• Tutorial: Beyond Plane Maker

    In this article I am not going to discuss the basics of using SketchUp, as there are many short tutorials to be found on YouTube. However I will say that you will need to understand the concept of Rubies (*.RBZ files) which are functional add-ons which extend the product; the X-Plane exporter being one of these. For this, you will need to download the source file and then go into SketchUp preferences, choose extensions then click on the "install Extension" button and select your SketchUp2XPlane_170.rbz file, or whatever version is appropriate.

    At the time of writing, I was using the older 2016 version of SketchUp, which worked, but have since moved to 2019. You may also need to install other import Rubies if you have objects in different formats. SketchUp is widely used by both builders and architects, so there exists a vast library of objects (scenery, buildings, etc.) if you also wanted to export them into X-Plane.

    Plane Maker by default works in feet and inches, so it is important that your source 3D model uses the same units and is sized to meet the needs of your plane. Under general settings you may set Plane Maker to metric units, if that is your preference.

    When using SketchUp, it is very important to think about how the axes orientate. The green axes corresponds to X-Plane's long coordinate, blue to vertical and red to lateral. The dotted half of the axes are for negative directions, i.e. down, forward or port, whilst the solid axes correspond to backward, upwards and starboard. Zero is always the start point of the chosen object, and if you choose to attach new objects to aircraft reference points, then the object will map to your *.acf's component datum zero point. For an undercarriage element it will therefore map to the high point of an undercarriage leg. Within the Miscellaneous objects function, where you need to add these things, Plane Maker gives you options to fine tune spatial placement as well as any angular changes required.

    Below shows the axis compatibility between my preferred 3D CAD software and that of SketchUp.

    Beyond Plane Maker     Beyond Plane Maker

    For a simple object, we can just use SketchUp to create an undercarriage door similar to the one below. Note that the axes is at the bottom, which is for attaching it to an X-Plane undercarriage leg. This will be OK, but it will need some positional re-tuning to your preferred effect. If this was to be rotated by animation, the axis would need to be reset to top right, as the rotation hinges along the green axis.

    Beyond Plane Maker

    The physical model is normally the same for either a port or starboard undercarriage leg, but it might be best to have duplicates in separately named files (may help with texturing later). For example, you may wish to paint the inside of a door with a factory primer color, whilst the outside matches the color of the lower wing or fuselage. Save it into your planes \objects folder and name it "mainwheeldoorP.obj". When using miscellaneous objects, Plane Maker will first scan the \Objects folder for a list of useable items (you may need to frequently scroll up to see the full list). You may also need to rescan or reopen to pick up modified objects.

    If our object is attached to a Plane Maker component that moves, it will become part of that component's motion. On the other hand, if we wish to create an inner undercarriage door, we appear to have no equivalent Plane Maker object to attach to. The same also applies in that we cannot attach to a moving object such as an aileron or an airbrake; so whilst we can create a lovely balance horn and an exquisitely curved airbrake with hinges and hydraulic actuator, we are not offered any moveable components in which to attach them to. We can actually do this but it requires the use of animation; for example we can animate in Blender and also the X-Plane plugin for SketchUp offers animation options. These may have to be mapped to a cockpit/keyboard control button and can sometimes require additional coding.

    However, by using some lateral thinking, you can, within the undercarriage section, make dummy retracting skids of almost zero length and radius and attach objects to them. These may then be made invisible, but if they are small enough, just add some texture and use them to appear like a hinge, to which you can then attach your object. This does not require knowledge of datarefs, so is a far simpler solution, but we are limited to available elements in Plane Maker and some undercarriage systems may require far more than what comes in the box.

    Anyway, that was rather getting ahead of our current topic!

    For now, we just simply need to paint and texture our object. Everything we need is in SketchUp, but even so, it's still annoyingly difficult for beginners, as you would have thought you could use the same texture *.png that the *.acf file uses...but no!

    So I highlight my object and click on the paint bucket tool, which brings the standard color tool chooser up. See that brick; click on it, then click the "color" dropdown box and choose "new texture" and select the *.png file in your model. Click OK on the next naming option and then click your mini-item which should look exactly like your *.png. Select your 3D object and then using the shift key, click the paint bucket over it and it should cover it in something.

    The clever part here is that we need to chose an area with the color(s) we intend to paint the object with.

    Now this is an extremely laborious thing to do but the principles are well explained in the following video:

    The video above is 22 minutes long, so there is no need to watch it now, but it will reinforce your knowledge if you invest the time. In other words, why reinvent the wheel.

    Beyond Plane Maker

    However, if we want to make things easier for ourselves (also less clever), we can simply choose or create another PNG file with a single color and come up with something like what is shown below...

    Beyond Plane Maker

    Color your wheeldoor file as shown above. Save it (*.SKP format) and then use the X-Plane export tool which will create your final X-Plane object format file. These need to be placed into the \Objects folder that holds your *.acf file. When exporting to X-Plane it may come up with a power of 2 error, which means that your source PNG is not the correct size (256 x 256, scaling up to 4096 x 4096). Remember, it needs to be square, so go and fix the PNG if required.

    However, even after doing this, you will need to go back in the brick/color tool, delete the old entries and reapply the changed PNG image. If it's already a power of 2 square it should work. The utility will also tell you if texturing is not complete and how many triangles are created.


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