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Rant Sketchup 3D Warehouse rant


Dear Leader
Staff member
In the past couple of years, I went from knowing almost nothing about 3D modeling, to the point where I can make some pretty decent models from scratch using Sketchup. It's a terrific tool, with learning curve that isn't terribly steep, and a good balance of user-friendliness and power. I still have issues with modeling something that involves uneven terrain, but even then, I can make some presentable graphics for zoning codes and other kinds of planning-related work.

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The 3D Warehouse is a repository of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Sketchup models. Some models are uploaded by product manufacturers, but the vast majority are created by Sketchup users. There's thousands of high quality models that are useful for making other larger models -- doors, windows, street furniture, vehicles, people, animals, trees and plants, fences, and the like. Access is free. Until a few weeks ago, users could download as many models as they wanted, but now that privilege is limited to paid Sketchup Pro users. Those using the free version, Sketchup Make, are limited to 100 downloads a day, or 1000 a month.

Why the rant? Well, the 3D Warehouse has absolutely no curation or user rating. Pretty much, anybody who uses Sketchup can upload a model. This includes schoolchildren, whose 3D Warehouse models number in the hundreds of thousands. Because there's no quality control, I have to sift through increasingly larger piles of absolute crap to find something that's a usable "prop" for a model or graphic I'm making. Even sorting by size, number of polygons, relevance, or popularity doesn't separate the wheat from the chaff.

Let's get into specifics here.

:puke: Randomly scaled vehicles. If I download a vehicle, I never know if it's going to be to scale or not. If I place a vehicle in a model, it could be to scale, it could be 1,000' long, or it could be almost the size of a Matchbox car. I have to Google around to find its real world length, and then scale up or down. I can scale to a specific length, or width, but to do both proportionally, I can only use percentage of the original, so scaling takes some guesswork.

:puke: Vehicle variety: lots of cool, much less mundane. By comparison to my other beefs, this is a minor rant. There's a disproportionately large number of models of luxury and "cool" cars, and far fewer of everyday rides. It would be easy to model a street full of Mercedes, BMWs, Audis, various supercars, and 1960s American muscle cars. European cars that aren't sold in the US are also easy to find. Exotic cars are okay for Easter eggs, but you can't have a realistic street full of them. To make something more true to life, with mundane crossovers, and late model, middle end American and Japanese sedans and hatchbacks, not so much. When I find one, it's often lowered or has so-very-00s low profile tires. There's no good models for two of the most common cars on the road here -- the Volvo 240 sedan and wagon. I can't find newer Subaru Outbacks or Legacys, which are also popular here.

At least there's a lot of decent transit buses, school buses, pickups, vehicles with utility beds, box trucks, emergency vehicles, and the like.

:puke: 3d people: is, how you say, so the sexy, no? Lots of women in skimpy clothing, bikini women, anime women, superhero women, fantasy women, K-pop women, supermodel women, yoga women, ballerina women, and fashionable Eurowomen.

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Uh huh. This.

Models of women and men that look real world realistic -- not necessarily different body types even, but just "normal" -- are harder to find. When I find decent 3d models of people, the file sizes are often huge, like 10 megs or more. Optimizing them does nothing to bring them down to a more manageable size. The 3D Warehouse also very few models of black people. I usually have to edit an existing white model to make a PoC, and it's impossible with the 90%+ of models that use a wrapped photo as the surface material.

If I wanted to model a corporate office in the stock photo universe, an RPG battle scene, a neckbeard's fantasy world, or a street scene in downtown Madrid or Moscow, no problem. However, there are exactly zero 3d models that represent the modal residents where I live and work -- basically, boho boomer women with long gray hair, boomer men with short professor beards, and boomer women with the short hair/flannel vest look. Really, few models of anybody that looks over 30 or 35, and nobody that looks "outdoorsy" or "crunchy", either.

Somewhat related - there's hundreds of models of people with their arms stretched out to their sides. They're useless for anything except ... I don't know, cops frisking people maybe?

:puke: Building models: untz untz untz untz so Euro no? 95% of all building models in the 3D Warehouse are unusable even as massing models. Many have low-resolution photo wraps for surfaces, and the bulk of the others look like what a four-year old would draw if you asked them to draw a house.

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95% of the rest are metric-based, and reflect architectural styles that aren't found in North America -- tens of thousands of ultra-modern "casa moderna" models from mainland Europe and South America, a lot of formulaic brick houses from the UK, vernacular Asian buildings, and the like.

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There's probably about 100 to 200 "casa moderna" models for every one similar quality model of a house that looks like something you'd find on a typical residential street in the United States or Canada. For the few remaining North American inch/foot-based models, about two-thirds to three-quarters have a very low level of detail, making them somewhat useful for massing models but nothing more detailed. Decent North American-style storefront commercial buildings with four-sided details are so rare, they're practically unicorns.

By the way, "apartment" is spelled with one "P", not two. Or three.

That being said, there's still thousands, if not tens of thousands of terrific models in the 3D Warehouse that a planner in North America would find useful. I download and bookmark decent building models that are useful for a Northeastern or generic US context as soon as I find them. They're just getting so much harder to find, thanks to the millions of trashy, flashy, and Eurasian-oriented models that far outnumber them.