Model Making in Sketchup for Railworks

Perhaps before I go any further I should tell you that while my computer skills are reasonable, I am in no way the worlds greatest 3d model maker. I have however come to embrace the world of Google Sketchup and the many "How To" videos on YouTube. While Sketchup isn't perhaps the ideal solution for 3d games, (the polygon count is a little high), it does make 3d model making a lot simpler than some of the other products that are available. So what exactly do I use to create my models and then get them into Railworks.

Google Sketchup.
Google sketchup allows the user to create a 3d model from one or a number of photographs. By drawing shapes onto the photo you can start to build up complex designs in no time. The basic version of Sketchup is free, making it an ideal platform to play with in your spare time without it costing the earth. While Sketchup is ideal for model making it does lack the ability to export the models directly into railworks and in fact the free version has very limited export facilities making it a challenge to get your models out into the 3d gaming world.

Paint Shop Pro.
Once you have used sketchup to build your model the next task is to paint the various faces of the model. Sketchup has a facility to paint the faces of your model directly from the photograph which works very well, but sometimes it may be necessary to amend the pictures in some way. Any paint program can be used for this. It just so happens that I like Paint Shop Pro and so I have invested and bought myself a copy. Other paint programs out there including GIMP will do the job just as well.

3DCanvas Pro.
The 3d program i use to get my 3d models into Railworks is 3dCanvas. There are a few changes required to the settings before I export which I will cover in another blog but I don't actually do any modeling in 3dCanvas. (That's not because the program is not capable, Its because I'm not clever enough at the moment.)

So how do I get the models I have made from Sketchup into 3d Canvas?
Well this is where I have been a little devious and I guess my method will have an expiration date but for now it works.
I have installed Microsoft's virtualpc onto my computer and created a clean copy of windows xp from an old disk that I had.
I then registered for the trial version of Sketchup Pro which comes with a number of hours of usage before you have to pay. I think this was about 400 hours but I cant remember.
I build all of my models using the free version of sketchup on my normal PC.
Once they are completed I then load up my virtual PC and run sketchup pro. I quickly load in my model, go to export and export it in 3ds format. Once it is completed I exit Sketchup pro, using just a few seconds of my trial time. (I have actually took a backup of the virtual computer with 0 time used on sketchup Pro.) With a bit of luck they will bring out a new version of sketchup by the time my trial time runs out and I can then start again (Or the pro version will have to go on my Christmas list and we will see what Santa brings).
Once my model is in 3ds format i can then load it into 3dCanvas and use the railworks export function that comes with 3dCanvas pro to get the model into my game.

Hope this helps those of you out there who like me find the 3d programs a little tough to get your head round.