Luxion KeyShot 4.0
06 March 2013
The fourth major release of KeyShot is nearly with us. It features new tools that better support the visualisation process and offers more intelligent working with CAD systems.
Rendering is now a key part of the workflow for many designers and engineers.
The ability to show clients, colleagues and management a photorealistic images has become an invaluable asset.
Technical drawings and 3D models are complex beasts and the judicious use of a rendering can make that complexity disappear and the intended use, aesthetics and functional properties apparent.
The challenge has always been the setting up of both static images and animations. Traditionally a complex process, this is where Luxion KeyShot has found its sweet spot.
Eschewing all of the controls found in a general purpose rendering and animation system, KeyShot allows rapid import of 3D geometry, quick set-up of materials, textures, lighting and, since the last release, animation if needed.
The use of progressive rendering means that the display is trickle fed with a high quality preview of what the user is working on.
All of which provides an image quicker than almost any other system. So, with this in mind, what’s new for KeyShot 4.0?
The first step in any rendering job is to get the 3D CAD model into the rendering system.
Existing users of KeyShot will know that the system has a wealth of translation tools to read not only standard formats (such as STEP and IGES), but also native file formats from the leading systems out there.
These include SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Inventor, NX, Catia, Rhino and many more. What’s interesting is that these import options also work on both platforms as KeyShot works natively on Mac OS X and Windows.
While KeyShot has always made a good fist of the import process, there’s room for improvement. KeyShot 4.0 brings a couple of new tools to better support the iterative process allowing the user to save a bit of time when dealing with those inevitable design changes.
The first is the ability to retain the link to the imported CAD geometry and work with updates to it.
This assumes that the user has two machines working on the same data file. Using the ‘keep original’ option during import forces KeyShot to maintain not only the original scale of the part, but also its position.
It’s common that importing product models shows up the mismatch between how co-ordinate systems are defined in different systems.
Of course, it’s easy to flip a model 90 degrees around the correct axis, but when that late design change comes in, it often means repositioning it again.
Using the new ‘keep original’ will maintain the part in the correct position, but adjust the environment and camera around it, meaning geometry updates can be handled much more efficiently.
It is worth noting that the system doesn’t as yet support retaining any translations that have been applied, purely rotational aspects.
Taking this a step further, KeyShot 4.0 introduces the concept of LiveLinking. This assumes that the user has both a CAD system and KeyShot working on the same workstation.
Using a plug-in that installs into Creo, SolidWorks or Rhino, an ‘Update’ icon is shown. This pushes design changes from the CAD system directly into KeyShot.
All changed parts will be replaced and updated with the new geometry and all materials and animations will be maintained.
Additional set-up options
Alongside the geometry import from 3D geometry, there’s also a change to how the system supports the use of ground planes.
If using the HDR scene for lighting and environment set-up, the chances are that the user will want to bring in a different material to use as a ground plane.
In previous releases, this could be done with a bit of a fudge, but it’s been removed from 4.0 onwards. It’s now just a case of hitting the “add ground plane” command and one is popped into place.
The user has control over the size as well as the materials/labels that are applied to it.
New lighting options
KeyShot has always been based on the use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) images to provide the lighting schemes.
And achieving truly photorealistic results requires an equal mix of materials, model set-up and lighting — HDR images are a quick way to get good solid results.
The problem is that very few of us have access to the equipment used to capture these environments and, as such, we’re pretty much reliant on using stock assets, which are available online or as presets in the system.
Of course, there are tools like HDRLightStudio that allow the user to edit HDR images, but they’re expensive tools to invest in if it’s just to tweak or add in an extra light.
It’s typically these types of tasks that see some users turn to more general purpose rendering systems such as Max or Maya. But the good news is that such tools are being built into KeyShot from this release onwards.
In the first instance, it’s possible to make basic edits to the HDR image, either rotating it or blurring it, to soften highlight edges and such. Combined with the existing tools for rotation, sizing and brightness/contrast, this is a good foundation.
Also new to this release is the ability to add specific lights into the model, as geometry entities that can be positioned as needed to fine tune highlights.
While previous releases provided emissive materials, these were intended for visualising emissive components such as LED screens and light pipes.
These have been expanded for this release to give finer control and to define realistic light characteristics.
There are three types of light ‘material’ available in 4.0; Area, Point and IES light. While the first two can be defined using either a lumens or power output value, the last is much more specific in its use.
It’s named after the Illuminating Engineering Society that defined the standard.
IES is a standard that allows lighting manufacturers to exchange information about the exact light profile of a device, be it a bulb, fitting etc.
To use this, the user needs to load in an IES profile and KeyShot uses this to define the light emitted.
It will then accurately emit the light in the same way as the physical device being replicated. Each of these has a slightly different use model, but the basics are that they can be added into the scene as you would any other geometry, then move, position and animate them as needed.
While that might sound odd, there’s a nice workflow that opens up where the HDR lighting can be used to provide the general lighting. Then an animated light can be used to move highlights across the product in an animation.
Exploring colour and texture
This is one of my favourite updates for this release. When using a visualisation system, it’s often for the purposes of exploring not only form, but also the aesthetic properties of the product — and that comes down to colour variation and texturing.
While many use the same materials and know ahead of the visualisation process that it’s going to be a specific metal or polymer, what isn’t fixed is the exact colour that will be used.
The problem is that most rendering systems hard bake the colour, texture and material properties into a single ‘asset’.
To edit or experiment with the colour or texture (think in-mould texturing), requires the user to dive in and hack away at the settings.
If working on a single deliverable, in one, predefined colour scheme, this isn’t too arduous.
But if there is a product range with a variety of colourways to explore or deliver, then the user is looking at a heavy process before they even get to rendering out options to discuss and present.
To support this, there’s a couple of new options in the KeyShot 4.0 release. The first is that Luxion has teamed up with Mold-Tec, a long standing specialist in the realm of in mould texture.
While this doesn’t cover all the options and possibilities of grain out there, it does provide a more specialist set of options to present design intent in product renderings.
Alongside this, there’s been an effort to add greater support to colour experimentation in KeyShot. This sees a new set of colour palettes integrated into the system from both the RAL and Pantone colour libraries.
While this isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking, what is new is how their use is supported.
Luxion has separated out the colour definition of a material set-up from the texturing and material options.
For example, while the user might initially set a part’s appearance from a ‘high gloss plastic’ in red, they’re not stuck with knife and forking the underlying colour anymore.
In practice, the user defines the starting material and then simply drags and drops colours from the new colour palette onto the part.
This leaves all the material characteristics in place, but switches out the colour definition.
It might sound a little esoteric but when there is a bunch of colourways to scheme out and render up for a meeting, it’s much easier to drag and drop colour options from a known and searchable library.
Virtual Reality (VR) is one of those phrases that always seems to bring back memories of the early 90s.
Lawnmower Man was in the cinemas, we dreamt about the Nintendo PowerGlove as something to control a badly rendered world and everything seemed bright and rosy.
These days, with processing horse power, high-end projection systems available and the world of 3D increasingly infiltrating life, VR seems a little… dated. So, with KeyShotVR, are we looking back or looking forward?
KeyShotVR is an add-in into KeyShot that provides automated tools to build up ‘plug-in’ less 3D models for integration into the user’s website, for sending to clients and for general lightweight awesomeness.
If you’ve used a 3D enabled online website, where a product can be viewed in 3D, rotated or tumbled, you’ll be familiar with the type of thing.
Use is pretty simple and wizard driven and begins by defining the type of rotation for the model and giving it the required resolution and the number of frames.
Obviously, the more frames, the longer it takes to load in a browser, but if using these locally, it’s easy to ratchet it up a notch or two to get a very smooth movement.
What the system then does is render out each frame to the desired quality, collect them into a folder and provide a basic HTML document that has all the appropriate code. It produces good, high quality results and is perfect for the intended use.
Whether the aim is to use it as a quick interactive document for the basis of discussion or as a sales tool online, it’s perfect and easy to use.
When used with both animation of the components and the more standard turntable animations, some rather nifty results can be achieved.
For example, rotating a product in a model could simultaneously explode the assembly and show its inner workings or show a key operation.
The possibilities are endless.
It is worth noting that the KeyShotVR is an add-on to the main application and priced at $1,000.
Initially, I did wonder if this was a touch too much, and for some it might be, but for those looking to create this type of asset, it’ll pay back in the time used knife and forking with different tools.
I’ve always liked KeyShot. As long time users of any form of rendering tool, either standalone or CAD integrated, will recognise, it strips away much of the complexity of the process.
The ability to import geometry, drag in some materials, add in a HDR image as an environment, fiddle a bit and bang, you’re done, is incredibly powerful.
But of course, with that simplicity comes a lack of control that might have seen some users continue to rely on a more general purpose system that solves more complex challenges — but that, of course, adds time to the process.
With KeyShot 4.0, Luxion has not only added in a bunch of tools that better support the creation of even more realistic images, but also those that solve real design challenges and support the process.
What’s also interesting is the KeyShotVR add-on. This might pay dividends in the design process, to create imminently sharable assets between team members, the client and management.
But its true strength is the use of 3D assets in a consumer facing manner — whether online, in brochures or other materials.
Today’s customers want more customisation of products and those variants, iterations and choices can quickly add up. If you can strip out time from the process, add interactivity combined with photo realism and show the customer what they’re going to get, everyone wins.
KeyShot 4.0 is a good solid release and it’ll be interesting to see what comes next.
All top secret and classified: KeyShot in use at Skullcandy
Skullcandy is a global designer, marketer and distributor of performance audio and gaming headphones and other accessory related products.
The company has been making heavy use of KeyShot for some time. We caught up with Dave Vogt, an industrial designer and Skullcandy’s lead for 3D modelling and rendering.
As Vogt explains, “KeyShot is a pretty big staple for us. From conceptual design, to final public facing assets, we use it to develop most imagery.
“For conceptual design, I manage/develop most of the 3D work for the team, digitising the other designer’s sketches and 2D concepts.
SolidWorks and Rhino are my weapons of choice, and from there I get hot and heavy in KeyShot, which usually blows minds and really sells the concepts. As Skullcandy’s industrial design director Peter Kelly says, “a render always beats a sketch.”
Taking it to the consumer
While it’s clear that the system is in heavy use during the design process, it quickly became apparent that the rendered assets are also used to communicate to the consumer or potential customer.
As Vogt points out, “As for consumer facing images, I also setup, generate, and manage our ‘Product SKU Library’.
When I started here at Skullcandy back in 2011, we were outsourcing quite a bit of our headphone rendering to a consultant, but since then I have been working on bringing all those assets in-house, and KeyShot is a major part of that.
By the middle of this year I anticipate having all renders done in-house. These consumer facing product images are used for most departments company wide, from marketing, interactive, creative, category, to supply chain.”
Moving onto plans for the future, Vogt and the team are looking at implementing KeyShotVR for generating interactive assets as part of a website redesign.
“VR capabilities are pretty new to us here, we’ve had the plug-in for a while, and I have done a bunch of test batch renders to learn the interface and what not, but as of now we are not implementing it into any public media or assets.
“We do however have a major web re-design coming this year, and will implement all of our product SKUs into a VR experience for the customer.
This is a top priority with the site launch, and is definitely something we feel will be game changing with respect to other competitor experiences.”
In terms of the scale of the work involved, Vogt explains that multiple models, colourways and options is a considerable task. “We are looking to go all out with VR, incorporating it with all of our SKUs for the new web launch.
For 2013 it will be upwards of 275 unique SKUs. This spans about 28 individual product lines, and the corresponding colourways. Over-ear headphones, on-ear headphones, ear-buds and accessories (iPhone cases, docks, soft goods) are all part of the initiative.
It’s clear that Skullcandy sees better renderings used to support the sales process as a differentiator. As Vogt enthuses, “In my opinion, there is a major disconnect in today’s consumer society with online purchases.
“Being in a store, having the product in your hands, it’s that tactile interaction with your next product purchase that is a HUGE selling factor for a lot of consumers. The reality… nowadays everyone buys online. It’s easier, it’s more convenient and, in most cases, it’s less expensive.
”So how do you help the consumer overcome that feeling of “Am I really buying what I’m seeing in these three lame pixelated static images?”
VR generated assets give that next level of detail that can really help consumers evaluate the product in full detail.
It gives them the freedom to fully undress the product, which increases buyer confidence and decreases ‘buyer remorse’. Ultimately, this makes for a happier customer.
Delivering the best quality product is paramount for the Skullcandy brand, and ensuring that in an online environment is a huge step with that initiative.