SketchUp Stories: MY Wood Designs

MY Wood Designs are a bespoke joinery and carpentry company based just outside of Cardiff, Wales. Due to the specialist carpentry services they offer, SketchUp has been instrumental in helping their clients feel part of the process, offering quick and easy visualisation of their end projects. We spoke with Mike about the design process and how he marries the functional with the creative.

Bespoke Kitchen for a client in Cardiff

Can you introduce yourself and your team to the SketchUp community?

Hi, I’m Mike Yorke and I’m the director of MY Wood Designs Ltd. We are a small, family run business specialising in bespoke kitchens, wardrobes, alcoves, media units and other types of storage solutions.  My office manager Emily has recently joined the company to help manage our customer experience and improve the business presence and brand.

Designing an alcove in SketchUp
The finished alcove

How did you and the team get going with SketchUp – and why SketchUp?

We started using SketchUp about a year ago. We wanted to bring the designs to life for clients, making it easier for them to visualise the finished product. SketchUp helps enormously with that – it’s so quick and easy so we can play around with design, colours and textures to help a client decide on the final finish and look.

SketchUp was also the obvious choice with so many other cabinet makers raving about it. Being able to use the basic programme for free gave us a great opportunity to see if it worked for the business before having to pay to use it. For a small business, that’s invaluable.

How important are plug-ins and extensions in your work?

We’re still learning lots of little tricks within SketchUp and we’re taking our time to choose which ones will work best for us long-term. However, so far, it’s the simple things like uploading specific colours and objects from the 3D warehouse which is just so fantastic.

Using SketchUp to create a bespoke layout and design of a kitchen for a client in Cardiff
A SketchUp design come to life
Different angle, same SketchUp designed kitchen

What does your typical design workflow look like?

This starts with understanding exactly what the client wants from the space. We work very hard to ask as many questions as possible whilst making notes of what we see in and around the property and how the project can help better their living space and how they work around it. 

We then measure up the space as accurately as possible then start to draw up a basic outline sketch of their ideas. This occurs during the first time we visit a client. They are always amazed at the speed we can produce a drawing and how easy it is to alter the image.

Once a quote is produced and accepted, we then work on a much more accurate sketch. This allows us to produce cutlists, saving on manufacturing time and increasing accuracy. The sketch is then shown to the client with any changes made easily in front of them.

We produce a short video and take screen shots which are provided to the client to discuss for a few days. Once we finalise the design, we can start ordering materials and then the build commences.

Besides kitchen and general carpentry, you seem to excel in providing clients with innovative storage solutions, maximising spaces in alcoves etc. Is it more satisfying to work imaginatively with certain constrictions?

Working in properties in and around Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan always has its challenges. Walls and ceilings are never straight and alcoves are always odd sizes to squeeze every bit of storage in to. Each house is different in its own way and we always like to find out exactly how our clients want to use their space. We find out what they’d like to store specifically or exhibit in a particular space and build on those ideas. Its great to see a clients’ reaction when we start drawing up their ideas with a quick sketch. 

Inventive use of space for library alcoves

Is there a particular job or piece of work you’re most proud of?

Our most recent bespoke kitchen build and installation. It’s our biggest commission to date and the client had some specific ideas they wanted to incorporate in to the design. We managed to fulfil the brief and added in some extra little design features from pull-out oak chopping boards to hidden LED lighting. Our clients were very happy. 

SketchUp has allowed MY Wood Designs to quickly convey to clients how space, texture and colour will influence the final product
The final design

To see more of MY Wood Designs work visit their website, or follow them on Instagram and Twitter.

SketchUp Stories: Luke Whitelock Design

Luke Whitelock is a feature film Art Director who has worked on movies for clients as diverse as Marvel, Universal, and Disney for over 14 years. With a back catalogue including huge feature films such as “Aladdin,” “Avengers: End Game and Infinity War,” “Dr Strange,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Inception” – he’s tasked with a major brief – bringing movies to life and realising the finished sets.

Luke has used SketchUp in his work for over 10 years. In the last 5 years, he made a transition from 2D board drawing to using only SketchUp and Layout – producing not only creative designs, but incredibly technical ones too. With a super hectic work schedule, we were happy Luke carved out some time to tell us about his methods and processes.

Luke on a finished set design

Hello Luke! So, how does SketchUp help with your design process?

SketchUp really is key to my design method. I hardly ever work things out on paper anymore.

I start with massing the shapes of a set – width and height of a set is established fairly early on as we are limited to stage sizes. So I’ll start by massing the walls and the different floors if there are any. Everything just goes onto Layer 0 to start with and this enables me to work quickly and freely. Sometimes a design will come together really quickly and sometimes it takes a while. It’s like sculpture in a way; I start with these 3D blocks, gradually chip away at it and break it down into components and groups. The way I work in SketchUp will often inform the design as I go along.

“Avengers: Infinity War” Credit: Marvel Studios

“Avengers: Infinity War” Credit: Marvel Studios

“Avengers: Infinity War” Credit: Marvel Studios

How did you get started in the industry?

I always knew I wanted to work in film from a very young age. I visited Universal Studios when I was very young and I just knew that I wanted to work in film some how.

I was lucky to have a very kind and encouraging graphics teacher at school. He was one of the first people to notice my ability and helped guide me towards a more artistic route. It’s because of him and my art teachers encouragement that I decided to go to art school. I studied at Bournemouth Arts Institute- first on an arts foundation course, then onto an audio visual diploma, then finally settling on a Film degree. I learnt a lot but always knew if I wanted to do this for a living I would have to move to London.

Agrabah Parade Ground, Merchants balcony and arch detail, Aladdin. Credit: Disney
Int. Jasmine’s chamber and balcony, Arch Bay detail, Aladdin, Credit: Disney

Agrabah Ground Floor, Merchants balcony and arch detail, Aladdin. Credit: Disney

The opportunity came soon after graduating in 2004 when a friend offered me a spare room in a house share he was setting up in South London. I moved out with no belongings apart from a stereo and some records and moved in October 2004. I knew nobody in the film industry apart from a couple of TV art directors who had done some visiting lectures at the Arts Institute. I pestered them until one relented and gave me a start on a small channel 4 show called Sugar Rush. I did a few TV jobs before getting my film features break on “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”. It was whilst on this project in 2005 that I started Drafting by hand. I knew the basics of drafting and basically learnt on the job. It was around this time I first became aware of SketchUp. I used it but never really worked out how to incorporate it into my workflow.

A set revamp information pack for construction, Aladdin. Credit: Disney

What was your ‘Aha!’ moment working with SketchUp?

A few years later, features work had dried up in the UK. The writers strike had caused all productions to either shut down or move to Prague. For about 6 months I was completely out of work. I used this time to teach myself SketchUp. When the phone rang one day and a designer asked if I was free to do a commercial and could I use SketchUp, I lied and said ‘yeah!’

It was a baptism of fire working from home and teaching myself the program along with Layout which is a fantastic drafting package but I’m really glad I did it. Although I would still draft by hand most of the time, I found as the years went by I was using SketchUp and LayOut more and more – at the point on “Thor 2: The Dark World” in 2012, I did my last hand drawing and have been exclusively using SketchUp and LayOut ever since.

Arched bay, version 1, Jasmine’s bedroom, Aladdin. Credit: Disney
A design for Jasmine’s bed chamber, Aladdin. Credit: Disney
Designs come to life, Aladdin. Credit: Disney
Construction workers on set, Aladdin. Credit: Disney

What kind of projects interest or excite you the most?

I love all kinds of projects. I suppose sci-fi is most fitting with SketchUp, but I have used the program to design ancient castles, Georgian houses, rococo ballrooms – and even my own garden!

Any essential plug in/extensions for you?

I love so many plugins and use them all.

Off the top of my head – Round Corner, Hatch Face, QuadFace Tools, Power bar, Fredo scale, Solid inspector 2 and GKWare Stair Maker.

What does your typical design workflow look like?

I’ll block everything out (massing model) in SketchUp and set up my sectional views very early on.

I’ll also set up the drawing in LayOut very early on, as the LayOut and SketchUp file are dynamically linked so setting up the viewports early means the drawing basically takes care of itself.

I’ll use a trick of exporting the sections and overlaying them on my section cuts and then I’ll maybe do a few renders using V-Ray. I’m still learning that since moving from SU Podium last year.

On another finished set design for Aladdin. Credit: Disney

View more of Luke’s creative and technical work over on Instagram

A Constructible Model with M Moser Associates

We spoke to Jason Li, Associate and Charles Corley, Director of Organisational Development at M Moser Associates about how virtual design and construction complements an integrated project design and delivery approach.

Over the past fifteen years, M Moser, a global AEC firm with an extensive track record in workplace design and construction, has used SketchUp and LayOut not only for design and conceptualization but as a vital communication tool throughout the project delivery process.

What does the term “VDC” mean to M Moser?

Charles: It’s Virtual Design and Construction and by that we mean an entirely constructible 3D modelling workflow that empowers any stakeholder to understand and participate in a project. We can create a working virtual environment that makes everything clear to all project participants regardless of training or experience. Rather than relying on a highly coded or flat and disassembled, abstract set of documents, a visual reference is universal. A desk looks like a desk; a wall looks like a wall. You don’t need an expert interpreter of construction documents in order to understand fully and collaborate.

M Moser prefers to own as much of the responsibility on a project as possible. The best case scenario is we’re the designer, engineer, purchaser, and contractor. The deliverable, if you will, is the completed project. Throughout all of our offices worldwide, we use virtual design and construction out of a need to have everybody understand each other. We have an array of cultures, understandings, and backgrounds in construction. We want people to engage meaningfully and get the best out of each other’s contribution and expertise by constructing a project in SketchUp well before reaching the site. VDC is a communication tool that gets everybody on the path to the right result.

What types of projects do you focus on as a business?

Charles: We design and build workplaces. Not only corporate offices but corporate campuses, laboratories, private hospitals, private education facilities, and workplaces of all types. You name it, we’ve done it.

Using a nimble tool like SketchUp is also extremely important as these types of projects can be ever-changing. With more traditional building projects you have to nail down things well before construction for many reasons such as permitting, structural calculations, and ordering materials. But workplaces, even extremely large ones, can remain fluid in design. Even the size of the premises could change considerably. Departments can move around. Mergers and acquisitions could change the whole landscape of the office. The flexibility of SketchUp allows the entire team, including clients, specialists, and contractors to keep up.

Virtual construction starts to become tangible.

Render; not just a pretty facade, the engineering can be equally eye-catching.

What is unique about the way you operate?

Charles: In some ways, we’re sort of the enfant terrible. We’re radical about change and are constantly evolving the way we think about construction information. Where many firms are steeped in more traditional documentation, we’re trying to make any record of construction information a by-product of the real collaboration and 3D work.

We don’t want to send out stacks of documents to people who have never seen it before and say, “Go read this and get back to us with a price.” We’d rather have them involved from the very beginning. This means, all the trades, contractors, suppliers, and the client working together in 3D, from concept to completion.

We’re trying to shake the tree where a lot of people don’t want to change. Jason and I have a lot of war stories about how people are incredibly stubborn to change and don’t wish to consider alternatives. We’ve broken down a lot of assumptions like, “You can’t use SketchUp for official documents to send to the government,” or “It’s not accurate enough,” or “We can’t collaborate with consultants using other programs.” These arguments have melted and fallen by the wayside.

Jason: M Moser could be considered quite unique in the industry because our focus is not just on the design. We have to consider the contractors and the build. For many companies, their role ends when they hand over the designs and completed documents, whereas we handover a complete result. And even beyond that, our role sometimes continues into operation and maintenance.

Construction detailing in LayOut can be templated for all projects in a region.

Your designers are charged with producing constructible models. Can they do this on the first pass?

Charles: Not every designer has the experience to really understand construction. They tend to draw the design intent, then they have to work with others to discover what’s possible.

As an example, just recently we had a team discussing an intricate reception counter. The contractor in the room pointed out: “If the table were four inches shorter, we could use off-the-shelf components and wouldn’t have to manufacture any custom pieces.” The designer made the change right then, rationalizing that it wouldn’t really impact the overall look but offered a significant reduction in cost and lead-time. Thousands of collaborative discussions like this occur constantly, many of which wouldn’t be possible in 2D.

Jason: We collaborate on a daily basis; it’s not really like a factory where I do my job and pass to someone else, or “Here’s a stack of drawings, you go and do it.” Projects are realized through discussion and brainstorming. People have different backgrounds and this way we can truly avoid misinterpretations on what the designer intended.

Virtual construction sequencing can save months onsite

People will always have differing opinions, so does it always go as planned?

Charles: What you would see in our meetings would be a group of people from very different professions, looking at a model being rotated on a large screen. The person leading the meeting is not coming up with all the answers, they’re the “chief question-asker.” The team answers the issues together, marking the live model and taking screen captures. They talk about what needs to change and sometimes even make these changes on-the-fly. It’s very much a team activity.

The notion of success mostly comes from the client but often there are multiple opinions. One might say, “I want to make sure I have the correct amount of meeting rooms;” another person says, “I want to make sure we finish on time;” another, “I want to make sure my boss coming from overseas is happy,” and so on. Those objectives blend together and form the definition of a successful project.

Jason: We’re using VDC as a methodology to ensure designers, engineers, professionals, specialists, and the client can communicate on an equal platform. Our goal is that everybody understands the project objectives to achieve results.

Collaboration throughout a project makes for a smooth delivery.

A slick reception area before, during, and after the build.

Building constructible 3D models looks to be a time-consuming exercise. Is it more efficient than it seems?

Charles: Many would say that you can do something in AutoCAD faster or easier than you can in SketchUp. We have found that is not the case if you use it intelligently. There is often a false understanding of time efficiency. Hand a project to a couple or draftsmen and they may spend hundreds of hours doing the drawings, not taking the time to understand construction. A senior stakeholder would then have to go through each page of the drawings to check them, applying the required 20 years of experience to effectively decipher it. Then there are the perspectives. Visualizers can spend an inordinate amount of time setting up beautiful—but only a limited number of—renders. All those hours really add up.

Jason: VDC forces the people who are doing the drawings to think about what they’re building, they can’t just draw lines. With our methodology, the modeler creates everything in SketchUp.

Then they split the model into different viewports in LayOut to see right away if something’s not working. The key difference is, any changes are immediately echoed through the entire set. Everybody’s job is faster and easier. The whole workflow is compressed and more evident to everybody at a glance. Errors are glaring, “Oh, look, this wall is not meeting the mullion correctly.” We can see where buildability is correct and where it is failing, and we can catch it early. There’s also less time spent on visualisations. We can use an extension to quickly do perspectives from any position in minutes instead of hours.

Finding a clash here, is one step closer to eliminating onsite issues.

Get everyone on the same page with exploded 3D fly-through animations.

What perspectives can your clients expect to see in the early design stages?

Jason: We do aim to deliver spectacular visuals to help convey our idea. At one time, we had a team of visualization specialists dedicated to rendering, but it became a bottleneck because time had to be booked with the few 3D visualizers trained in that software.

We now have established ways to do as much as we can in SketchUp, which is the fastest way. There isn’t a steep learning curve. Everybody can have it and everybody can use it to develop gorgeous renderings with extensions. We don’t need so many specialists. In Shanghai and Singapore, we use renderers such as Enscape. In India, we lean more toward CPU-based renderers, including SU Podium.

Charles: We also had a problem with third-party drawn perspectives. A designer would freestyle to make something look better. In this process, they might have a detailed understanding of what the interior would look like, but would often leave out the air vents, access panels, joint lines, and sprinklers because they thought they were ugly. Even worse, they would enlarge or shrink objects to give a false impression of what one would experience.

By transitioning to the VDC methodology, we ensure that perspectives remain true to life. We can also deliver beautiful renders instantly, so you can quickly look at things from a different point of view. There’s a nimbleness that is lost when creating perspectives with other workflows where the same limited views are updated over and over again.

Render; a visually stunning workplace is a productive workplace.

Does your methodology transverse regions?

Charles: We developed our approach because we work with contractors trained in very different ways and to some extent that continues today. However, we think that the constructability aspect of VDC is applicable anywhere. There’s a great deal of value in being able to do virtual mock-ups and say, “Are you sure this is what you want? Because look here, this could be improved.”

Constructible models eliminate wasted resources and materials and allow for an unprecedented attention to detail before reaching the site. If you think of everything in a project as separate systems that must come together, there’s a huge amount of coordination required in what was traditionally called the design development stage. We now choose to call this integrated development because we are essentially combining the power, lighting, partition, and furniture systems.
The integrated development stage is where much of the change occurs and decisions are made. Documentation for the record is memorialising what we had agreed during all this collaborative effort. Documents may be still necessary for now but they record what was already worked out and understood by all and don’t serve to gain that agreement. That was done through a highly constructible model—a virtual construction.

Photograph; the finished product, a clean and crisp space featuring natural materials.

About M Moser Associates

M Moser Associates has specialized in the design and delivery of workplace environments since 1981, with clients from the corporate, private healthcare, and education sectors. With over 900 staff in 16 offices on three continents, the company provides a holistic approach to physical and digital workplace environments of all scales.

From concept design to construction with SketchUp

Northpower Stålhallar is a construction company based in Stockholm, Sweden that specializes in warehouse construction. They build industrial warehouses using SketchUp from concept design all the way to the construction phase, including LayOut for construction documentation.

Tell us about  Northpower Stålhallar. What do you do?

Northpower Stålhallar was started in 2006 by two brothers from the northern part of Sweden. We were something completely different from the company you see today. Our founders were sitting in a small office by themselves. Since then, the company has grown to almost fifty employees. Fifteen people work in the office, five people weld in our manufacturing department, and the rest are on our work sites building the projects.


Northpower Stålhallar’s office building. This includes a manufacturing unit, where many SketchUp designs come to life.

What was the company’s first experience with SketchUp. When did you first use it and why?

In the beginning, the two brothers were looking at other construction companies working in 2D and thought, “We don’t want to use 2D, we want to use 3D because you can visualize designs so much better”. They started to look around to understand what types of tools were on the market.

A company delivered a staircase to them for a project and one of the founders noticed it was drawn in SketchUp. He thought, “If they can do it, I can do it.” So he downloaded SketchUp and tried it. He found it to be fantastic. The cost is much lower than some of the other programs, so that was great too!

Can you talk about the space you are sitting in and its design in SketchUp? We’d love to take a virtual tour.

When you walk through the entrance, you have a view of our manufacturing unit. Everything made there is designed in SketchUp. You can see the steel being welded together. Northpower Stålhallar builds steels halls so our building is, of course, built with a steel frame.


Steel hall designs are a signature from Northpower Stålhallar

From the lobby, you can access the saunas (it’s a must in Sweden). There’s also a lunchroom, where we all sit and have lunch together. You can take the elevator up and that’s where we have our offices. When you come up, you’ll see a big open lounge area with sofas and TVs where you can sit and relax while waiting for a meeting. We also have table tennis, billiards, and an exercise room.

We modelled the whole thing in SketchUp. The painters were painting the designs exactly from the model. All of the furniture is inside the model too. This office is exact to the millimetre of its SketchUp model.

Tom Kaneko Design & Architecture: Sketch, Design / Build in Practice

Tom Kaneko

Tom Kaneko is an architectural designer and SketchUp ninja specializing in bespoke residential retrofits and extensions in the United Kingdom. In this conversation, we delve into his workflow and how he uses SketchUp to deliver value to his clients within the constraints of a tight budget. For Tom, ‘SketchUp makes the means of design & communication, with client and contractor, one and the same’.
Tell us about your background as an architect and how this influences your approach to design.

I’m drawn to the technical aspects of the profession and the site. Luckily I had a very hands-on experience at the University of Edinburgh that has served me well in practice. As a designer, you have to know your craft… knowledge gaps become apparent when you transition from design to construction, particularly when engaging in conversations with builders and subcontractors.

What was the “Aha!” moment for you with SketchUp?

It came in 2011 when I was working on Jemima’s House, an extension to a terraced Victorian house with big ambitions and a tight budget.

SketchUp model and photo of completed project showing view from dining area into garden at Jemima’s House, London.

Tell us about your background as an architect and how this influences your approach to design.

I’m drawn to the technical aspects of the profession and the site. Luckily I had a very hands-on experience at the University of Edinburgh that has served me well in practice. As a designer, you have to know your craft… knowledge gaps become apparent when you transition from design to construction, particularly when engaging in conversations with builders and subcontractors.

What was the “Aha!” moment for you with SketchUp?

It came in 2011 when I was working on Jemima’s House, an extension to a terraced Victorian house with big ambitions and a tight budget.

SketchUp model and photo of completed project showing view from dining area into garden at Jemima’s House, London.

To manage the budget, keep my fees down and still deliver value to my client, I had to be very efficient with my time. We wanted to create an interesting and functional space, using inexpensive materials in a considered way. This meant I had to rapidly iterate to test and discuss ideas with Jemima. Modelling the concept in SketchUp helped immensely during our conversations as I could quickly communicate my intent in 3D and also reflect changes easily.

For the retrofit and extension projects that I’ve specialized in, minute details like insulation thickness can affect the final usable floor area. Communicating these details clearly to builders is very important so that the client gets the most value.

In SketchUp, I create all the detail drawings we need, and virtually construct the entire building before we go on site. By doing this, I’m able to spot every mistake. Once I saw that I could go from concept design to construction details in SketchUp on this project, I stopped exporting my sections or details to other CAD software. Now I know that what I’ve drawn is what the builders will have.

3D details of extension frame construction.

The smooth transition from concept to the site is crucial for a successful building – How do you ensure this and how does SketchUp support your workflow?

I start every concept with hand drawn sketches. I focus on getting the flow of the plan right, whilst incorporating the client’s requirements and desires within the limitations of a typical London terrace.

Hand drawn early concept plan

At the schematic design stage, I get a survey of the existing building done, and turn that into a SketchUp model. In terms of my model structure, each floor is its own component, walls and floors are separate, and furniture and people are on individual layers. Having a well organised model makes it easy for me to make changes or remove elements. I also set up all my key scenes and sheets early on in SketchUp Pro and LayOut… floor plans, sections, main elevations and perspective views of the main spaces.

One typical design challenge I have is to achieve a great sense of space in the interior with a higher roof line, whilst considering the shadows cast on neighbours. At this point, testing out ideas in section and 3D helps me arrive at a unique, contextually appropriate response.

Early concept model showing 3D image & sectional test of context responsive roof pitch.

The output from the model can be used for sunlight studies which might be submitted as part of the planning application documents.

Early sunlight studies showing the positive impact of a context responsive roof pitch. Shadows cast by the proposal do not negatively impact the neighbouring building

Once the plans and sections are agreed, I create a separate construction model to really drill down into the details. Some of the angles in the roofline mean we have very bespoke junctions and I have to be able to clearly communicate the construction and design intent to the builders.

Construction drawing sheet created in SketchUp’s LayOut showing an exploded perspective of a bespoke oak frame end wall and details of key junctions.

As the design progresses, I usually create a separate model for each key stage. A simple schematic model will have several iterations… changes can take five minutes or forty minutes depending on how big a leap we’re making. A big win is that I can quickly update the section views using Skalp for SketchUp, and LayOut automatically picks up the changes. The final proposal from LayOut is what I use for the planning application.

Next, I create a detailed construction model that takes us on-site. Instead of hollow walls, the technical construction model articulates wall and roof details.

I’ve found that showing builders assemblies and perspectives in 3D helps them really get behind the design intent. They have a clear understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and why. In my experience, clear information leads to great relationships on the building site. Some really experienced builders on previous projects have told me my construction drawings from LayOut are some of the best details they’ve ever seen!

Image showing construction sequence. Dangan Road Project by Tom Kaneko Design.

What drawing standards and style templates do you use most in SketchUp and why?

My LayOut template is very pared back and simple. I usually place drawings on an A3 sheet, as it’s a good size to view things on the computer and in print. I use the font Helvetica for annotations and keep all sheets simple, legible and scalable. Over time I’ve developed my own set of revision clouds and drawing title blocks but my principle is to keep the graphics minimal so that the design can take centre stage.

What is your approach to rendering and visualizations?

I use Thea for renderings because it’s simple and embedded in SketchUp. It’s also a great design tool for lighting.

What keyboard shortcut could you not live without?

Hide rest of model without a doubt! “Ctrl + H” allows me to edit a tiny component within a vast space. Ed. note: Ctrl + H is a custom shortcut set by Tom. Make your own custom shortcuts, too!

SketchUp Stories: Adam O’Neill

Adam O’Neill has worked as an art director on a range of films including ‘Troy’, ‘Snowden’, and ‘Prometheus’ and as supervising art director on film and television productions including ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘Penny Dreadful’. He’s received Art Directors Guild nominations for art direction for five productions and won an ADG award for ‘Gladiator’ as assistant art director. His most recent projects include work on Netflix’s ‘Nightflyers’ as senior art director and as supervising art director on ‘Pennyworth’.
Adam is also Chairman of the British Film Designers Guild (BFDG), which was founded in 1946, for the betterment of Design in British Films. Out of this society grew the Guild of Film Art Directors, and the present British Film Designers Guild, who now include in their membership all the various branches of the Art Department. Earlier this year, SketchUp UK sponsored the 2018 BFDG Awards ceremony and we caught up with Adam to find out how SketchUp has helped inform his work.
‘Nightflyers’: Int Cargo Bay Credit: Syfy/Netflix
‘Nightflyers’: Int Cargo Bay Credit: Syfy/Netflix

So, how did you get started in the industry?

I started as an art department assistant for production designer Stuart Craig. Since then I became a draughtsman, then assistant art director, and now I alternate between supervising art director and art director.

How does SketchUp help with your design process?

Sketchup is great for fast conceptual models, quick visualisation of 3D spaces, and for blocking out design details. It’s also fantastic for quick animations to illustrate sequences, or to explore 3D spaces, with a minimum build time. The very best tools for film and TV art direction are those that are fastest.

You started your career in the early 90’s. How have changes in technology since then shaped and defined your role as an Art Director in Film and Television?

I started when we all used drawing boards and T squares. Hand drawing still has a useful place in the art department, but these days it is absolutely essential to use all the tools available, 2D, 3D and the emerging technologies such as AR. Although the technology enables faster design work, the design process is largely the same. It involves finding the best way to communicate an idea to a designer or director, often simple, sketchy unpolished artwork is more useful than final detailed images which are sometimes more useful to show to a studio than as a tool to find the final design for a film set.

‘Prometheus’ Rovers Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Scott Free Productions

What’s the one functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

The ability to do a fast output to Layout for a quick plan and elevation or section.

This is such a valuable tool for passing on orthographic views of the design to an art director or draughtsman to finalise the working drawings. The ability to quickly create in 3D and then generate these plans and elevations is incredibly useful.

Possibly a foolish question – do you ever have anything like a ‘typical’ work day?

It depends on the project, whether I would be looking at budgets, schedules, visiting the stages to see the set construction or maybe I’ll get the chance to draw and model all day if I’m art directing. Mostly it’s a mix of all of these.

Rough concept sketch for Oliver Stone’s film, ‘Snowden’

What kind of projects interest or excite you the most?

Anything that involves an element of exaggerated reality, a period film or TV show, or sci-fi. Basically anything that lets my imagination run free. I’m not so keen on a straight take on contemporary reality, but it all depends on the script and who is involved, so nothing is ruled out.

I was lucky enough to start my professional career with production designer Stuart Craig, and he still inspires me today. He’s someone who does beautiful detailed sketches, and then can draw his sketch as a scale working drawing. He also knows the value of getting the right team around him to expand on his ideas and contribute their own, but always under his direction.

Working on Ridley Scott’s films are also always an event, and have been highlights of my career because Ridley is so visually minded – he can draw better than most designers! On the early days of Alien covenant, I worked with designer Chris Seagers on the initial ideas for the sets and spaceship interiors, just for a few weeks, but we generated a lot of ideas that Chris then developed for the film during production in Sydney.

‘Alien Covenant’ Concept Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Scott Free Productions
‘Alien Covenant’ Concepts Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Scott Free Productions

Do you use any essential plugin or extensions with SketchUp to help with your work?

Yes, to clean models or export them to FBX for example. Also tools for slicing are very useful to quickly make shapes.

What’s been your proudest work so far/career highlight?

I enjoyed working on Gladiator very much – it was the first time in my career that  I had big sets to draw up and manage the build. I looked after the Imperial Palace and the Roman Streets which were built in Malta. The palace set itself was over 200ft long, with flights of stone steps to the Roman streets. I also really enjoyed working on seasons 2 and 3 of ‘The Borgias’ for Showtime. We got an Emmy nomination for season 3 – it would be remiss of me to not mention that a visit to Los Angeles for any awards ceremony is always great fun and a lovely part of the job! 

To see more of Adam’s work visit his website.

To learn more about the work of the BFDG click here.

Building Futures: The ToolShed and SketchUp

As the construction industry faces a skills shortage with millennial’s turning their back on the many diverse roles within the industry, what is our current educational system doing to help young people whose learning needs don’t fit the prescribed system?

ToolShed students and staff on site, putting SketchUp into practice.

ToolShed is the brainchild of David Lett and John Evans. They have spent the last 10 years developing programmes to help young people find their why. With their backgrounds in counselling and psychology they have enabled young people from all walks of life to make sense of the world around them and their place within it.

In the last three years, ToolShed have helped over 80 young people start a career in construction.  Over 85% of graduates have progressed into work and/or further training. Students have come from varied backgrounds and they had all left school with few to no qualifications.

David and I spoke at length about ToolShed, education, construction and how SketchUp has helped their social enterprise.

I believe that at least 10% (potentially 15%) of young people in every secondary school year group (7 to 11) do not suit a large, “mass delivery” education system. Worse still, this system directly shapes a negative, disaffected, disengaged and disruptive behaviour pattern that causes 90% of the issues in any given state school.

David Lett, Co-founder & Operations Director of ToolShed

Graduates leave the ToolShed with positive attitudes and a drive to make their own living. This doesn’t happen by chance and is very much down to a positive reinforcement model – focusing 75% of the time rewarding positive behaviours versus punishing poor or disruptive behaviours.

SketchUp Beattie Passive design
Construction work for Beattie Passive
SketchUp modelling for Beattie Passive project

For young people who have struggled in the traditional educational system, the use of SketchUp at ToolShed has been key in illustrating concepts for construction in an intuitive, easy and fun format. With a tablet always onsite for construction projects, SketchUp is vital for 3D visualisation and communication of how potential projects can be completed. Furthermore, the use of SketchUp, allows the students to visualise both the creative concept and the practical elements of a career in the construction industry.

The ToolShed Works service was started in April 2016 and since that time has sent over 500 invoices for projects completed (decorating, grass verge maintenance, carpentry, garden makeovers, refurbishments, kitchen and bathroom refits, paving, etc). ToolShed Works now employees 9 people and the aim is to double that number in the next 12 months. All profits from the Works service are channelled into the training service, very much promoting a “profit with purpose” commercial ethos.  

ToolShed team on site

Opportunities within the construction industry are huge and diverse. The ToolShed has capitalised on attracting young people with a natural inclination to work practically and to think about their future in a different way. SketchUp is proud to be part of the process.

Find out more about ToolShed here.

Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

To find out more about non-profit SketchUp licenses and how they could benefit you, drop us an email or give us a call: / 01844 263750.

SketchUp Stories: Paul Hensey

Based in West Sussex, Paul Hensey designs and manages landscapes and garden schemes throughout the South of England and works on location for projects further afield. A frequent exhibitor at several RHS Shows he has won gold and best in show. His work includes intimate back yards, roof terraces through to large country estates and woodland burial sites. If that wasn’t enough, Paul also lectures on design and is a SketchUp evangelist. He’s also a published author and contributes to several trade journals and magazines.
Yep, Paul is one very busy chap, so we were thrilled to be able to catch up with him to chat about design, data visualisation, and the importance of LayOut.


‘Courtyard for corporate offices’: Oct ’17

Hi Paul, thanks for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me! Can you introduce yourself/your team to the SketchUp community?

From the earliest age, I took things to pieces. It’s not until recently that I have learned how to put them back together again. I created frequent and unexpected expenses for my parents when they had to replace objects and gadgets that I’d promised only needed a small adjustment or cleaning. I recall the realisation that everything around us is the product of someone’s ingenuity and thought process and I wanted to be one of those decision makers.

I trained as an Industrial Designer. It was a few years before the introduction of CAD so the drawing board was my home for the first several years of my career. CAD was pretty much created to help Industrial design and so it’s something I’ve used continuously from the early 90’s. I moved jobs and countries in the late 90’s and I had the opportunity to slip into designing both the objects and the landscapes that they sit in. Garden and landscape design was a career that I hadn’t heard much about –  but it quickly dominated what I did – and it has proven to be endlessly rewarding.

So, why choose SketchUp?

Whilst I’ve used most CAD systems on the market, when it’s your own small business, the priorities and justifications are different. Seats of the CAD software I was familiar with were beyond our ability to fund in the early days so we needed an alternative. I picked up SketchUp around 2005, shortly before Google acquired it. It didn’t do everything I wanted, but with some perseverance it got me most of the way when I was designing outside spaces. Something I learned, as an Industrial Designer, was that you should only use one CAD application, appreciate its strengths and weakness. Using more than one dilutes the time and effort you can devote to practice and will always be a compromise. If you know how your tools operate you can work around most problems. SketchUp (Pro) has developed enormously as a tool. In the early days it lacked drafting functions, but now I able to undertake the entire workflow of a project on it. I still have a flare of excitement when I open the software, wondering where I’ll be going today and what I’ll learn. Isn’t that the essence of a good product?

I also teach SketchUp, either in colleges or at my studio. Many designers are either new to CAD or are looking for something that is perhaps more intuitive to an occasional user. It’s always satisfying to see complete beginners develop from ignorance through to getting an idea from their mind realised as a 3D structure all within the space of one day.

‘Volumetric model for a natural swimming pool’: July ’18

Do you tend to have a typical workflow?

Something that attracted me to garden and landscape design was that almost everything I designed was built. Unlike Industrial design where you might design 100 things and see only a few reach fruition. And unlike Industrial design, where the designer is somewhat detached from the end users, I get to know everyone I have designed a garden, landscape or water feature for. It adds a burden of responsibility but, on the flip side, it generates the most sincere sense of satisfaction.

Whilst no two projects are alike they usually follow a common workflow. I take the initial survey of the landscape, whether as a 2D drawing or, more frequently, as a digital map or set of cloud points, and generate a 3D model of the terrain. Typically this takes a day. Survey data is rarely created with the intention of it being used to create 3D maps, so there is often a lot of cleaning up. Sometimes I start developing ideas for a space directly in SketchUp, working directly in 3D, however there is little to beat the thrill of a 6B pencil and a sketch book in a project’s early stages. When I have a few ideas that I’m happy with I record them as Jpegs (scan or simply photograph) and import them. Setting the scale of the imported sketch and within a few minutes the ideas are turned into 3D.

I usually give a client a few different options. I make the images presented to a client in the early stages a little ‘loose’. I’ve found being too realistic locks down the design down too quickly and clients can interpret this as being more finalised when,in reality, the design process is only just beginning. A water colour filter is a quick and easy way to soften the SketchUp outputs, whether through Photoshop or stand alone software such as Sketcher. When the design has been agreed with the client, then the detailing can be worked out. This always requires a new Master model (the early ones tend to be built quickly and don’t lend themselves to being used for the detailed stages). Every material junction and interface is detailed as a mini-assembly, usually within a single model. I model every element, from paving slabs to wall ties. It may seem a large undertaking but once modelled they are available as parts in every future project. Probably half of my time in the detailing stage is spent setting up scenes and sending them to be pasted together as construction and fabrication drawings in LayOut. I love the detailed construction design process so much that I now support the creative process of many other designers, sculptors and structural engineers, translating their ideas into realistic details with all of the supporting models and documents.

Would you say that there is one particular functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

It’s definitely the automatic update of elevations in LayOut when the master model changes. Having individual components assembled into details means that when scenes are created, cross sections and elevations will show the true relationship and outline of those parts. This takes time to model, but when, not if, the design changes for, say, paved areas, wall lengths, water feature hydraulic systems etc its very simple to move or edit components knowing the drawings are taking care of themselves. Coming from a drawing board I still delight in seeing all the drawings in Layout update in line with the model changes.

‘Private garden for a client’: Currently under development

Any there any plugins you find essential for your work?

JHS powerbar: free. It’s a collection of some of the best plugins around. I use the pipe generator a lot for water hydraulic schematics. Anything by Fredo6 is worth having. A very simple plugin is DzConvert to construction linedz by Daiku (Extension Warehouse). It will convert finite line lengths (inc curves) into construction lines/ guides. Very useful for aligning organic shapes/ pipes and assembly drawings.

‘Construction detailing for retaining structures’: Ongoing library of details

Tough question, but is there one project you’re especially proud of?

The best projects are invariably those that push my own skills and use of the software but are not necessarily very glamorous. I design a lot of water features and natural swimming ponds. These are very organic in shape. It took some patience and practice to learn how to model then so that information, such as surface area and water volumes in different zones could be made visible in the entity information. This is used to specify the correct hydraulic systems, so is critical.

Favourite keyboard short cut?

Space bar and Cmd-Z (Ctl-Z on PCs)

Finally, what would you do if you weren’t designing gardens?

I evolved into garden design from industrial design. The process is very similar, solving special problems and communicating ideas and instructions through drawings and models. I do have a fascination with data visualisation. I can imagine loosing days creating compelling diagrams and graphics.

See more of Paul’s work on Twitter and at Green Zone Design.

SketchUp Stories: Gintare Sidaraviciute

Gintare Sidaraviciute

Gintare Sidaraviciute is an award-winning Interior Architectural Designer / 3D Visualizer with a recent First Class Degree Honours from Southampton Solent University. With a wealth of international experience in interior design, 3D rendering, plus scooping up a raft of awards, Gintare has now focused her talents on the 3D visualization market. We spoke with her about winning accolades, having afternoon tea in the House of Lords, and how she turned her passion into a career.

Hi Gintare – First things first – You have the coolest name in the world. Now we have that out of the way, can you introduce yourself/your team to the SketchUp community?

Haha, thank you! It’s not the easiest spelling and pronunciation! I’m an Interior Designer / 3D visualizer. I graduated with first class degree honours from Southampton Solent University in 2016. In the Final Year Show Exhibition 2016 (which was held by my university SSU to exhibit all students’ final works from design courses) I received The SBID (The Society of British and International Design) Award for my final year project – Durdle Door Resort in the category of sustainable innovation and interior design. My project was awarded as the best out of 62 universities across England. In November 2016 I was invited to attend afternoon tea in House of Lords, London where I received my award. A year after that I was nominated and announced winner as NAS (National Association of Shopfitters and Interior Contractors) Young Designer of the Year 2017.

I worked as freelancer and did internships and I found that companies were actually more interested in my visualisation skills and that is where the whole idea was born – to set up my own 3D Visualisation business. It was a bit scary to take the first step but I did that and never looked back and it was the greatest thing I ever did. I now have some amazing clients (internationally and home) and I get to create absolutely amazing projects. I have some really fascinating projects that I am working at the moment. I can’t wait to share them all with you!

How did you get going with SketchUp and why SketchUp?

I was introduced to Sketchup in my first year of university and I was instantly hooked. Even though it was my very first time using Sketchup, I found it so easy and user-friendly. I remember going home after lectures and spending my evenings trying to learn more. My first project was quite simple but when I was creating my second project I had so many questions to lecturers that (funnily enough) even they didn’t have all the answers for. Of course, all the problems that I had back then now seem so silly and easy. However, I did get a 1st on my second project which was so encouraging and it inspired me to go even further with my SketchUp learning. Now, after 5 years of using Sketchup I have learned so much and still love working with it.


Girls Bedroom

You won the SBID (The Society of British and International Design)  for your final year project – Congrats! What doors did that open up for you?

Thank you! Winning The SBID award was an absolutely amazing experience. I worked really hard on my final year project and I was really honoured to receive the award. But I would be lying if I said that it opened a lot of doors to the interior design industry. I had to work as hard as anybody else in my interviews and jobs. The great thing about it was that I got some good contacts and had the opportunity to attend some helpful networking events where I met many brilliant interior designers.

What does your typical design workflow look like?

Every week is different and every day comes with new challenges. I have weeks where I work on multiple projects at once and I have weeks where I work on one project. Having clients from Australia to USA and working with different time zones can make my work day up to 16 – 18 hours, but the time flies because I do what I love.

Is there a piece of work you’re most proud of – or one that was most challenging/interesting?

Every project that I do I feel more and more confident with my SketchUp skills. And my last project always feels like the best work but then the next comes and I feel like I improved even more. I think my proudest pieces are still to come which makes everything so exciting.



What’s the one functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

Components and groups. I just don’t know how I would live without them – it makes my workflow so much smoother.

Definitely. That would be my #1 rule – if you’re going to use something more than once in a model, make a Component of it! What about keyboard shortcuts – any you can’t live without?

The great thing about SketchUp is that I can make shortcuts myself and I did to quite a few of them. However, my most used are C (circle), L (line), R (rectangle), S (resize) and Ctlr+F (follow me).

Are there any essential plugins that you use?

V-Ray is my number one plugin. But there are quite a few other plugins that I often use and could not live without  – Round Corner, Curviloft, Artisan, ThruPaint, Soap Skin and Bubble are all in frequent rotation. 


Master Office

Finally, If you weren’t doing what you do for a living now, what would you be doing instead?

Before starting in the interior design industry, I loved taking photos. I was part of a Photography Club and loved every minute of it. All of us were going on trips and making amazing photos. A few of my photos were even exhibited in a Café. It was a proud moment. But if not interior design I would definitely still be doing something creative. Maybe I would be a travel blogger – I even thought about being a hairdresser. But all those hobbies (as I refer to them now) have eventually faded away once I started in the Interior Design Industry. I have so much passion for what I do now – it’s so much stronger than any of my other hobbies. I read a quote once saying, ‘It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together’ and I feel exceptionally lucky to get to spend all my time doing what I love.

See more of Gintare’s work at

Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.

SketchUp Stories: Design at Angel Martin

Martin Nealon

Martin Nealon, creative director and partner of Angel Martin Interiors, has worked as a top-flight interior consultant for over 30 years specialising in high-end domestic schemes. He is a registered member of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) and works on a range of traditional and modern projects across the globe. As well as being a passionate and productive designer, Martin is also a serious SketchUp aficionado, so I was thrilled to talk with him about his approach to work.
Panelled Drawing Room Render

Hi Martin, thanks for taking time out to talk to us! Could you introduce yourself and your team to the SketchUp community?

My name is Martin Nealon and I am the creative director at Angel Martin Design Consultants. As a company we specialise in high-end interior design and illustration. The team consists of myself, my partner and we have a graduate we will be taking on full-time soon.

I trained as a technical illustrator many years ago and after four years of leaning to draw cut away sections of car engines by hand and airbrush I was ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, in the final month of my course a little grey box appeared in the corner of the studio and I had never seen one of these before, it was called a Personal computer. (Yes, I’m very old!). The screen flickered on and a computer generated cutaway section of a car engine appeared and I watched as the lecturer rotated it and altered the lighting. I had no training in computers at all so immediately understood I was out of work before I even entered the job market. My career in interior design was a sideways move to use my hand drawing skills in an industry that still valued this type of drawing. As it happened it worked out well for me and I loved designing interiors for clients and soon opened my own company specialising in high-end domestic and commercial interior design.

Shower Room Render

How did your team get going with SketchUp – and why choose SketchUp?

Well, life does have a certain irony as it was not many years into this career that technology caught up with me again as AutoCAD became the main program for designers. Technology was chasing my heels again last year as more and more designers were offering client’s 3D visuals and, at the time, all my work was presented as CAD plan and elevations. Based on the success I had achieved with AutoCAD I decided to invest in 3D software and evolve. I tried lots of different software packages but found them to be very complex to work with. I eventually settled on SketchUp Pro as it was relatively simple to learn and, when combined with V-Ray, could give a very impressive 3D representation of the scheme.

My perception of using SketchUp was to have a tool to offer clients a good quality 3D visual. What I wasn’t expecting was that the software was so intuitive and easy to use that I started to design within the 3D environment as well. This completely changed the way I work and has improved my ability as a designer exponentially.

The 3D visuals are now an integral part of my design process and presentation to clients.

“I was hoping SketchUp would help me to present my designs – I wasn’t expecting it to help me with the design process.”

An unexpected benefit from producing the 3D artwork is that architects and fellow designers liked my work so much that I began to get requests from them to produce 3D’s. My experience as a designer meant I had a wealth of experience and could understand what they needed and my new-found 3D skills meant I was well placed to interpret their needs and produce artwork for them. I have now set up a new company alongside Angel Martin that specialising in producing 3D artwork for fellow professionals at

The Water Tower

What does your typical design workflow look like?

My workflow starts with a basic CAD plan and elevations. Then I source items and reference material for the interior. The design is still a flat concept at this stage but the fun starts when I transfer the CAD drawing into the SketchUp package and start to pull the room into a 3D format.

Suddenly the room has form and I can navigate around, zoom in and start to play with the proportions and detail. Even adding colour and texture is fun, I can actually see how materials look and change each surface a the touch of a button until I’m satisfied with the overall look. From a presentation point of view I produce sketch renders of the model and then work up full renders filtered through V-Ray.

As I present to the client I start with the plan and elevation which most clients don’t fully understand and I watch their eyes glaze over as I enthuse about the detail.

I then go onto the sketch renders and I can see the client sit up in their chair as they relate to the drawings and become excited about the scheme.

The final stage is to casually flick over to the full renders which never fail to blow the client away as they see an almost photo-real concept visual.

What’s the one functionality you’re glad SketchUp has?

I love the sketch renders, I would like to see more options with these.

Are there any essential plugins that you use?

V-Ray is very much my thing!

Hard question: If you had to choose, is there any one project you’re particularly proud of?

I have done lots of fascinating projects but one that sticks in my mind as being particularly enjoyable was a simple reception desk. Most reception desks tend to be a little bit predictable with the way they are designed and I wanted this one to be unique.

As a starting point I was fascinated by a simple origami bird, the angular form and simplicity of the folds were just wonderful.

   “The design could not have been created without the 3D model, more importantly the SketchUp interface allowed me to work with the model, the process of modelling became a background function as the software is so intuitive allowing the actual design process to be at the forefront.”

I started to design this on CAD in plan and elevation but after two days of frustration came up with a very poor design. I then changed tack and started to build the desk from scratch in SketchUp, the 3D environment allowed me to literally fold panels to the desired shape. Rotate, zoom in and extrude each piece until I had a 3D model that encapsulated the concept perfectly.

After losing your right arm, you now work in SketchUp one-handed. This is incredibly inspiring and interesting. Is there anything else that is vital in helping you work?

The problem with using the mouse and keyboard in the normal way is that you sometimes need three hands to press the combination of keys required. As a one-handed designer you can imagine I was finding this very frustrating having to resort to holding a pencil in my mouth to press keys on occasion. My solution was to use a 3D mouse which made navigation much easier – then I could transfer to the keyboard as required.

My recent acquisition of the 3D Enterprise mouse means that I have access to the 3D mouse with numerous shortcut keys built-in around the side making it much easier to interact with SketchUp one-handed. SketchUp also allows me to place the various menus anywhere on the screen so by clustering them together on the bottom left, I minimise the travel on the mouse.

If you weren’t an interior designer, what profession would you have chosen? Do you have any other strong passions besides design?

Thirty years in the business and I still love designing interiors, I have never lost my passion – but if I wasn’t an interior designer I think I would have liked to be a book illustrator – I’m a bit of a sci-fi geek. I build and paint models, have done quite a few book illustrations, and I have also written a science fiction novel that was published last year.


To view more of Martin’s work –
To contact TCS CAD & BIM Solutions –
For more information on SketchUp Pro and V-Ray –

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