Twinmotion 2021 “demo” is available for non-commercial use. (it’s not really a demo, and it doesnt expire)
For quality (realistic, non-biased) renders, Indigo makes IndigoRT (a “lite” edition) which is €145 for a perpetual license. It should do what you need (ie,model materials etc within sketchup and just use the renderer for lighting).
A trial would be a good place to start. I’d invest no more than a few days in learning Indigo (or Twinmotion). Most of the tricky stuff is in getting advanced materials looking perfect, atmospherics, motion, etc…it’s a bottomless pit of trial and error!
I am on a Mac with an AMD Radeon GPU so D5 (which I hadn’t heard of) is out, I guess.
The two big things here are time and money. If you have bottomless pits of both, the world’s your oyster. One could fill one’s boots with VRay, Unreal Engine, etc, and have a blast. There’s a bloke out there doing great videos on Blender. I watched one about creating a scene with a hut in a forest. He ended up with 10 seconds of animation. It only took him several weeks of work, with full days at it, and some solid experience of Blender before he started. That’s someone who doesn’t have to work for a living!
It may well be that it is not possible to produce anything worthwhile without investing a lot of time and/or money. That’s really what I am trying to bottom out.
For me the road to rendering was with a lot of investment on time and also some money but not that much.
I faced it as a useful hobby and learnt while I went. In the end it paid off because now I use it for design iteration. We render more while designing and discussing, than for actual presentations.
In that sense, Thea rocks. It’s a very solid renderer. For what you want it is as simple as applying their standard thin glass preset, pushing a button and have Sketchup sun and sky filling the model with light, while you zoom and orbit in sketchup.
Then as you progress to more sophisticated PBR materials it’s progressingly realistic, then you learn about vegetation and entourage and suddenly your renders look like the real design and finally you learn about photography settings and framing and you hit the same render button, wait a lot more, and have a photo, not a render.
It’s as Vray, but simpler, faster, better integrated into sketchup and with incredibly realistic physically based render.
From what I remember, there are a few people on the Blender subreddit who model in SketchUp & render in Blender. I wish I could find the post because they did such an amazing interior animation.
Personally, I switched from SketchUp to Blender because SketchUp discontinued SketchUp Make. And the old 2017 version isn’t compatible with my new computer’s graphics card. And it’s out of my budget. From my experience, Blender & SketchUp each have unique pros and cons for archviz. For example, SketchUp excels at architectural modeling & documentation, but Blender excels at photorealistic shaders and animation. In SketchUp, it’s easier to fill complex holes in geometry, make tangent arcs, and document measurements in a standardized format. Also, I think SketchUp has better add-ons for architecture. In Blender, it’s easier to make walls & window openings, make organic architecture, and document measurements in a non-standardized format (the show edge lengths overlay automatically dimensions your entire model instantly).You’ll have more tools available for specific circumstances if you choose to use both, rather than one or the other.
Honestly, Blender has a pretty steep learning curve because it has exponentially more tools to learn than SketchUp. Although, once you get over the curve, Blender starts to get easier. Don’t expect Blender to be able to do everything that SketchUp can do. Section planes, modeling tangent arcs, measuring radii, and design documentation tools aren’t really there. But you can expect to be able to model (in SketchUp if you want) & render amazing animations, in a timely manner, once you’re proficient in Blender.
I would advise you definitely learn some basic material editing in Blender if you plan to use it for renders. I preferences, enable the node wrangler add-on. Then in the shader editor, press shift+control+t to import a PBR material. You can get free PBR materials from textures.com. There are tons of other material tools, but that’s a “quick & easy” way to add materials.
If you want to make interior animations, then you’ll need to know basic animation tools. Basically, just move stuff around (like cameras or opening doors) and press the letter I to make keyframes. A pop up menu will come up and just choose “location, rotation, scale”. You can delete keyframes in the timeline with X. Some essential shortcuts are space to play your animation & shift+left arrow to return to the beginning of your timeline. Don’t let the fact that there are 1000 different buttons intimidate you. Although they’re mostly useful tools, you can safely ignore them.
If you’re modeling in SketchUp, then I agree you won’t need to know Blender modeling tools.
To import HDRI backgrounds, just add an environment texture to the background shader in the world shader editor & select your HDRI.
I think Justin went over the other things you wanted in his tutorial he posted.
In my opinion, Blender is really good at doing architectural renders, especially with Eevee realtime rendering. But in some circumstances it requires certain very specific settings to be pressed to get the desired effect. To do it right, I’d advise against just “winging it” and trying to figure it out yourself. You really need to watch a tutorial to help you sift through witch settings are useful for your circumstance. People do some amazing archviz in Blender, so Blender is a good option for architectural renders.
Before Blender 2.8, Blender used to have a game engine. UPBGE is a fork of Blender Game Engine that has Eevee realtime rendering which is very good for archviz. Plus, UPBGE allows you to add game elements like an FPS camera to let people walk through your designs, interact with objects like doors, etc. My favorite thing about UPBGE & BGE (Blender Game Engine) is that it doesn’t require coding knowledge to make games. BGE has logic bricks which are much easier to learn than code. For example, to make character move forwards you just tell it to move forwards when W is pressed.
To have a (free) render pipeline that’s optimized for the M1 makes a new Mac an even more enticing option — and could well make the required time investment (in learning a SU modelling / Blender rendering workflow) worthwhile.
Blender can be installed several times, without limits. It is no difficult to learn, and you have to know that 3DS format file is the best to get your models from SketchUp in Blender (3DS import is a pre-installed add-on on experimental section).
The development of Blender is incredible and is reminiscent of SketchUp in its first years. It is a pleasure to follow the improvements almost every day. Since I started to discover Blender, when our SketchUp licenses ended, less than a year ago, functions have evolved considerably, have been simplified, or new have appeared. For example, Boolean functions have become very reliable, while being non-destructive.
And now, while the rendering is very satisfactory on Blender, the foundation announces a complete overhaul of the rendering engine in 6 months : Cycle X. Blender is going to be even faster and better!
I was thinking of replacing Thea Render, since the switch to subscription, to Vray which I also know, although the classic licenses are always more expensive. Fortunately I didn’t, since SketchUp is no longer a valid solution for me. I could have Vray in Blender, but what’s the interest !?
I downloaded a Blender alpha version (experimental branch) with Cycle X and tried it… and love it !!
If i set samples very low (32) but set on denoiser (of course), I get a render image under two minutes… It is 92% faster, just by development and improvement ! (without forced subscription)