduce you a new software for real-time rendering, called Shapespark. This is a very handy program that works very well with Sketchup, giving us great 3D images and more. With Shapespark we can browse through the room and see the whole design as if we are in the room, we also have the ability to upload the entire model with the materials and lighting and send it anywhere with a simple link! To see the link, you only need a browser, Chrome, Motzilla, Explorer etc.
In addition, it supports VR and WebVR (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard and Daydream) virtual reality functionality, and its biggest advantage is that the entire model, with its photorealistic features, can be embedded on a page of a website!
Accurate lighting is the key ingredient in making a virtual scene feel real. Shapespark uses global illumination techniques which simulate the behavior of light in the real world for all types of light sources, be the sun, sky or lamps. These are the same techniques that rendering engines use to generate photo-realistic images.
In addition to Sketchup working perfectly with an official plug-in, we can also import models from Shapespark from other 3D programs in a format such as FBX, COLLADA or OBJ.
In order to perform some tests on Shapespark, I chose an interior design project with 2 basic spaces, a bedroom and a living room. Both spaces have enough light and natural light, with the sun coming through the curtains. The objects I have selected have many polygons, so generally, this is a heavy Sketchup file.
Before you get started, you must go to Shapespark www.shapespark.com and create an account and then download the Shapespark program locally to your computer by installing it. Upon completion of the installation, the plugin will be downloaded to Sketchup. Once you open it, you will see the plugin on your Sketchup home screen.
After having designed the Sketchup model I’m ready to export the file from the Shapespark plugin.
The plug-in has 2 icons, by pressing the right one that shows a lamp we can import light sources into the Sketchup file and process them in Shapespark.
The left icon exports your file. Choosing it will ask us if we want to create a new scene if we want to name it and if we want to place the Sketchup Sun inside the Shapespark
Then the file has been exported and by opening Shapespark from our computer we see a scene with the name of our file. Press Edit to process it.
Now we see our model inside Shapespark. On the right is the vertical bar with all the program settings, and with the mouse we can move inside the space. Let’s take a look at the basic buttons in the setup bar. First is the Bake option, there we will find the buttons for the render and the quality choices we want to give.
In the second tab, we find the Lights. Everything that has to do with artificial lighting settings we choose from here.
In the third tab, we can find the Light Probes options, as you can see in the image above it is a circular light sensor which captures 360° panoramas of its surroundings that is used to generate reflections
At the Material Tab, we find all the materials we’ve added to our file in Sketchup. Shapespark does not have its own materials to place, it uses the existing Sketchup by giving them all the textures and shades needed. We can only replace some material by changing a photo through Shapespark.
The Sky tab allows to replace the default procedural sky with a sky texture that surrounds the scene.
The Objects tab allows us to control the geometry of all objects in our model. A basic choice we have is that we can hide an object that we do not want to be seen in our scenes.
With the Camera Tab, we control anything that has to do with model cameras, Exposure, Gamma, Field of view, and more.
And in the last Tab that is the Viewer, we add scenes. These scenes come as buttons inside the model and the user has the ability to navigate the scene by tapping on the scenes.
After seeing the commands given by Shapespark, let’s see how we’re going to render! In Bake Tab, we see two buttons at the bottom, Preview and Bake. If you click Preview, a small window will open that will show us a static image of how our model will look like with its lighting features. Preview helps us to do the tests we need before we come to the final render that is the Bake button. In the figure below we see how the lighting is quite low.
To get the lighting the way you want, go to Lights Tab, increase the values and press Preview again.
Once we are sure of the result we want to give to our model, we then hit Bake and wait for the process to finish. In the following pictures, we see our two basic spaces, bedroom and living room and how they look through Shapespark.
Seeing the model in Shapespark I notice some flaws that arose from my design at Sketchup. As I have said many times in Sketchup we always have to design on the front surface (white). In the picture below the chair has not got the right materials due to the problem I just mentioned, so we should go into Sketchup and make some changes by selecting reverse faces where necessary.
Since I am back in Sketchup making my changes I decided to replace the living room table with a better one.
We press the export to Shapespark button again and this time we select the export type to update the existing scene.
This takes us back to our account. We select our file and then we edit it again.
As you can see all the changes have been made. The only thing left is to press the Bake button.
Upon completion of Bake, our scene appears again with the lighting we had given it earlier.
Let’s go now to process the materials. Press Material Tab and select the surface that you want to edit. The basic values in order to give a different color, gloss, texture or permeability are those shown below. We put RGB value while in the other options usually, the values are between 0 and 1.
The following figure shows the materials I chose to process based on the prices I mentioned above.
And here we see the result. I must emphasize that material changes are made in real-time!
Then I’ll go to the Viewer Tab and create the scenes I want and give them names.
Finally, I go to Lights Tab to edit the type and intensity of the light sources. In the figure below we see the intensity and color of the ceiling spots in red.
Changing the values and clicking Preview will show us how the volume and color have changed.
A very nice feature of Shapespark is Top View that lets us see a three-dimensional floor plan.
To do this we have to go to the Objects Tab and choose to hide the roof exclusively on the Top View scene.
The model after the changes I made to it in materials and lighting is ready. We can browse the scene and with the keyboard, if we click on the question mark it will take us all the shortcuts.
Last step is to go into managing our account and upload the model. Once completed, it will give us a Link to see and browse the model through any browser.
Shapespark is an amazing program. It is fast and very flexible with an excellent render effect. Also, Shapespark’s software looks very light and bug-free. But the most important thing is that a beginner can get a very good render effect in very little time, the same is true for Sketchup!