Monday, July 22, 2013

Turning SketchUp into a Digital Watercolor!

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I discovered an amazing hybrid technique for creating a digital watercolor that integrated Google SketchUp, Shaderlight (SketchUp plugin), hand coloring with Chartpak AD markers and Photoshop filters. The digital effect was as close to traditional watercolor as I’ve ever accomplished and I wanted to lay out my production steps for you to try for yourself!

Step 1: SketchUp Model
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Starting with a simple Google SketchUp model of an imaginary waterfront scene that I use for teaching (these images are cropped versions of the larger scene), I exported a high resolution jpeg of just the edges, setting the image width at 5000 pixels. I resized the jpeg in Photoshop to 300dpi x 18 inches for producing the final digital image. I did not export the SketchUp model view, but rendered it using Shaderlight software.

Step 2: Photorealistic Rendering
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Shaderlight is an interactive rendering plugin for Google SketchUp and allowed me to establish reflections in the water and glass. It also created a natural quality of illumination in the shadows. Once the rendering process was completed, I saved the image and resized it to 300dpi x 18 inches to match the linework jpeg I saved from the 3D model. I then combined the rendered image with the linework in Photoshop. I lightened the linework layer with a 50% transparency as the original lines were too dominant in the composite image.

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After lightening the water (the dark gray was too unrealistic), I created the “rippled” reflections on the surface using the smudge tool in Adobe Photoshop. The smudging altered the mirrored appearance of the photorealistic rendering. My next step was very important to the success of the digital watercolor - which was to lighten the entire image. I gave the jpeg a 75% transparency to reduce the color and contrast so I could later add back color with markers. 

Step 3: Colored Markers
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I printed the lightened image onto 13”x19” matte finish coated Epson paper using my Epson Workforce 1100 printer and then colored the water, buildings, surfaces and people with light Chartpak AD markers. Joining me with the experiment was the talented Arkansas architect Tim Cooper (pictured above). It is important that the colored markers you use on the coated bond paper are the lightest colors you can find. Dark markers were only used on the clothing. For this project, I used light lime, pale indigo, buff, naples yellow, pale flesh, suntan, willow green and pale cherry for the primary areas of color.

Step 4: Photoshop Filter
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I scanned the colored marker print at 300dpi and slightly lightened the image prior to applying the Photoshop watercolor filter. Adjusting the filter settings to achieve the lightest watercolor effect, the resulting filtered image was very exciting to study up close. The colored markers that bled beyond the lines gave the image a natural painted appearance. The lines from the SketchUp model were barely visible as if they were lightly sketched with pencil.
The overall grain created by the filter produced the desired character of this wonderful digital watercolor experiment. I’m sure to continue exploring this technique with future projects and hope to find even more success with merging traditional hand drawing techniques with digital imaging.

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