Plain ol' SketchUp lets you walk, run or crawl around your model till your fingers fall off, but you’re limited to SketchUp’s selection of non-photorealistic rendering styles. Pushing your model through a fancy rendering engine can make it deliciously photograph-like, but then you’re stuck with a single image or a pre-baked path in the form of an animation.
Now you can have your cake and eat it, too. LumenRT Review for SketchUp (by the good people at e-on Software) is a tool for turning your models into interactive, photo-rendered environments. The output is a stand-alone file — a whole mini application, really — that anyone can open and explore like they’re in a video game. Take a look at this video to see how the navigation works:
The results are really pretty incredible. The LumenRT Downloads page includes a number of sample “LiveCubes” (self-contained 3D environments) that you can download and explore at your own pace. One of my favorites features Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light; here’s a video of the LiveCube on YouTube:
The computer specs necessary for creating and viewing LiveCubes aren’t minor, but serious SketchUp modelers are likely to be alright. The really good news is that LumenRT is available for both Windows and Mac, and it works with both the free and Pro versions of SketchUp 7 and 8. Licenses cost US$295, but they’re only $195 for a limited time.