Alejandro Soriano: An Architectural Visualist
Alejandro Soriano is a one-of-a-kind Architectural Visualist. After learning SketchUp from a friend in Valencia, Spain over ten years ago, he is now an accomplished 3D modeling expert with a traditional yet modern style.
Alejandro, can you tell us what it means to be an Architectural Visualist?
In the same way that not everyone fully understands a legal text, not everybody can understand blueprints or plans. One of my tasks as an architectural visualizer is to explain how a building is going to be through pictures and/or videos. There are a lot of ways to communicate how a project works: through illustrations, drawings, cardboard models, etc. The main objective is for any viewer to get an accurate idea of how a project is going to look.
I try to convey to the viewer this unbuilt project creating 3D models with SketchUp. Sometimes I also render these models using a rendering software, and on others I use Photoshop to create matte paintings.
The final renders for these illustrations are made with SketchUp and V-Ray and post-produced with Photoshop. The first image is of the ancient city of Athens in 430 BC. The city of Knossos in 1700 BC is also shown. Find more of Alejandro’s work in National Geographic Arqueologia.
What is it about communicating a project through SketchUp that you find satisfying?
I studied Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), Spain. In my first years of college, I learned about SketchUp from a classmate. When I realized the speed of modeling and its simplicity of learning, I instantly loved it. Sometimes it was tough and frustrating, but each time I learned a new feature (the multiple copies or the triple click), it was like enlightenment that made me want to learn more and more. I remember I really enjoyed learning the basics, it was fun but challenging.
After some time using SketchUp you can understand how it works and you can follow its logic. And trust me, it's really satisfying when SketchUp acts as you expect; that way you can avoid problems.
The ease you can configure a graphic style is really helpful. You don't always need final art; maybe you just need a quick picture to convey an idea or a shape, and that’s where SketchUp fits my needs. It's quite common to waste a lot of time rendering while the shapes of a project are neglected.
How would you describe your style and what influences it?
When I have to model something, I treat it like a piece with intrinsic value. It doesn't matter if I have to work with everyday objects, traditional furniture, or modern design. I try to find and show its beauty through meticulous modeling and minimalistic renders. We are surrounded by beautiful shapes, we just have to open our eyes.
Alejandro drew the tile patterns for this image in 2D using SketchUp. Then, he combined the three different tile patterns to produce a range of tile compositions and ultimately a seamless rendered image.
I still remember some works that deeply impressed me when I started to truly learn SketchUp. The first names coming to my mind are Justin Chin, Kito Raupp, and Arrigo Silva.
I've discovered there are a lot of great concept artists who use SketchUp. Nowadays I visit ArtStation daily. It's a nice place to watch design trends. I recommend checking it regularly to see what other people are doing and the way they're using the same software you use.
Much of your work centers on architecture, but you also gravitate towards popular media such as animation and concept art. What motivates these side projects?
If I have enough time, I usually try to test extensions, plugins, or new techniques with topics I'm not used to working with. The point is to force me to think about the model in a different way, and it usually provides me with a new perspective to face the modeling process. For example, modeling a cartoon alien attack taught me how to work with features from Vertex Tools I didn't know how to use before. Going outside my comfort zone is a nice way to get valuable teaching.
What kinds of modeling workflows do you find yourself relying on in SketchUp?
Well, I guess anyone experienced with SketchUp will agree: it's easy to learn but tough to master. Once you know how to deal with components and layers, and how to organize the model, SketchUp is a great tool to model from CAD and BIM files.
If you also learn how to deal with solids properly, you can get the 3D model in a short time. SketchUp has a toolset to work with solids, which allows you to work with boolean operations (union, subtraction, trim, intersection, and split). The Solid tool works really well with the Scale tool. You can get really complex geometry just by joining cubes.
If you can get the proper CAD/BIM files, it's quite easy to import them and model the project in SketchUp. If I have to create a project from scratch, there are some great extensions to speed up the modeling process. DIBAC for SketchUp (made by the good people from Íscar Software) is a great tool for architectural design, I really love it.
Modeling existing buildings and objects is also one of the frequent tasks I have to do. It may be important to represent its surroundings to contextualize a project. To do that I usually use Match Photo, it's a great tool to model any environment really quick. I usually get these pictures from Google Street View. Sometimes, the photos don’t have enough resolution, so I have to enrich them with photoshop.
Finally, when I get the whole model done, I use LayOut to add annotations and create sheets or presentations.
We noticed that you often use hidden geometry as an aid to your illustrations, what is it that is visually appealing to you?
I really like to play with the edges and profiles. For example, if you show only the profiles of a model it’s a good way to lighten its display and make it look simple and sophisticated. Another example: when I work on a model made of quads, I always like to make a picture showing its different quad subdivisions with different kinds of edges.
Tell us more about modeling with Quads. How can people learn more about Quad based modeling?
One of the many ways to model an object is through a polygonal mesh. That mesh could be made from polygons with three sides (tris), four sides (quads), or five or more sides (n-gons). The thing about working with quads is the model behavior when subdividing or editing turns out predictable, so it is reliable to work with them.
Thomas Thomassen has created an awesome ecosystem of extensions for modeling with quads. The ones I use most are QuadFace Tools, Vertex Tools, and SubD.
“My favorite reason to work with quads is you can work with low-poly models and when you're done, you get hi-poly ones.”
I try to avoid working with hi-poly objects while I'm still modeling or editing the model. They can make the navigation, orbiting, etc. really hard, so I get them just before rendering.
What new SketchUp techniques are you excited to learn now?
I'm currently focused on two topics.
On the one hand, I'm having fun with WrapR. This extension brings to SketchUp the possibility to create a UV mapping on any SketchUp quad-faced model. Once the UV's are done you can use Substance Painter to create insanely cool textures for you model. I think Chipp Walters has some nice tutorials about this topic, it's a good starting point to this workflow.
On the other hand, virtual reality (VR) has become a valuable and significant topic among the arch-viz community. I've experienced nice results with some software like RenderLights or Unreal Engine. Once you create a 3D model with SketchUp (a building) it's possible to export it to those programs. Then you can generate a unique experience where the customers can see this unbuilt architecture as if they were there. There are a lot of talented people working on VR, I'm sure we'll see great things in the next few years!