Issue: Volume 36 Issue 4: (May/June 2013)



Keyshot 4 - $995-$3995 (depending on options) Luxion

When working with 3d projects, the final render is what your audience will see. Getting excellent-quality renders can make a project stand out from the pack. For those who are interested in highly realistic renders, there are a number of third-party rendering software that can take your 3D or CAD files and make them look spectacular. Often, however, the process of making a great render can be a difficult one. KeyShot, from Luxion, is aiming to make high-quality rendering easy with Version 4.

KeyShot 4 is a stand-alone render engine. It can import files in a wide variety of formats, giving it the ability to support most major 3D and CAD packages. The software is entirely CPU-based, which tends to run against the grain of most renderers, which are increasingly dependent on the power of high-end graphics cards. This makes KeyShot very friendly to any type of computer, including laptops without fancy graphics cards.

The software is fairly straightforward to use. Importing a scene brings across the geometry and the materials in the scene. Animation can also be imported, depending on the version of KeyShot. For people using Dassault’s Solidworks, PTC’s Creo, and Robert McNeel and Associates’ Rhino, scenes can be live linked so that changes in the original scene are reflected in the renders. Once the scene is in KeyShot, the software automatically starts rendering the image. The image will progressively get better in quality the longer the render sits on the screen. This gives rendering a highly interactive feel, as changes in parameters are almost instantly visible in the constantly updating render.

When importing scenes, the first task is to assign KeyShot materials to the models. All KeyShot materials are physically accurate to the type of surface they represent. Wood is very different from glass, for example, so a wood material would not have a refraction setting, while a glass material would. This makes it very straightforward to author

new materials. KeyShot also has a very robust materials library that ships with the package, so often it is easier to start with an existing material and tweak it to get the look you want. You can save your own materials to the library, as well.

Textures are handled on a material-by-material basis. Bitmap textures will apply to the existing UV mapping baked into the models, so the UVs need to be set up in the software of choice. For models without baked-in mapping, KeyShot provides some simple projection methods (planar, box, spherical, and cylindrical). These tools have a degree of interactivity, so placement of projected maps can be fine-tuned. Additionally, KeyShot has a feature called Labeling, which allows bitmaps to be placed on an object like a label.

Lighting in KeyShot

Lighting is probably the most important feature of a renderer. For KeyShot, the main light source of choice is the environment, in the form of an HDRI image. You can provide your own HDRI images, or KeyShot comes with a number of stock images that can be used as interiors or exteriors. These images not only determine lighting, they also factor in to reflections and other environmental effects.

For those needing more specific lighting, physical lights can be added into the scene. Luxion provides three types of light – a point light that can simulate standard IES light types, a diffuse light that turns geometry into a light, and an area light. All these are physically accurate, with light intensity measured in watts or lumens.

For more realistic renders, the software can also control how light bounces through the scene. Raytracing is supported, as is global illumination. Another neat little feature is ground illumination, which creates an underlighting effect and can be great for product shots. Other enhancements include a bloom feature, which simulates emissive materials, as well as a vignette effect, which darkens the corners of a render.

Version 4 of KeyShot also includes the ability to do simple animations. The animation is pretty much limited to translating and rotating the objects in the scene. Cameras can be animated, too. Other parameters, such as light intensity or color, cannot be animated at this time.

Overall, I found the software to be excellent at what it is designed to do – making high-quality rendering easy. I found it simple to set up and render a shot that looked photorealistic. I think this software would find a very comfortable home in design studios, where realistic product shots are always in demand. Engineers could take their CAD creations and make them presentation-worthy in a snap. Architectural offices could also find a lot of use with this renderer, particularly in the realistic lighting models.

While KeyShot would be great for many, there are some who will need more than what Luxion provides in KeyShot. Some architects might be disappointed at the lack of a daylight/sunlight model. VFX houses would probably need better ways to render images for layered compositing. Animators doing complex scenes would find that the animation features aren’t quite there yet.

But no product is meant to be everything to everyone, and KeyShot fills a very important niche in the rendering world. Luxion gives non-technical people access to powerful rendering on almost any computer. KeyShot really does make high-quality rendering an easy task. People needing photorealistic images or simple animations will find KeyShot 4 to be a very powerful companion to their CAD and 3D packages.

George Maestri is a contributing editor for CGW and president/CEO of RubberBug animation studio. He also teaches Maya for He can be reached at