Updated: February 7, 2013
Maxwell for SketchUp is standalone rendering engine that integrates fully into Google SketchUp as a plugin and allows you to manipulate your models inside the program, without having to rely on third-party software. Sounds like an awesome little tool for Dedoimedo, the artiste wannabeaux, to explore.
Anyhow, the program comes in freeware and payware flavors. The differences are obvious, including the max. output resolution, the number of light sources, and other nifty details, all of which are designed to entice you to shell out a hundred dollars! Whether the program is any good, and whether someone like me can enjoy using it, we will discover right now.
The installation is fairly simple. However, Maxwell for SketchUp does require the Silverlight plugin to work. Yes. Sounds weird, I know. If really cannot find any logical reason for anyone to need the Microsoft framework, but here it is. And possibly justified. Eventually, you will end up with a toolbar in your SketchUp installation. Like below, see!
Commence to start having fun
Now comes the truly interesting part. How well does Maxwell for SketchUp handle competition, like the super-awesome Kerkythea, and we will have some more articles coming up, or perhaps the little more difficult-to-use POV-Ray, or maybe Blender. The only way to really know is to try to recreate the same kind of scenery I did with my existing models, so let's see what gives. For reference, please gaze upon these lovely images. Sorry for so many links, only a small dose of self-flattery was intended.
The toolbar comes with several options, all rather intuitive. One of the most important ones is the button that takes you to the online repository, where you can grab all kinds of materials, a basic prerequisite for enjoying yourself.
Then, you want to see what kind of options you can configure in the toolbar. Indeed, there's quite a bit. And at a first glance, you might feel lost. However, if you have used other rendering software, you will find your way around. Still, my impression is that you do have more freedom in Kerkythea, however, you cannot make any model changes live, which is the great advantage of an integrated plugin like Maxwell for SketchUp.
Render baby, render!
And now the real fun. The engine is fast, and it can utilize multiple CPU threads. Then, you can also tweak the resolution, the render quality, as well as add background sky and plane, to add some ambient realism, so to speak.
And eventually, you end up with something like this:
Overall, not bad at all, especially considering the fact the image was created in maybe five minutes of work on four threads on top of my HP Pavilion laptop. However, given the fact I did struggle a little with materials, I do feel the final result is a bit plastic-like.
The freeware version is a major tease. That's what it's meant to be. And with only 800px as the highest dimension for your images, you will definitely be asking yourselves what could happen when you go for the full version. And bingo, mission accomplished.
Now, from the purely user-space perspective, Maxwell for SketchUp is simple, friendly, although you will need some time burrowing through the menu and figuring out all the little options. I was not able to use grass, for instance. Moreover, some of the settings are somewhat clunky to find and tweak, and the competition offers quicker results. Then, the plugin is only available for SketchUp, which means no native Linux build.
I guess I really like the product, and I might buy it some day. Which means, if you can stand the fact you have to have Silverlight installed on any one of your machines, then you should take the free version for a spin and play a bit, to see what gives. For me, I have just found another reason to make my already tight schedule even tighter. Thank you, Internet, thank you so bloody much. Maxwell for SketchUp, 8/10. Will be using.
Hint: You can buy me a license if you want to, I won't mind.
Next, Twilight Render and Yafa Ray. Oh, hell.