UPDATE: Earthware’s Vscapes product now offers 3d Building developments for our clients in Virtual Earth / 3dVia and Google Earth. For more details see our Vscapes virtual landscapes page for details and client stories.
We have spent the morning playing with the new Virtual Earth modeling tool, see our tutorial for some examples. Having used Google Sketchup extensively for 3d models in Google Earth we have a good idea of what is required to quickly and effectively create property models.
The interface is very clean and simple and has most of the tools we would expect from a basic 3d modeling program. It is very easy to create basic shapes and modify them into more complex models. Rotating and resizing models is done very simply as well. The texturing interface is also a pleasure to use making fitting textures to models a breeze.
Navigating your model
Navigating around the 3d space however is far from perfect. There does not seem to be a way to center the rotation of a model around the center point of the model, so simple operations like rotating the view around the model are very clunky. Also there is not support for different viewpoints which are often very handy when modeling. There are a few mouse shortcuts to help navigate like middle mouse button to pan, mouse wheel to zoom and middle mouse button and left mouse button together to rotate. These shortcuts make it a bit simpler to move around but this could be much improved.
Integration into Virtual Earth
The integration into http://local.live.com/ is seemless and very simple. Once in a collection in http://local.live.com/ you can add descriptions, more details urls and photos to each model. You can also add basic 3d tours as described below. Right now of course you can only get models into local.live.com not into your own map mashups but there is promise from the development team that this is coming soon, hopefully with the V6 api release.
To see how models work in local.live.com see our sample collection.
Video / 3d Tours
If you hover over a model in your local.live.com collection and choose "edit properties" you will see a box with a "3d tour" tab appear. This lets you add a basic tour to the model with a start position and angle to spin around during the animation. It would be nice to see a more advanced multi stage tour that could include multiple models.
If you then click on the actions menu in the collections box you will see a "tour in 3d" option, this allows you to playback the animations you have added to models in your collection. There are simple controls the playback the tour and a red record button to output the tour to video! Below is an example tour video.
Overall this is a great step for Virtual Earth, having a very simple to use 3d editor is the first step to getting user created 3d content into Virtual Earth. It will take a few versions before these tools can start to rival the Google Earth / Google Sketchup combination but for a first release this is really great.
Of course the biggest issues is that currently you cannot import you own existing models, everything has to be created from scratch. This is a major issue for us at Earthware so we will be investing some time experimenting to see if there is any "unofficial" way to do this.