You know the comments you keep hearing? No, not the ones about how you look in tight pants. The ones about how good the product you design would look if you only had a good rendering. Once upon a time, a simple rendering seemed impossible. No more.

Over the past few years, creating amazing renderings without paying exorbitant amounts of time and cash has gotten easier than getting into a pair of those form-fitting leg lockers. It’s been whittled down to opening a file and dropping materials on the model.

Knowing a thing or two about lighting helps, but one group in the forefront of making it dead simple to create amazing product renderings is KeyShot. Version 2 is out with a new interface that’s so easy to use, you’ll forget about the loss of circulation in your legs and sit for hours behind the computer busting out fine, photo-realistic images. Let’s take a look.

The History

It’s hard to get away from this, so we’ll just cover it briefly for those that may be new to what’s been going on in the rendering world. KeyShot has some roots in Bunkspeed’s HyperShot, but at the beginning of 2010 all that changed. Bunkspeed hadn’t paid up Luxion for the tech powering Hypershot. Luxion stopped licensing that tech. Some Bunkspeed employees left and went to Luxion. Drama to the highest degree. We won’t dwell on it, but out of this one of the products that has been born is KeyShot.


Image: David Burgess

Easy Does it

If you were a Hypershot user, you know how easy it was to create a quick rendering. KeyShot blows that away and not only makes getting a rendering easier, but also makes the workflow to get that rendering easier. You have three areas where you do the majority of your work. The Realtime window, the Library and the Options. You size the model in the Realtime window, drag and drop materials and environments from the Library and adjust your light setting and material in the Options. The settings in both are split into tabs so you don’t have boxes littering your workspace. It makes for a set-up you can jump around in smoothly without going mad wondering what to do next.

The 3 main work areas in the KeyShot environment. The Realtime window, the Options and the Library.

The 3 main work areas in the KeyShot environment. The Realtime window, the Options and the Library.

KeyShot Library - Tabs for Materials, Environments, backplates, Textures and Renderings you've created.

KeyShot Library - Tabs for Materials, Environments, backplates, Textures and Renderings you've created.

KeyShot Options - Tabs for setting up Scene, Material, Environment, Backplates, Realtime and Camera

KeyShot Options - Tabs for setting up Scene, Material, Environment, Backplates, Realtime and Camera

Keyshot supported File Formats

This is another area where KeyShot shines. You can import 12 different file formats, including your old Hypershot files. SolidWorks, Pro/E and Rhino users also get special treatment with native file import. No plugin required. Currently, if you have materials or appearances applied in other programs, they will not be brought in with the model. KeyShot support the following file formats for import:

- Solidworks (sldprt, sldasm)
- Pro/E (prt, asm)
- Rhino (3dm)
- SketchUp (skp)
-Collada (dae)
- IGES
- STEP
- 3DS
- OBJ
- FBX
- PDF
- BIP

A SolidWorks model imported directly into KeyShot with materials applied to it.

A SolidWorks model imported directly into KeyShot with materials applied to it.

First Realtime Ray tracing

A beautiful image is all that matters right? Yes. However, if you get down to the sub-text, KeyShot is billed as the “first realtime ray tracing and global illumination program.” Ray tracing is rays of simulated light being shot against the objects to give a realistic appearance. KeyShot is doing this realtime and allows you to set rays to reflect up to 32 times. Other rendering programs are also doing realtime ray tracing as well. In fact, everyone from GPU manufacturers to game developers are chasing the best way to get the perfect realtime lighting effects. KeyShot brings in Global Illumination along with this, which means it’s got direct lighting down very well. It’s when you have indirect lighting you may wish you had more options as shadows tend to be a tad harsh. You can compensate for this by toggling on Detailed indirect illumination and Ground indirect illumination in the Realtime settings.

Keyshot realtime settings allow rays to reflect up to 32 times.

Keyshot realtime settings allow rays to reflect up to 32 times.

Rendering with Detailed indirect illumination and Ground indirect illumination on.

Rendering with Detailed indirect illumination and Ground indirect illumination on.

Rendering with Detailed indirect illumination and Ground indirect illumination off.

Rendering with Detailed indirect illumination and Ground indirect illumination off.

Realtime ray traced subsurface scattering

The future of KeyShot’s realtime ray tracing seems to know no bounds. The latest development shown off at SIGGRAPH 2010, which you’ll enjoy in KeyShot 2.1, is the inclusion of subsurface scattering. Subsurface scattering is how light dissipates through translucent objects. Works great for things like skin, windows, plants, etc. This is the first we’ve seen of KeyShot getting into the organic rendering space to bring the potential of rendering character and plant-life models created in free-form modeling programs. Along with this, there’s almost certainly more import capabilities coming. Here’s an example.

Example of KeyShot's realtime raytraced subsurface scatter that is part of KeyShot 2.1

Example of KeyShot's realtime raytraced subsurface scatter that is part of KeyShot 2.1

Keyshot likes the CPU… and also the GPU

Part of the disagreement that divided Luxion and Bunkspeed, is what processors should be used to create the renderings. Bunkspeed maintained that utilizing the GPU was the way to go, while Luxion maintained the CPU was more capable. True, you can usually get more CPU power for the money, but there are realtime benefits and power the GPU also provides. So, this will change with KeyShot 2.1 where support for additional GPU rendering is added.

KeyShot 2.0 uses pure CPU power. Here you see the rendering taking place showing % complete, CPU's used and render time. 2.1 will add GPU power to the rendering.

KeyShot 2.0 uses pure CPU power. Here you see the rendering taking place showing % complete, CPU's used and render time. 2.1 will add GPU power to the rendering.

The Carbon Fiber Test

There’s nothing like throwing a little Carbon Fiber at some parts to see how the rendering program can handle it. It’s a great challenge. It’s difficult to get the texture mapping just right. It can also be used to give you an idea of how a texture will form to a part during a hydrographic (water transfer or dipping) process. In this example, I have a door handle that will be constructed out of carbon fiber. I’m not an expert at KeyShot, but I’ve always found this part to be a good test. Here’s a final render using UV projection to map the texture (post-process Curve adjustment in Photoshop.)

You can see where the direction changes, but this isn’t too bad. It’s not ideal, but you don’t want that in a brochure or on a giant poster over your booth at the door handle convention. You’ll want something a little more like this.

The above rendering uses Planar-Y projection with the aspect ration turned off to get a better appearance. The texture starts to get a little loose at the bottom, but we can adjust the UV scale to get that a little tighter. Now, to see just how far you can take Carbon Fiber in KeyShot, take a look at the following. This is called ‘Pilot’ rendered by Vitaly Bulgarov for KeyShot’s SIGGRAPH 2010 booth. See the whole set at Bulgarov.com.

Some KeyShot Tips

The Render window
When you start up KeyShot, the window opens the dimensions of the Image size defined in the settings. There are no options to maximize on open, but you can change the Image size via the Options, Realtime tab. You can also hit the F-key when the KeyShot windows opens to go full screen. It’s especially nice if you have a dual monitor set up.

Workspace
Personally, I like to have the render window maximize. So, when using a single monitor, I’ll maximize KeyShot fullscreen (F-key). The Library has tabs for Materials, Environments, Backplates, Texturing and Rendering, so I’ll squeeze that over to the right and put my Options for Scene, material, Envrionment, etc. over to the left. Almost has a Photoshop like feel like this.

The tabs in the Library make for a simple workspace layout with more room for your render window.

The tabs in the Library make for a simple workspace layout with more room for your render window.

Importing SolidWorks Assemblies
When importing SolidWorks assemblies, I’ve found it’s best to unselected Keep individual parts. This may sound confusing, but when you have this unselected, it will bring in the individual parts as you are familiar with them in SolidWorks. Otherwise, they will bring in way more than you expect, especially with a large assembly.

Positioning the model
When you bring a model into KeyShot it may be oriented wrong. To change that, go to the Options, Scene settings. Select the assembly or part you want to move and adjust the settings in the Position, Rotation, Scale and Size options below. Also, the Snap to ground button below all those other settings comes in VERY handy.

Postion of the model can be adjusted through the Options, Scene settings.

Postion of the model can be adjusted through the Options, Scene settings.

Moving the model
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to move the model, try the ALT key. The left mouse button rotates the model, but KeyShot uses the ALT key and combinations of the left, middle, right mouse button and scroll wheel to provide Tumble, Pan, Dolly and Zoom, respectively. You can also move the model by right-clicking on it and selecting Move Object. This gives you a triad to rotate and translate the model.

The Move object triad in KeyShot allows you to rotate and translate your model in the environment.

The Move object triad in KeyShot allows you to rotate and translate your model in the environment.

Hot Keys
There are not a whole lot of complicated commands in KeyShot, so the keyboard shortcuts are fairly straight forward and easy to remember. If, however, you need to reference them just hit the K-key and they’ll pop right up. Hit the K-key again to turn them off.

Custom materials, textures, environments and HDR’s
Adding your own images is as simple as saving it to the folder in the My Documents\KeyShot folder. You have folders for Backplates, Environments, Materials, and Textures. Once you’ve put an image in one of those folders, just go to the corresponding tab in the Library, right-click and select Refresh all materials or Rescan Library directory.

The Smack

I’ve been wanting to do this review for a long time. KeyShot is great fun to use and is in no way a daunting program to start up and mess around with. It improves on Hypershot and KeyShot 1.9 quite substantially and if the upcoming features like GPU usage and sub-surface ray tracing are any sign, 2.1 and future releases are going to keep making it easy to get a brilliant rendering. One area I’d personally like to see more options is in lighting; providing more control over indirect lighting and environment shadows. Even still, with the right amount of tweaking, the results can be phenomenal.

If you’re a SolidWorks user and using SolidWorks Standard edition which doesn’t come with the Photoview360 rendering product, KeyShot will replace and even exceed some of the PV360 current capabilities, especially by giving you the option of importing other file formats besides SolidWorks. Rhino users will especially rejoice for it 3DM import capability and ease of use of other Rhino rendering plug-ins. Even better, if you’re a old Hypershot user, you can still import your scenes as KeyShot still used the same BIP extension.

Here’s what your decision to go with KeyShot may come down to. Price. Keyshot 2 runs $995 (upgrade from Hypershot/KeyShot 1.9 is $395) and the Pro version for high-resolution export comes in at $1995 (upgrade from Hypershot/KeyShot Pro 1.9 is $1095). For just rendering that may seem high. You can get plug-ins and add-ons to other 3D software that are the same price or less. The value KeyShot is banking on is how easy it is to get good renderings. If you’re looking for that KeyShot is excellent. In fact, I’d have it in design arsenal, just because of that. For the same price though, you can upgrade to SolidWorks professional if your a SolidWorks users. Rhino users can download VSR Realtime rendering for free and then there’s modo that for the same $995 gives you sculpting, modeling, rendering and animation. You can’t beat that, but you’ll also have a much steeper learning curve. It all depends on the amount of set-up you want to do and products you use.

With KeyShot, you get rendering, pure and simple rendering. No animation, although there are hints it’s coming. So for now, if you want a rendering program that takes little time to get familiar with, giving you more time to create detailed models and killer photo-realistic images, I’ve gotta say, KeyShot, all the way.

Filed under: REVIEWS