Maxwell Render for Google SketchUp has Arrived

There aren’t many other elements in the 3D market that offer quite the exciting and often bewildering diversity as rendering software. While most 3D artists are content to use the tools built into their primary application, or one of a small number of specialist packages that encompass modeling, texturing and animation, it seems new rendering solutions just seem to keep coming at us…..

We recently had the oportunity to throw a few questions at some of the team working behind the scenes at Next Limit Technologies, to see what is so different about this rendering plug-in. Why choose Maxwell for Google SketchUp?…..lets find out.

Hi and welcome, can you please introduce yourselves?

My name is Juan Cañada and I am Project Manager for Maxwell Render and I am glad to be here to answer some of your questions.

My name is Jeremy Hill, Maxwell Render plug-in developer and I have been working with Next Limit Technologies, primarily developing plugins for Maxwell Render, since before its initial public release in 2006. Prior to that, I had been a Maxwell Render early-adopter, and eventually, was invited to become a core beta tester.

Image by Francois Verhoeven

Juan, many people have known Maxwell Render to be a top quality engine and the generally accepted benchmark for other renderers of its type. What prompted Next Limit to develop this latest version of its plug-in for SketchUp?

Though our Google SketchUp plugin had previously targeted SketchUp Pro exclusively, due to its ability to leverage our C++ SketchUp Exporter, the free version of SketchUp has always been out there, tempting us with the possibility of introducing Maxwell Render to a much larger audience. Our analysis of the situation, though, always ended up indicating that we were providing the best overall value to our customers by continuing to do what we were doing.

Then, last year, something happened: the introduction of Maxwell Fire. Once this had been implemented in the plugin, everything changed: you were no longer performing another export for every little change. Furthermore, you were now rendering with Maxwell Render directly inside of SketchUp; technically speaking, with the removal of various dependencies, the plugin could become a complete rendering solution, albeit somewhat less capable than the Maxwell Render Suite itself.

So naturally, this led to further discussion, and as a result of that, I went off and wrote a proof-of-concept; we were quite pleased with the results of that, and so here we are today, with a free, fully independent plugin, which runs happily inside the free version of SketchUp.

What are the new and most exciting features in this latest release?

That is probably the Standalone plugin itself, as it was quite a large undertaking, and did not leave time for much else. That said, there were several other unrelated improvements. Probably the most important one is that Maxwell entity attributes now cascade like SketchUp material assignments. This release also adds ability to define the size of plugin-generated UVs on a per-entity basis, and a new Ignore Distortion attribute, which can prevent the writing of thousands of only slightly-distorted SketchUp textures. The plugin’s ability to search for files at export and render time was also significantly enhanced. There were various other minor features and improvements as well, but I’d say that the most exciting changes are yet to come.

Image by Rune Skjøldberg

Jeremy, a new release of rendering technology geared towards SketchUp, and especially a free version, is bound to generate big excitement, so what are its real strengths and limitations?

Hopefully, the main accomplishment of the free plugin will be to help people realize that they need not get a degree in computer science before they can learn to use their computer to create beautiful images. Which is not to say that this can happen magically; consider for example, a SketchUp material: how shiny should it be? SketchUp’s material model provides no way of communicating your intention, so it becomes the primary job of the plugin to provide you with a language for saying these types of things, and hopefully to do so in a way which is both intuitive, and efficient.

As far as limitations go, these are mainly related to the fact that the Standalone plugin can have no dependency on Maxwell Render Suite itself. For example, while it allows you to make use of the thousands of MXM materials available on the MXM Gallery website, the plugin contains no provision for creating or editing these files, since the tool for doing that, Maxwell’s MXED material editor, is part of the Maxwell Render Suite. Likewise, it is not capable of rendering outside the context of SketchUp, and so does not offer those features which are implemented outside of all Maxwell plugins, like render channels, Multilight, network rendering, and so forth, these things being provided by the group of applications which comprise the Maxwell Render Suite. The Standalone plugin is also resolution limited: 800px under the free license, and 1920px under the paid license.

With so many new releases of rendering software hitting the market place in recent time, what makes Maxwell for SketchUp so different and what is the idea behind your marketing strategy ?

The Maxwell Render project manager Juan Cañada says “Maxwell is not just another render engine, it has been acclaimed as the best quality render in the world, and has created some of the most beautiful CG images ever seen. SketchUp users should feel like they are getting a Ferrari for the price of a Ford Fiesta!”.

For my part, I return to the answer to the previous question: without the philosophy behind the engine, this plugin would be nothing. For the plugin’s part, though, you will find that in use, it is more interactive than most: you move the camera, and the image updates in real time; you alter a material, and you see the result immediately. You change the time of day in your model, and you see the lighting and shadows in Maxwell updating in synchronization with the shadows in SketchUp. This allows you to feel very connected to the scene.

Even just in terms of development, this interactivity has been enormously valuable. You might be trying to determine why something is not working as you expect it to, and where it may previously have taken hours to divine some abstruse implicit application logic, it is now often almost ridiculously obvious, since you can literally see the relationships between things as you cause them to interact with one another. It is no different for setting up and rendering scenes.

Image by David de las Casas

Can you give us an overview of the core technology behind Maxwell for SketchUp?

To me, this question is about only one thing, and that is the unbiased nature of the Maxwell Render engine the plugin contains. People often ask: what does unbiased mean? Simply, it means that Maxwell never makes assumptions or guesses about what light might or might not do in your scene. It simply calculates, using our best understanding of the physics of light, for as long as you are willing to allow it to calculate. That might not seem like a big deal, but it really is.

It means that Maxwell does not look at your scene and decide to discard portions of it based on assumptions regarding what it thinks the camera may or may not be able to see; it knows better than to even try such a trick, since by some unknown series of reflections or refractions, it could be proven to have been wrong in making that assumption. It does not presume to know a particular material to be opaque, and then to optimize the calculation based on that knowledge; again, it knows better — that in fact, it would need to render that material in a controlled test environment before it could prove conclusively that it would allow no light to pass. From the outside, these may seem odd sorts of rules to be concerned with, but if you think about them, and about the problems which must arise when they are violated, you will understand what is behind the photographic quality of images produced by Maxwell Render. The images end up looking the way they do because that is the only way they can possibly look.

So that is really what is behind this plugin, and while the plugin itself may do its best to provide a convenient workflow, and a comfortable user interface, these things would amount to nothing on their own; the soul of the plugin is in the uncompromising algorithms implemented in its render engine code.

Do you have to have the Maxwell Render Suite to use this plug-in?

Not at all. The Standalone plugin consists of a single self-contained run-anywhere package. You simply install and render, full stop.

For a long time now one big stumbling block behind the Maxwell plug-in was the fact that it was not reaching a wider audience of users because you had to be a SketchUp Pro user to use it… is this no longer the case?

This release obviates the whole question: no matter who you are, no matter which build of SketchUp you use, there is a Maxwell for SketchUp plugin which will work for you. That said, I do want to make it clear that our high performance SketchUp Pro-only C++ MXS Exporter is still fully alive and well, and being used by Maxwell Render Suite license holders.

Image by David de las Casas

Are we going to be banging our heads off the wall, or put more simply..how hard is it to use and learn this new plug-in?

There is more to this question than appears on the surface. The plugin itself is intended to be very easy to learn. But so is your SLR, and it doesn’t make you a professional photographer. The plugin provides various tools to make your job easier: auto-focus and exposure tools, a material model designed to get you where you want to be with as little input as possible, and so forth. But in the end, you are the artist. You are the one who composes the image. If there is one thing you’ll be learning, it will be: to be an ever better photographer.

Interestingly, given the basic philosophy of Maxwell Render, you may actually find that you learn more by using the plugin, than you do about using it. Actually, that was my own experience; I’d never really had any sort of decent camera before I began using Maxwell. When I finally did pick up a D40 a couple of years ago, though, I already knew exactly how to get what I wanted from it, and I learned that purely by using Maxwell. It is not called physically accurate for nothing.

One of my favorite ways of illustrating this involves what you will see in the plugin as the Lock Exposure to EV (Exposure Value, that is) feature. This did not originally exist anywhere in Maxwell, and I initially implemented it in the Rhino plugin in order to satisfy the request of one of my users. What is interesting about this (if you are a geek, that is) is that in order to do so, it was not necessary to touch the core engine code. In fact, the EV value does not even exist as such; rather, it is a virtual value representing the relationship between the camera’s fStop, Shutter, and ISO values, and is dynamically calculated using standard equations taken from the real world of photography. Had the Maxwell camera not been modeled accurately, this would not have worked, but it was, and ever since, my users have been able to adjust their camera’s depth of field without affecting their exposure, and vice versa.

Do you think this latest version of this plug-in will attract the ‘power user’?

It really depends on what is meant by power user. First, while it has been mentioned that the Standalone plugin lacks some tools which are present only in the Maxwell Render Suite, the fact is that, in terms of producing beautiful images, you are limited only by your own imagination; the engine guarantees that.

For the hobbyist or artist, or even the sole proprietor, I would guess that the Standalone plugin may likely be all that is ever needed. As we move further along that continuum, though, it becomes advisable to investigate what might be gained by moving up to the Maxwell Render Suite. For someone who uses these tools to make a living, this becomes imperative; it becomes a question of whether forcing your workflow through a free or very-low-cost tool is actually pursuing a false economy. It’s actually not very far to go before you find yourself in that position; consider that if you waste ten minutes per day, this amounts to over a week of time loss over the course of a year. And what is your hourly rate? So, at the edge, where we find what we might call the power user, it may be that in one case, the Standalone plugin will be the appropriate tool, while in another, Maxwell Render Suite may provide a better return on investment.

How positive has the reaction been so far with this release?

From what I’ve read so far, it appears that things are going quite well. I am told that we’ve had a high number of downloads already; we quickly fixed a licensing-related issue today, and aside from that, I’m only tracking one other active bug at the moment. So this is all very encouraging, given the number of downloads you might expect to see when releasing a totally free product.

Image by Rune Skjøldberg

Are there any plans in developing Maxwell for SketchUp further and are there any surprises that we can look forward to?

So much time went into the initial development of this plugin that none was really left to try to incorporate some of the new features introduced in Maxwell Render 2.6. Especially of interest in this plugin is the new MXS Reference feature which, when combined with the plugin’s aggressive use of Maxwell Instances, will allow rendering a nearly unlimited number of objects (read: pre-configured MXS trees, etc). That one will be pretty big, given SketchUp’s 32-bit nature; current customers will definitely tell you this is something they have been wishing for, for a while. There are other things as well, though, such as support for IES lights, possibly some kind of home-cooked grass implementation leveraging Maxwell Render 2.6’s new hair system, and so on. Of course, software development never really ends.

Thanks guys…looks like Christmas has come early….

Essential Info:

  • Maxwell for Google SketchUp is available for free or as a licensed version (currently $95/€75)
  • Easy to set up – just install the Maxwell for Google SketchUp standalone plugin
  • High quality “real-time” rendering (immediate feedback in the renderer for scene changes)
  • Fully integrated into Google SketchUp- no external render applications or interfaces to learn
  • Self contained standalone package with its own custom designed render engine
  • High Definition resolution (for the licensed version)
  • Free materials: Access to use thousands of free Maxwell Materials (MXM files)
  • Compatible with Windows and OSX

Homepage: http://www.maxwellrender.com/index.php/home/maxwell_for_sketchup

Video Tutorials: http://www.maxwellrender.com/index.php/home/maxwell_for_sketchup/tutorials

5 Responses to “Maxwell Render for Google SketchUp has Arrived”

  1. Sean Foley on December 1st, 2011 1:33 pm

    First off I really like the software, so much that I want to get the paid version. However after reading the above article it says that there are no problems with the software only one problem that you are tracking.I can barely get it to work at all. It crashes constantly, and many others it seems have the same issue. There are no one on the forums so I am writing this here. Would love to get it to work.

  2. Jason Maranto on December 1st, 2011 7:15 pm

    @Sean – which forums are you talking about? I make every effort to answer any questions/concerns that pop up on SketchUcation.

  3. Griffin on January 27th, 2012 9:08 pm

    I don’t seem to have crashing issues with the plugin, my only hope is that they update the plugin with multi-light capabilities. I study landscape architecture, and would love to do some night lighting renders…

  4. anil on September 2nd, 2012 4:41 pm

    we using sketch up but i have not redring please help

  5. sk on April 25th, 2015 10:45 am

    I download free version but it required 64bit and i have 32bit window and not possible to instal in 32bit window 7

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