Tuesday, October 16, 2007

3-Dimensional Representations - The Sequel

I had written a less than flattering post about Vista FX3 back in February. I still refuse to give up on the software and try to make it work from time to time time. I added the extra time on that last sentence because what I'm really doing is wasting time. I need to just wait for an updated version and see if it has improved enough to be worthwhile.

On the other hand, I have discovered a new program that is more flexible and easier to use. Google SketchUp which is absolutely free. It has the same basic design features as Vista FX without all of the bugs. You can create buildings and place walls, doors and windows with the click of a mouse. Everything can be done using measurements right down to the thickness of the walls and the height of the windows. There is even a measuring tape tool that allows you to add the measurement markers simply by drawing a line. The first time I tried it, I created a two story residence with furniture and an intricate roof in approximately one hour. Users can also create and share their models in the 3D Warehouse so you can usually start with a model that's already close to what you need and just tweak it a little.

I immediately began comparing Google SketchUp to Vista FX3 and determined that the similarities are astounding and the differences are gratifying. SketchUp has all of the "fancy" abilities as Vista; photogrammetry, photo overlay, and scaled 3-D modeling. What it doesn't have is a difficult interface, an overwhelming drain on the CPU, and a fistful of bugs. The only point that Vista has in it's favor is the ability to animate a scene....wait a minute! So does SketchUp! You can set up a walk-through of your model and export it as an .avi, but you can't animate individual objects the way you can with Vista. I consider object animation to be a bad idea anyway since there is so much interpretation required.

In my opinion, SketchUp is what Vista wanted to be. It has all of the important features and then some. Let me boil the comparison down to one specific example. Vista will allow you to create a rectangular building with ease as long as it has a flat roof. My instructor told me that there was a way to create a peak, but he hadn't figured it out yet. After months of trying, I haven't either. With SketchUp, I created a mult-winged building with a multi-faceted roof in less than five minutes. Isn't that the point of 3-D modeling software for crime scene investigators? If you want to play around even more, you can place your model in Google Earth and view it with all of the terrain already built in!

I'm not ready to stop using Adobe Illustrator for crime scene sketches, but for 3-Dimensional crime scene representations, Google SketchUp is everything you need - for free. If you are proficient with CAD software, you might want to go Pro for $495, but the basic version is more than enough for crime scene investigation.

By the way, I'll probably get sued by Visual Statement for bashing their program, but they don't deliver what they promise and everyone should be aware of the problems before throwing good money into a bad deal.