By Duane Kemp

As with anyone’s story of any “particular” subject of passion, there is a beginning.

The journey to SketchUp is one that we all share from our first download, install and mouse-click to build a square that becomes our first victory… a box!

My road to SketchUp took a long path of life’s diversions before arrival, but began in my youth prior to computer-equipped homes. It launched unavoidably, when on May 30, 1977, I witnessed the first computer graphics in a motion picture named “Star Wars”.

The Death Star trench battle sequence before the pilots left on their mission was absolutely awe-inspiring. I know… today it’s a couple of square pixels and lines that move, but back then it was the birth of Atari PONG and Commodore graphics games in color. It subsequently opened the temples of computer consoles we worshipped (in the local game rooms called “Arcades”) via the sacrifice of small fortunes in quarters. I was then 12 years old.

When Steven Spielberg produced “Young Sherlock Holmes,” we saw the first “real” out-of-box CG motion character interact with an actor on screen. Inspired by the works of John Dykstra, Brian Johnson and Industrial, Light & Magic, I was convinced that I’d be making special effects, models for Sci-Fi films or something “cool” within the industry.

As Star Wars impacted me with “delusions of grandeur” for all things in space or special effects, the music of John Williams’ expansive score for the same movie inspired me equally to love the orchestra. If one day I couldn’t make movies, I was certainly going to make music for them.

I received a music scholarship, went to University to learn orchestral composition and arrangement, and chose the path of a struggling professional musician.

My business was slowly growing. I was performing and composing for the Miss America Miss Idaho Pageants, Miss Teen USA, and playing in various styled bands in cowboy bars, R & B venues and funk groups. I became a professional actor performing leads in plays and musicals. Honored to have received it, I was offered a sponsorship to perform on Broadway. However, I knew that I wanted to compose and conduct orchestra film music, so, I humbly declined. Salt Lake City was only five hours away and Seattle was an eight-hour drive within one’s potential circle of influence. Yet, life’s unexpected diversions changed the location of even that circle.

In 1994, upon the accepted marriage proposal given to my wonderful Swiss wife, I prepared a move to Europe. With a pencil and compass on a map, I drew a 360° circle of an eight hour drive anywhere from Switzerland. When I saw that the major European film industries were imbedded within that penciled radius, I was excited that opportunity would open its doors to an American composer who knocked.

How unfortunate an assumption that was. Relative distance does not, by American standards of travel and business, have a translator where western civilization has been securely embedded for numerous centuries. Worse, professionally speaking, this became a long walk off a short pier when discovering that Switzerland does not have a film industry to speak of and could not serve as a launching point for any film endeavor. Soon, it became evident that I would need to compensate for a business that had unmistakably been left behind in the United States.

For examples of compositional, performance information

I continued pursuing music composition contracts and through the years caught a few chances for low/no budget productions where I was music director/composer and could participate in the graphic effects. However, musical compositions were so few and far between that again my life returned to the bar scenes and festivals doing concerts for a living like in the days back when I was paying my dues.

Yet, there would be a moment when my path would bring me closer to 3D dreams of yesteryear. The year I arrived in Switzerland, a small black & white screened, used Macintosh computer was given to us as a gift. I knew nothing more of computers than the games I used to play. In my out of work status, that contraption occupied/babysat me while my wife was at work. So, I determined how to pixel draw with a mouse.

As with all dreams of passion, for me, Science-Fiction, Special-effects and animation always remained as whispers in my thoughts. While driving, I’d calculate the trajectory of a spaceship model turning while in front of a green-screen, so to evade a larger vessels’ roll to portside on a second green-screen pass. Explosions, model parts flying, sound effects and music all played simultaneously in harmony, as my hands would keep the car on the road. It always bothered me, though, not having the tools to be able to manifest the workings of my imagination in the real world.

In the past, music and video production necessitated the purchase of Macs for use in the studio. The fact that my wife is a graphic/web designer, our two professions kept us up-to-date in everything Apple. Yes, I still wanted to compose music, but to do so I would have to create my own films.

So, in 2007 when there came a time for my wife and me to collaborate on an airline company’s website supporting flash animation for their presentation, I became responsible for the music composition, recording button click sounds and providing  other sound effects.

Without experience yet having a driving, encouraging enthusiasm, I confidently persuaded the company to pay me for my first chance behind the camera. This opportunity facilitated the dream of doing special effects with a green-screen. It also re-ignited my music composition skills for the audio recording of this small introductory website video.

The gimble I engineered to manipulate the Dassault Falcon 7X model

Here is final version of this small production. Video Presentation:
Dasnair website intro film

Unfortunately, the shiny material of the Falcon 7X model reflected the green screen on the edges of the aircraft that I could not remove, edit or change in Final Cut Pro or post editing.

“If only I knew computer graphics and could film this model in the computer, it would be sharp. For that matter, if I could produce the whole thing in the computer, it would be much more realistic,” I thought.

This one project turned my head for the first time towards the 3D tools that would permit such a task. The need to learn 3D was becoming more than just glorified fancies, but a real lack in my toolset of my future works.  The first step towards SketchUp began.

The second step tuned out to be a giant leap and my life has since been changed.


Not being content with the Internet effectiveness of online company networking, I had been musing for a solution that would promote each member of the network on the web without the dependent use of a graphic click banner. I found that banner ads for networking partners did not work effectively. Because the public learned quickly that a click would detour from where they wanted to go to some place they didn’t want to be, the potential market audience was lost. My solution was a 3D virtual mall where each company network partner had a store which became their website. The public would arrive before the company store entry doors and click the doors before entering to navigate a 3D space (made in flash of course), discovering the products of an online shop.

The key to the networking idea was this: just prior to clicking on the doors, each online visitor could choose from a right or left direction arrow that would turn the screen view in the mall. This would in turn expose the doors of online shops of network internet partners’ storefronts that the user could navigate to. Upon clicking on a storefront, the animated sequence would bring the user to the same scenario as before allowing him to enter the new store or navigate away.

To find sponsors for the idea, I tried to communicate to my wife the vision of the network mall. Unfortunately, the French/English (Franglish) inhibited a visual understanding.

November 13, 2007, before my wife left for work the following morning, I asked her to show me in the 5 minutes she had, what the tools were of Photoshop. She left for work and I began the frightful task of using Photoshop for the first time.

When she came back, these were the images she saw to communicate the Network Mall ideas.

When my wife came home she found me working on the following image and gracefully finished for me.

She could not believe that I had made these images in a day never having used a graphic program. She was convinced that they were good enough to present the concept professionally as they were. So, we visited our first potential client, WSA office furniture store in Zurich, Switzerland.

We presented the whole of the concept and the images to convey the idea of the exclusive company network website. The response was an absolute positive and the sales pitch worked but for one missing detail. For their company to invest in the development of said project, they placed a condition. They needed a presentation of one last “small” working detail at their request: a video showing the movement inside the mall from door to door and possible navigation within the online shop space.

Of course, we said, “Yes! No problem.” We had hoped to have their financial backing in order to develop what was requested, but in order to have their resources, Kemp Productions needed to develop it ourselves… with no idea how.

This was the second time in a year that professionally, I had a kick in the “derriere” to find a program that would help demonstrate my ideas more concretely. Without a sponsor or company who would endorse the project, I needed to build an actual working, navigable, online virtual shop. The decision was to build our own to sell objects from my Sci-Fi movie collection. Obviously, Flash animation had not advanced as yet to construct this project and I was faced with the evident conclusion that NOW was the time to get into 3D!

On March 12, 2008 I downloaded SketchUp Pro 6. I followed the recommended tutorial and within the hour, I had my very first 3D structure built with SketchUP.

I found a model in the 3D Warehouse of the Crystal Palace and it seemed, then, perfect for a starting point. I adapted the model and began the build.

The difficulty of this build was that when we showed it to potential investors, the frequent question asked was, “What about expansion?” We tried to explain that physical limitations in the virtual don’t exist and expansion can be adapted as needed. The usual blank expressions communicated that I needed to return to adapt the model addressing this issue.

Olivier David, my good friend who plays bass guitar in my band, had pursued 3D on his own. When it was discovered that we two were the only ones we knew doing this, it was a wonderful revelation that we were no longer alone in this new passion.

For this model, Olivier built some scaffolding, concrete pillars and I beam frames for floors equipped with stairs. I took his model, adapted, modified it and replicated it throughout the site expanding the terrain for the new presentation. His contribution also Included a wonderful crane model that would tower over a newly developed construction site.

However, returning to my passion for film, I believed a helicopter tour would do more to reveal the growing scope of the project and its virtual expansion. This process included SketchUp animations using png transparent layers to have a view from within the helicopter through its flight. These were exported as image files before importing them into Quicktime Pro as image sequence movies to combine in Final Cut Pro.

The three animated elements were: the helicopter cockpit, the simulation of the rotor blades, and finally the model itself.

The result of 3 years of talk, 8 months of production, 2 weeks of exports, 2 days of editing was this video to communicate the idea of the virtual mall.

It’s a long, drawn out film that if I had to do again, I would cut it down to about a 4 minute presentation. This rather slow and rudimentary presentation is old, but it gives you an idea of what we were trying to communicate and how.

Video Presentation: Google Sketchup - My first model _ KP Mall Site & Flight by Duane Kemp / KEMPPRO.COM

It would be good to remember that these basic principles of animation are the same methods used in other videos found in this article.

Because it was so long ago, I opened up the model as I was writing this. I made a “Work in Progress” render to include here.

It might also be important to mention that the model could not continue to grow due to the limitations of 2 cpu Macs. The fact that SketchUp is a 32bit program also meant that 9 Gb of ram was not sufficient for SketchUp to work anymore. Basically, with the computers I had then, the model itself terminated its continuation.

The eight months of building and animating with this large-oversized model was my training ground, though I have learned so much more since. With the experience gained in the last 5 years, I know I would have built the whole thing differently. Yet, it was in dedicating myself to do the very best I could that opened the door for something even more complex.

Swiss Mill

There is an old Swiss Mill found beside the small Forestay River in the town of Puidoux, Switzerland. The mill is called the "Moulin de Rivendell" or Rivendell Mill in English. The mill's historical significance is recorded in this illustration circa 1770-80 made about 240 years ago by the famous Swiss Painter Joseph-Emanuel Curty (1750-1813). The historical artwork is hanging on permanent display within the walls of the Gruérien Museum, Bulle, Switerland.

The prospective buyers saw possibilities that were far-reaching and restorative. The project would not be the restoration of a historical working mill and nor would it be transformed into a modern architectural signature of contrast. The old mill would be transformed into a charming habitation, restoring the original epoch it came from with the combined theme of "wood, rock and metal." With a heart for the old mill and its historical place in the community, a charming revision of the property gripped the buyers who finally purchased the mill with this in mind.

Phase 1:  Architectural Calamity: How Kemp Productions became responsible for the renovation

Initial architectural designs began in January 2008 with an architectural firm in the region. These initial plans did not correspond with the vision of the owners to respect the original age of the mill.

However, after 9 months of this "process", the plans were submitted for the construction permits. Unfortunately, after charging 4’700.- for laser measures, the architectural firm provided plans so inaccurate that they couldn't be used for renovations.

The plans showed the south river wall of the mill 45 centimeters longer than the actual distance and 50 centimeters in height was added between the ground floor and first floor height. This increased the volume of the square meter calculation of the building costs, consequently raising the architect’s percentage of commission while rendering the plans useless for renovations.

The buyers had decided to not continue with the same architect who had provided these incongruous plans. After having already paid 36'000.-  Swiss franks, a search for a new architect began during the demolition phase.

A second architect was mandated to adapt the plans of the originals to the client's vision and to correct measurements while upholding the buyers’ desire to renovate the look of a home that reflected the original age of the mill.

He attacked the budget with a vengeance to qualify if the house part of the project could be built with the predetermined and existing budget. He confirmed that indeed it could be with the teams of volunteers offering the labor, and he found within the budget, 12’000.- Swiss franks for his contribution.

With the payment of the 12’000.-, as retainer for his service, the project pressed forward.

In May, 2008, the first groups of volunteer teams arrived from Greece and the U.S. for work on the Mill’s foundations.

Video Presentation: The use of SketchUp for the Rivendell animated Logo.

In July 2008, a team of carpenters arrived to put on the roof. At this time, the new architect was again asked to design the principal stairwell for the annex that, for some reason, he procrastinated in designing. By hazard, this corresponded with the arrival of delivery trucks with the pre-cut beams for the roof. That’s when it was discovered that the plans of the first architect were passed on to the carpentry supplier without a single change made! When confronted with the dilemma of having the joist ends cut in the middle of the outside wall, leaving no eave for a roof, the architect left for Canada with the money paid without ever drawing a single line.

The owners had now paid 48’000.-  Swiss franks for architectural plans and, incredibly, had not one thing to use for the project’s renovation!

The owners were desperate for help but had lost all confidence in the professional services of an architect. As well, they had spent the financial means to have it.

This is when Kemp Productions became responsible for the continuation of this undertaking. This project also launched the construction of our second model in SketchUp that is still being used today for continued site development.


In February 2009, we began with new laser measurements of every surface, niche and crevice of the original 400-500 year old walls. To verify the procedure, these measurements were taken with the assistance of a personal friend who is an architect at a large construction firm. I then entered the data into SketchUp to establish the foundation of the existing Mill Walls, a basis for detail and construction plans for the coming renovation and additions desired.

Every single measure in this model is to the accuracy of a millimeter. This seemed like overkill at the time, but I wanted to do the very best I possibly could. This eventually paid off in the end because later we became responsible for the detailed construction plans.

The general plans, as well as the detail blueprints were all made in SketchUp, and today its renders for interior design are using that same but adapted model.

Video Presentation:Rivendell Renovations: TOWING THE LINE…

This model crashed my computer countless times. Again, reaching the limits of both SketchUp and my Mac, I was thankful that this job terminated.

However, “Le Moulin de Rivendell Renovation Project” in Switzerland gave an opportunity to far exceed what the KP Mall had taught me. Because of the combined work of both models, my friend who assisted with laser measuring was willing to give me a chance to again do something I had never done.

Residence Michelange

I persuaded my friend (rather persistently) to allow me the chance to do the 3D visualizations for an upcoming company project he mentioned.

With the partial payment up front, I was able to purchase my first liquid HD, 12 i7 cpu PC to crunch data for rendering. This made an incredible difference in my use of SketchUp and animations.

I had tried different render engines but couldn't find any that didn't cost a fortune at the time that also worked with animation. We finally had the chance and motivation to try a path opened up to us that has (until now) served us well.

The work accomplished during the last two years exclusively used SketchUp and Shaderlight. One of the influences was an invite by ArtVPS to Alpha/Beta and V2 test the new Shaderlight Plug-in for SketchUp.

This opportunity came about when ArtVPS's chief tech officer saw that this model I was building was more complex than anything they were testing at the time.

This testing would be to promote the unreleased V2 animation features in the new and upgraded plug-in. The model became a headache but revealed numerous, unforeseen errors and unplanned hiccups, and it became a fine example of testing the limits from alpha to post V2 release.

Fortuitously, this 3D project was a contest winner and received complimentary remarks of excellence that have served to bring even more opportunities.

This project was used as a case-study for Shaderlight in London for their international newsletter published in November - "Kemp Productions gets animated with Shaderlight for SketchUp".
Case-study for Shaderlight
Kemp Productions is honored to be chosen among other artists by 3D guru, Daniel Tal for his publication "RENDERING IN SKETCHUP." Daniel asked us to provide several high quality images for use in his newly released book, demonstrating realism in rendering.
Rendering in Sketchup
An in-depth look at Duane Kemp's epic project using Shaderlight A 4 page Case-study about Kemp Productions on page 25 in CatchUp Edition 15 published 29 November.
Case-study for Catchup
3rd Prize Winner of the Shaderlight International Rendering Contest 2012


For a visual demonstration of the process and the work behind this project’s collaboration with Shaderlight, you may learn about it with this video:

Despite the success of this build, it went beyond what my PC, SketchUp and Shaderlight could handle. I finished by scaling the geography down a lot and finding cheats.

For more information about this project and to view its render gallery.
Click the following link

Because of the work on this project, I was able to land another test that involved animation. However, this time it would be using rendered key-frame animation.

LeShop Drive Project

LeShop . ch is the leading Swiss online supermarket. 
Its June 2012 announcement: Turning of the first sod for the new LeShop . ch DRIVE! This free collection service will allow customers to pick up groceries within 2 hours of ordering.

Kemp Productions was mandated to create the Terminal's 3D user manual video as well as the four illustrations to demonstrate the steps of the DRIVE operation.

Accompanying the animation were icons for the LeShop . ch’s website and iPad version.

Kemp Productions' conceptual design was inspired by the Project's architectural plans created by Atelier Oï Video Presentation:

Here again, the use of high poly cars and 3D people, crashed SketchUp and Shaderlight numerous times.

For more information about this project and to view its render gallery, click the following link.

Due to delays and constant ongoing changes by those contracting the work, these last two projects combined took a year and a half. At the end of production, I found myself without a job.

I accepted the invitation to participate in an international rendering competition sponsored by SketchUp Texture Your Work. With the experience gained in the last 3 models, I attacked my fourth.


This model beat my computer to death, not just because of the high poly count but because of huge amount of artificial light usage throughout. The computer was really mad at me for the duration of the build. Having to calculate the render of each little Christmas light on the various buildings made this my first night time render and the fourth model that tested the limits of SketchUp and Shaderlight.

Kemp Productions was awarded winner of the popular vote in the international rendering contest: Christmas Challenge 2012.

Video Presentation: 2012 Christmas Challenge Reel

For more information about this project and to view its render gallery, click the following link.


Recently, there was a return to the Rivendell Mill model for another real world application of SketchUp

SketchUp was used for concept, construction and application of one of the most significant elements of the renovation's three signatures of wood, rock and metal. The kitchen hood is finally in place, and this small film shows the process of its development started in SketchUp.

Video Presentation: Rivendell Mill - Rise of the Iron Hood

The last step that solidified how SketchUp changed my life was when ArtVPS released its latest, faster, stronger version of Shaderlight.

The Rivendell model with vegetation had previously been too much for the plugin to handle.

So, with a new hope of creating some renders worth looking at, I opened the large model and was totally surprised when Shaderlight rendered my trees for the first time!

For more information about this project and to view its render gallery,
Le Moulin de Rivendell – Architectural blueprints in Print and 3D click the following link.

In the meantime, I continue to tackle new challenges. I've been wanting more realistic terrain from my modeling but grass textures are weak. I've set before me the challenge of augmenting my images with even more realistic vegetation. Five weeks of trials and tests finally results in 40 meters sq. of 3D geometrical proxy grass in my SketchUp model. Current SketchUp model revealing the latest SketchUp victory; Grass


With a mom who was an educator, a dad who was a surgical nurse and my brother David, who is a West Point graduate, I was the black sheep of the family. When I told my family I was going to be a professional musician, it was kind of a scary day. But, I’ll never forget the response of my father, William (Bill) who gave some very sound advice that I apply in this, my new profession. “Duane, it does not matter if you desire to be a garbage man, astronaut or musician. What matters is that whatever you choose to be, you be the very best you can be. If you do that, you and I both will be proud of you.” In effect, I’ve been following and I continue to follow his advice because it’s worked well for me and carried me this far in my career.

Over the years working in 3D visualization, some truths in addition to my father’s words have become apparent to me. A few of them follow:

Success cannot be judged by financial remunerations only or by popular vote. There are too many examples of those who lack quality in their work but have success due to chance. And there are scores more of examples of those who are incredibly talented who never got the chance of financial success.

But, you can be successful in your efforts.

Sharpen your sword by seeking out those who are clearly performing at higher levels than yourself. Don’t be content with what you have done well in the past but strive today to do something new you’ve never done before in your work.

Then seek out criticism; good, honest, professional, constructive judgment of your work. As you mature in this, compliments will come by themselves as a consequence of your evident and constant effort towards quality.

Appreciate more the criticism of your work than the compliments. You will learn more through constructive criticism than any passing praise. And do not accept constructive criticism of your art as against you. Your art is an emotional expression of yourself. You are NOT your art.

And when you find someone whose work is outstanding as an example of what you would like to achieve, contact him/her, get his or her help, guidance and council. Sharpen your sword with the real metal of their excellence.

Likewise, make yourself available to others who may seek your experience for the very same reasons and encourage them personally while making criticism of their work. Make effort to build their confidence in themselves while their art is under the painful sharpening stone.

Finally, excellence IS tangible and if tasted, swallow it whole and forever let it dominate your MINIMUM effort. When you see that in others, let them know it and congratulate them because, if it hasn’t happened yet to you, it will and you’ll be glad to hear it.

Here I am 30 years later. I’ve learned that it's a good thing to pay attention to the things that fascinate you and to use that knowledge to guide career choices. I know that quality and precision do matter, and it's better to know how to achieve those than wishing afterward you had. I recognize that I may not be the best in the business of 3D visualization, but I can do my very best with each effort and challenge I take on. I'll never be satisfied so I'll pursue perfection with a passion.

There’s a line from the movie “Phenomenon” that echoes in my head: “You expecting to get lucky?” to which John Travolta answers, “No. Just hoping.”

There’s certainly a part of me that is still hoping one day to find a philanthropist or sponsor assisting my dream of having a super-computer, render farm, and pro licenses of Lumion, MODO and Vray. I would love to test the limits of these programs with animation and light. I dream that I could be given a salary for making my sci-fi dream come true, but, for any amount of hoping, I am certainly not expecting it. In fact, I expect the road of 3D and rendering to continue to be very hard indeed. In effect, I'm following my father's advice of "whatever you choose to be, you be the very best you can be." Who knows what doors of opportunity will open and where they may take me?

Meanwhile, I persue my dreams.

How SketchUp Changed My Life – Duane Kemp
Kemp Productions
Edited by Nancy Davis Mills
Special thanks to Peter Pfirter, Olivier David, Daniel Tal, Rosanna Mataloni, Scott Para, Martin Cox, Richard o’Brien, Mike Lucey, James Hannigan, and the mother of my beautiful children; my loving, talented and supportive wife, Corinne.