Luxion KeyShot 3.0

23 February 2012

The third major release of KeyShot sees its easy-to-use still frame visualisation tools enhanced to suppurt Luxion’s first foray into animation. Al Dean takes a look

Product KeyShot 3.0
Company name Luxion
Price From $995

Rendering has very quickly become a key part of the product development workflow.

Big news for KeyShot 3.0 is the addition of animation tools for both cameras and objects within the scene (Model courtesy of Terry Stonehocker (

The ability to create photorealistic representations of a product in development is an incredibly powerful capability and, with modern processing hardware, it’s possible to create stunning images in a much shorter timeframe than ever before.

Leading this charge has been Luxion with its KeyShot product. Built around a progressive ray tracing engine that takes advantage of both real time processing and HDR (high dynamic range) lighting scenes, KeyShot has rapidly gained ground amongst the 3D design community.

UI refinement

First up for this release is a rework of the KeyShot interface. While existing users will find it familiar, there are a few new things that assist with both interacting with data and creating the images and animations (yes, animations).

The Project window gives access to everything in the specified scene, including models, materials and environments, whilst the Library window gives access to all the globally available assets. Then things split down into the Animation dialog and buttons for both screenshots and final rendered images.

Materials and labels

KeyShot 3 sees a rewrite of the existing materials libraries extending them to over 700 standard materials, all of which are now organised efficiently by folders.

These are enhanced with greater control over the placement, size and scaling of both materials and textures with a new user interface widget that’s much more dynamic than in previous releases.

There is also now support for opacity maps in materials. This means that more complex materials with geometric effects can be used and customised.

Also, on the subject of materials and other assets, the HDRI library (on which the lighting is based in every scene) is also growing and has a pretty slick range of presets.

Of course, these can be extended and supplemented with additional HDR images purchased from the wide variety of sources online or built to custom using HDRLightStudio.

Import options

The starting point is importing geometry. This is an area that Luxion has been working on over the last few releases with both its Mac and Windows-based software.

It’s now at the point where the system can read the majority of formats, both proprietary and standards-based on both platforms.

Alongside the usual formats - such as OBJ, STEP, IGES and JT - KeyShot now reads data from SolidWorks, Solid Edge, AutoCAD, Inventor, Catia, Creo, Pro/Engineer, Rhino, NX, SketchUp, Alias and Maya (still in beta).

If you’re using SolidWorks, Creo, Pro/Engineer, Rhino, SketchUp or SpaceClaim then there are plug ins for those systems that will connect to KeyShot or will output direct to the system.

Animation tools

For those that have ever used 3D animation tools, the functionality of KeyShot 3 will be immediately familiar. If not, then it’s pretty easy to pick up.

The system allows the user to animate the position part and/or object in a scene as well as the camera. This means that not only can the usual exploding product assemblies be created but turntable animations to show off a product from all angles can also be generated very quickly.

Driven from a timeline type interface, objects, along with a time-based schematic, show when movements happen in a sequence. Now, while it’s possible to dive in and animate everything manually, the system includes a wizard.

This steps the user through the process of creating standard animations such as a translate, rotation of parts, groups of parts or the whole model, as well as various camera animations (such as orbit, zoom, translation and inclination).

The user then defines the camera it will be viewed through (if appropriate), the objects influenced as well as a time reference (in seconds) and the parameters (such as distance, angle etc). The system also gives options for easing in/out of the animation.

One thing that’s worth noting is that this isn’t the interpolation driven animation many users may be used to (also known as “keyframes”), where a start and end position are defined and the system handles the rest. It’s a little more structured and better off for it.

Each animation component can be adjusted after the fact, both in terms of distance/angle as well as time. Its scheduling in a sequence can also be adjusted with a drag and drop of the appropriate component on the Animation timeline.

As KeyShot is a progressive renderer, the user can scrub through an animation in near real-time getting a good idea of how the end result is going to appear. For something a little more formal, the preview output gives a quickly calculated, smaller sized video file as a sanity check before running the full calculation and output.

In terms of output options, KeyShot covers most of the bases. Resolution is set at normal video resolutions but can be adapted to the user’s requirements. In terms of format, movies can be output in Apple’s QuickTime format, MP4, both compressed and uncompressed AVIs and flash videos for use directly online.

It can also output a still image for each frame if required.


KeyShot is a ruthlessly efficient application for creating product-based images — and now animations.

While it might not have the endless options for advanced materials found in the likes of 3ds Max or Modo, what it forsakes in highly advanced functionality it makes up for in speed of use.

The addition of a huge range of import options of native formats, on both the Mac and PC platform, mean that the system can be used on the platform the user prefers (frankly, KeyShot and Apple’s iMovie makes a fantastic combination).

The addition of simple to use, yet deceptively powerful, animation tools increases its usefulness for those working in high pressure environments where the ability to create photorealistic assets as part of a much larger workflow is needed.

It’s also priced pretty competitively. But, as with all such things, the cost of ownership together with the time it takes has to be taken into consideration and, in both cases, KeyShot excels.

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