Twinmotion Real-time Rendering for Landscape & Garden Design

Twinmotion has grown in popularity and prominence in recent months particularly in architectural visualisation and landscape and garden design. Coupled with Trimble’s SketchUp Pro and you have all the tools required for communicating creative vision to clients. In this article, landscape and garden designer Paul Hensey, shares valuable insights on how Twinmotion enhances his projects and those all-important client presentations. Paul is a Fellow of the Society of Garden Designers and the Head of Design at Sussex based Green Zone Design. Paul’s a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture and the Garden Media Guild, and a SketchUp trainer and has collaborated with SketchUp UK and Cadsoft Solutions Limited on a number of SketchUp events.

Over to you Paul……..

Whilst some of us might work as part of a partnership or even a larger team, Landscape and Garden design is for the majority, a solitary career.

We wear many hats and not all of them sit as comfortably as others. On any given day we might jump from being a salesperson, accountant, engineer, IT support and sometimes designer.

And as a designer we need to able to drive a pencil, markers, spreadsheets as well as design software.

There are always new tools and design aids to streamline workflows or take our skillsets and presentations to a new level, the toolbox at my disposal is already full and even then, I still don’t have the time to be proficient with what I already have.

Presentation images created within native SketchUp can look very good. It takes a little effort but with some experimentation it is possible to create images that are dramatic and engaging. The techniques that will give the most significant improvement are:

1) Use great textures. Those available within SketchUp are a little tired and limited. There are many sources of textures but probably the best place to start is

An extensive and free resource (although a €12pa fee gives you access to the hi-res images and greater number of downloads. This is a small price to pay for a resource that makes your work look great)

2) Camera angle. In your created SketchUp universe, gravity does not apply, and you can fly! So, set up camera angles (try altering the field of view under Camera) that add drama and dynamic perspectives.

3) Entourage. Add objects that allow a viewer to see themselves inhabiting the space without needing to seek clarification; cars on a drive, plates on a table, storm-lights and perhaps a wheelbarrow and of course people.

Geometry in SketchUp can look stylised, there is a black edge around everything which helps when modelling but isn’t how we perceive the real world. Turn off these lines and the definition can be lost, giving a rather flat feel to your scenes.

There are also no shiny or wet things in SketchUp, and reflections have to be mimicked.

Whilst the hard geometry of structures and surfaces can be made representative with good textures, things are less than ideal when we start to add water and plants.

Vegetation in particular can put a strain on your computer’s performance and setting up a large garden space with decent plant models can be a real test of patience. So, we learn work arounds and set up planting to be indicative rather than representative of what has been designed.

There have been various extensions and applications that address these issues. Some created stylised, water colour effects, others offered more realism with lighting options for reflections and even night-time illumination.

The learning curve was usually more than I was willing to give and there were always compromises, usually regarding the use or inclusion of plants.

It is of course possible to use external software such as Photoshop and Affinity to add in effects, illumination, reflections and textures, but it can take as long to apply these as it does to develop the 3D geometry in the first place, and the end result is a single static image, a collage.

An advantage of applications such as Photoshop however is that having created the underlaying geometry the style of the presentation is flexible. Realism can be substituted with stylised watercolour or even pencil effects and frequently a hybrid style is useful, emphasising a particular element or area.

However, what if the model changes or an additional point of view is required? For me, Photoshop has and remains a place where I edit rather than create presentations.

I have always believed that it is better to learn how to use a tool proficiently and accept its compromises rather than have a lot of great tools that get used infrequently and usually not proficiently.

As such, my entire workflow is built around SketchUp. Typically, I:

  • Import or record survey data
  • Create 3D terrain models of a site
  • Develop designs in 2D and 3D
  • Create presentation models
  • Execute all construction detailing along with quantities and specifications in Layout
  • Create planting plans and schemes

Anything that extends my efficiency needs to fit into that flow and ideally, utilise the geometry and assets that I have already created. For all of these reasons and excuses I resisted the move towards Photorealism or versions of it.

Until last year I had never offered different versions of model presentations or been asked for photorealistic images. My go to style usually exceeded client’s expectations and there was nothing to be gained by adding to the work when the design had been sold without the additional effort.

It was a commercial client who first asked for “something a little more realistic”; within a few months more than half of new enquiries or work underway needed to be supported by images that were not always possible in SketchUp, and it has since become the norm.

I cannot say why the market has matured but it is reassuring that the tools needed are available and easily adopted.

There are many rendering software options: V-Ray, Unity, TwinMotion, Lumion and Enscape 3D and others.

The selection process is easier than you might imagine:

  • What type of computer do you use?
  • What are you willing to spend?
  • Can you use it?

I am a Mac user (off the shelf, 32Gb i7 iMac). I did not want to migrate to a PC and neither did I want to start partitioning my hard drive (a method whereby you can simulate a PC on a Mac). For Mac users the list quickly gets reduced.

It is important to acknowledge how you use or intend to use this type of software. As a professional illustrator or Architectural Visualiser, you might invest in a dedicated computer, high performance graphics card and several software options to help create unique visuals.

Whilst Clients are asking for better visualisations what I can charge in addition to the design is very limited, if at all.

It is important therefore that any software fits into your workflow without adding an extended period to create the images.

TwinMotion was an easy choice; it is inexpensive, Mac (and PC) friendly and (after some practice) actually speeds up my workflow rather than extending it. It has a SketchUp “ap”, allowing me, at the press of an icon, to open models in TwinMotion. If the model changes, those alterations are immediately reflected.

One of the reasons I use SketchUp is that every time I model with it, it delights. It’s like have a favourite pencil, camera or car. It is fit for purpose and something I really enjoy. I would add Twinmotion into that category. It gives me the same pleasure to use as SketchUp.

Twinmotion is simple enough to remember how to use it between projects and it fits into my workflow without forcing me to step out of it.

I have a simple method for working in Twinmotion. This is framed by the time I am willing to spend on an image. Having designed and created a garden or landscape in SketchUp, I determine how long it might take for me to set up scenes, add textures, plants and objects.

The larger the designed space the more complex the scene management gets. Plants that are not visible or incidental need to be managed to reduce processing time. I use this estimate as a guide to the time I can spend in TwinMotion, 2hrs is a typical.

A time frame keeps you focussed on the design and not the art.

A simple SU model is sent to Twinmotion where textures get added, reflections, lighting and water assigned and environmental lighting set. Night scenes are simply drag and drop elements with the time slider set to early morning. If you use scenes in SketchUp, then the saved views in Twinmotion will be familiar.

Images are high quality and export very quickly, (unlike scenes with planting in Layout where you might as well go and have a bath.) These I later drop into Layout as imported Jpgs and they print very nicely at A2. 

My first attempts at visualisations, in retrospect seem naïve but after several attempts and a lot of positive feedback from clients it has become a simple and enjoyable part of the project.

A studio with several employees might dedicate resources to project rendering, but where the entire creative workflow is undertaken by one person, simple is best

All images reproduced here by permission and remain copyright of Paul Hensey, Green Zone Design.

Got something to say?