Filmmakers have long been using Google SketchUp Pro to map out complicated scenes, camera moves, and set designs — according to Google, the $495 program has been used for planning shots for projects including Inception, 300, The Social Network, and Tron: Legacy. Offering robust 3D visualization without the complexity of real 3D toolsets, SketchUp has proved itself so useful as a previs tool that it’s hard to believe that the core functionality for filmmakers, a “Film & Stage” plug-in that dates to 2004, hasn’t been updated to keep pace with the ongoing revolution in digital filmmaking. That’s finally changed with the announcement that those ragged-trousered tools have just been given a kick in the pants.
The new Advanced Camera Tools plugin is free to paid users of SketchUp Pro 8 on both Windows and Mac. It lets you drop any one of dozens of new, pre-configured camera types into your scene, or build your own virtual camera if the one you need isn’t included. (Lots of cameras are included, from 35mm and 65mm film cameras to Reds and Phantoms and more.) Once your camera is in the scene, you can select the right focal length and aspect ratio and then move the camera using the computer keyboard. Frustrum lines (for overhead views) and volumes (for views from within the scene) help you visualize exactly which parts of a given scene multiple cameras will have in their field of view.
If you’re a SketchUp user, you can use these links to download the new plug-in: Mac or Windows. If you’re not a user, and you need to be convinced that the program is worth your 500 bucks, take a look at the above video from Google to get a better sense of what SketchUp offers. If you’re intrigued, Google offers a trial download.