Posts Tagged ‘KeyShot’

Fake it before you make it

quirky, keyshot, luxion, solo, product rendering

Renderings drive sales at Quirky’s social media design site

Growing product ideas out of social media is just one of the unconventional aspects of the business model at Quirky (  Another is the speed of development.  New marketable designs germinate at an unbelievable rate.

“We can build two products per week.  It may seem radical, and it is,” says Quirky’s head of engineering, John Jacobsen. “Although the designs are not fully developed at that point, we are still taking the community ideas to a certain level of refinement.”

Rendered images of these designs incubate on the Quirky website for further input.  Its community members are typically ordinary (if not slighty more opinionated) household consumers. These photorealistic previews spread through members’ social networks and attract cool-gear shoppers to Quirky’s catalog page, where they can pre-order Quirky inventions at a discount rate. The items that meet a given threshold of advance sales go to the factory first.

“The visual feedback is definitely a necessary component. The better the imagery and higher the fidelity, the more compelling the product is to consumers,” says Jacobsen. “People can appreciate the idea behind the innovations, but it is really the image of the design gets the customer excited enough to follow through with a purchase.”

For many proposals, Quirky posts the rendered images before the objects are even made.  Jacobsen and his team employ a design application called KeyShot by software developer Luxion, considered a pioneer in the new generation of automated rendering tools. Once you get past the fact that the images of some of Quirky’s recent projects like the Snow Dozer ice scraper and Ripple sink strainer are not photographs, you would think that the smooth-talking, studio-lit product shots must have taken days to perfect.

“What we are working with now is lightning fast. I have a laptop equipped with multiple processors and I am able to get high-resolution images from an engineering model in a matter of seconds. For our group, time is of the essence, so this kind of capability is crucial,” he says. “I don’t think we would be able to do what we doing at Quirky without these tools.”

The speed of the processing that keeps Quirky staff in their a high-paced schedule and allows for more numerous and varied product shots. Jacobsen can rotate the object within the studio environment in real time to find the most dramatic highlights and shadows.

Rendering used to be an afterthought, a task after design and before physical prototyping. As the technology has become more interactive, designers are looking at product components in a photo-real environment early and often.  Now consumers are, too.

“It’s becoming another means of evaluating the design itself, a way to judge the forms, materials and finishes. We use it internally to make those decisions. We often find something beautiful or mysterious about the design that we wouldn’t have planned, but we find along the way. High-speed rendering now makes that happen much faster.”

See more Quirky products at
Find out more about advanced product rendering at

written by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media


Storytelling through Rendering

Pensa and the new art of explaining products

Any one with new ideas has the same essential problem: convincing other people that they’re great ideas.

A single picture can sometimes convey the essence of a product design, but more often new ideas need multiple images to tell the whole story.  A visual product narrative traces the thought process that went into development through a series of renderings.

Like other forms of storytelling, there’s an art to good product narratives.  Some examples can be found at the website of the New York industrial design consultancy Pensa.  Rather than showcasing single shots of finished designs for such household brands such OXO, Bic, and Samsung, Pensa presents a series of slides that show why the innovations make for better products.

Here’s a few tips for clear and persuasive product narratives:

1. Get real

There’s a good reason firms are getting more creative with photo-real rendering output. Now there’s a lot more of it.

“A few years ago, the processing time used to be a limiting factor because if it took four hours per image, then forget it,” explains Pensa principal and co-founder Marco Perry.

“To show 16 to 20 concepts or multiple views would take forever.  With the new technology, anybody in the office can literally just drop the CAD in, take a snapshot, change the view, and then grab another one.  It makes rendering a non-event.  As a result, we now generate a lot more images and have higher quality presentations.”

Pensa employs an application called KeyShot by software maker Luxion, considered the pioneer in the new high-speed automated rendering.  Designers can generate entire photo realistic scene in a matter of seconds.

KeyShot’s high-resolution imagery provides the viewer more details than hand-produced sketches and generally leaves less open to interpretation in client discussions.

2. Place the object in context

Showing your product in its intended setting can give an immediate sense of what it does and how it’s used.

CGI applications now make it easy to render the product seamlessly into a photographic back plate with the same lighting effects.

An alternative method is to model just a few familiar 3D objects that subtly suggest the environment.  In Pensa’s renderings for packaging on Mr. Longarm’s stain applications, the model of the fence provides enough context without the distraction of too much background.

3. Demonstrate user actions


Innovation in products means users will do things differently. Where appropriate, include the user interaction with the proposed product.

In Pensa’s presentations, this is achieved with just a simple outline of a hand gesture or a standing figure.

The loose representational drawings on top of renderings convey the scale of products and their ergonomics while keeping  the spotlight on the product image.

4. Use Narrative Economy


Anytime you set up a rendering view or storyboard sequence you have to consider narrative economy.  A scriptwriter’s term, it represents the strategy of communicating more important story details in a shorter time interval.

Consider Pensa’s proposal for DC+/ethernet shelf.  Other objects — a ring of keys and a couple smart phones — communicate the functional features (it cordlessly charges phones, has hooks).  The doorknob behind it gives several contextual clues economically.  It establishes the shelf’s height without having to show the entire wall.  The viewer also gets a quick impression of what kind of wall it is, and therefore what kind of room it is.

The combination of these minimal elements makes the viewer imagine the whole scenario – the shelf is where you throw the contents of your pockets when you enter a home or office.

5. Speak to a wide audience


Consider your audience might get larger than the few industry representatives you are talking with now. The narrative might soon make its way to specialists in other departments —  from engineering to retail sales —  who’ll have their own set of questions.

Good imagery travels fast in large organizations, Perry says.

Make your narrative clear enough for even the layman can understand to allow newcomers into the conversation.  And include enough description to anticipate the concerns of both the manufacturer and the marketer.

Changing majors

Perry says everyone on his staff can render their own work, which makes visual storytelling a group effort.

“Rendering in the past required you to have the skills of both a photographer and a computer expert,” says Perry. “Because it’s now so fast and easy to make images, it removes the bottleneck that comes from having one particular staff member who is an expert at rendering and lighting schemes.”

Automated rendering may have eliminated the need for the equivalent of a scientific degree in order to get realistic shots.   At the same time, the technology may be introducing a requirement for a more literary-minded skill set in designers  – borrowed from cinematic direction, graphic design, and comic book art – to order to spin the most dramatic and impactful stories of their ideas.

See more of Pensa’s recent product narratives.
or browse through some other creative renderings.

Written by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media.  A version of this article appeared in DEVELOP3D Winter 2011.

Turning on Smart Ideas with KeyShot

The originators of OXO unlock the emotional power of digital rendering

How have recent advancements in visualization impacted international product development houses like Smart Design?  The award-winning firm, known for its reinventions of the commonplace like OXO kitchenware, now relies on raytracing for the exchange of visual ideas. According to John Jacobsen, Senior Design Specialist in Smart’s New York studio, changes in the profession due to technology are happening on three levels:

1. Designers get immediate visual feedback on their designs

Up until a few years ago, a digital rendering of a 3D model was a few days’ project in itself.  But in the new generation of raytracing tools, a photo-quality scene generates in just a few seconds.

Use of the new tools in the internal review at Smart can be seen in the revamp of one of the firm’s most commercially successful products. Over the last decade, the OXO line of utensils has become an essential of the modern kitchen.

Art in the everyday: “A spoon or a fork might be considered very mundane. They’re objects we might take for granted. But from a 3D point of view, they actually can be quite interesting forms and sometimes challenging to craft. There is a lot of art to the process,” says Jacobsen. (rendering in KeyShot, image: Smart Design)

The biggest difference between the redesign now and the original ten years ago, is that designers can now better see the possibilities.

“Now very early on in our process we looking at completely finished images of the product,” says Jacobsen, who uses Luxion’s KeyShot application.  “The digital tools bring a new latitude.  We’re able to explore different variations and push the boundaries in a free way.”

Jacobsen cites the idea of thin-slicing in Malcolm Gladwell’s popular book, Blink! A trained eye makes remarkably good assessments with just a thin slice of visual information. The realism of the rendering preview — complete with final materials, colors, and finishes — allows designers to judge the product holistically.

How do I look? Previews in KeyShot raytracing show designers the play of light on different geometries and finishes, like the reflective sheens on the new toddler flatware set, OXO TOT. (rendering in KeyShot, image: Smart Design)

2. Clients clearly see the options

“In a client meeting, I present my initial model and image, but I am in real time adjusting materials and adding some texture, adding some color, or even quickly adding a pattern to the surface.  I may not even know how I’m going to go about it at the outset, but I can extemporize.  I can make a change, get a reaction, then make new adjustments based on that.”

Jacobsen says that clients are now getting more accustomed to the technology.  There used to be a concern about introducing photorealistic examples too early on in the preliminary discussion.  The client might wrongly assume the design is complete and not open to changes.   But that’s not likely to happen, Jacobsen explains.

“Now that clients can see real-time changes in an application like KeyShot, they understand how fluid the technology is.  They perceive the visualizations as more of a game.  A rendered model is not final, but instead something we can play with.”

High-speed raytracing with is now rivaling tradition hand sketching for spontaneity in the conference room.  “Some people say:  pen and paper  — there’s nothing more fluid than that.  But the hardware and software are converging to this point where the response is so immediate.  The technology becomes transparent and you’re simply communicating your ideas.”

Loose conceptual sketches still have their role in designer’s processes, Jacobsen says, but they have their limitations as well.

“A sketch is a bit like poetry.  Readers can make several different interpretations,” he says.  “Various interpretations might be okay for poetry.  For product design, probably not.  The reality is that clients need more certainties and less abstractions in order to have the confidence to make decisions.”

Utensiltarian: The iconic OXO utensil line is getting a design overall after more than ten years. “Essentially this new redesign is more minimal and pure in form relative to the original set which was more generous in both form and material,” says John Jacobsen. The redesign takes in account changing consumer sensibilities which favor more efficient, lighter-weight forms. (rendering in KeyShot, image: Smart Design)

3. Visuals sell the idea outside the design process

The term among industrial designers and product photographers for a favorable product portrayal is beauty shot. Developers of KeyShot seem to have set up the rendering environment to generate beauty shots almost by default.  Accurate materials, studio lighting, and soft shadows on pure backgrounds seem to generateautomagically.  Drag a few materials onto the surfaces, and a simple engineering model suddenly exudes the glamor of a glossy magazine ad.

Couching new concepts in the same commercial sheen familiar in advertising and product packaging extends the purpose of rendering from just visualization to that of persuasion.

“I’ve seen it with our business.  In the very early stages our clients are asking for a certain kind of imagery so that they can sell the idea internally in their company, or that they can communicate the idea to outside stakeholders,” says Jacobsen. “They might just want their sales team to know the next thing they’re going to be selling.  They might show it to a buyer at Target to get an early commitment.  The physical product’s not ready yet, but they can start to set the stage.”

As an industrial designer, Jacobsen’s focus is the concept.  Especially at Smart Design, the focus is on how people use products and improving their everyday experience.  But to get to that point, people have to buy it first.  Most of that decision-making – whether you’re a retail buyer or just a customer — rests on the visual.

“Visual information just has this emotional power that overshadows anything abstract you can say about a product.  The image is what people come away with and remember later,” says Jacobsen.  So it’s no surprise clients are starting to use renderings to prime the pump of potential sales.

“That has become sort of the new thing.  We really didn’t consider imagery as its own deliverable in the past, but the fidelity of the images that we produce now and the speed with which we can produce them makes it a very viable request.  It works for everyone.  If I can get the client and their team excited, it helps them to get their buyers excited, and it makes my efforts even more successful. Not only that, I may even get some feedback from the buyer, so it plays a real pivotal role in the design and development of the product and on many levels,” says Jacobsen.

“At the end of the day, an application like KeyShot is an incredible tool.  We designers don’t talk about it that way as it’s a part of our job, but when you sit back and reflect about the role it’s playing, that’s not unrealistic statement.”

A version of this article was printed in CADalyst.

About Smart Design
Smart Design creates informed and inspired design for people and memorable brands for clients.  The award-winning Smart Design team has been turning insight and innovation into successful consumer experiences for over 25 years. Smart Design’s approach integrates product development, interactive experiences, brand communication, and strategic insights to ensure winning design solutions.  Smart Design’s consistent results are delivered by its multi-disciplinary, international staff working in teams across offices in New York, San Francisco, and Barcelona.  For more information, please visit:

About Luxion

For more information about Luxion KeyShot for photorealistic 3D rendering, please visit:

Use Your Illusion

Luxion KeyShot’s Power of Transformation

For professional photographers, the most exciting software releases in recent years was the introduction of KeyShot, a new approach to 3D rendering from Luxion, which made a marked departure from the engineering mentality usually associated with CAD.  Rendering used to require a large skill set, constant adjustments, and many hours to process a single 3D scene.  KeyShot, on the other hand, seemed made for artists. The debut boasted stunning real-time high-resolution previews, an extensive palette of perfect industrial-design materials, and automatic self-shadows that gave an instant illusion of depth to any CAD object.

With this year’s release of KeyShot’s follow-up, we take a sneak peek into how studios have incorporated Luxion’s CGI technology into their work. All these examples feature cars, the most expensive product to shoot professionally.  In these cases, however, no photographs of the cars were ever taken.  The photographers produced the product images solely through CGI transformations of 3D models.

Basic Black: Vond Studios, London

“The local supercar club came to us with the idea of using a rare car like Gallardo Nera as an appealing promotional image. As soon as we got the CAD model, we were supposed to render some previews for approval,” explains Michal Baginski, a designer at Vond Studios, which builds images for automotive, product-design, and architectural clients.Vond Studios took no photos for the project.  Baginski’s team used the backgrounds, materials, HDRI files, and lighting schemes from the software package.  The flawless realism on the first render, Baginski says, is arguably better than what would come off of camera rolls after a studio shoot.

“In KeyShot, we were able to do it in minutes. The idea was to have minimal in-studio setup, so we tested a few colors of KeyShot backgrounds and stayed with standard black. For the lighting, we just loaded one of the photo studio bundle purchased from the online store and adjusted it for an even reflection that would accent the geometry of the car,” he says. “After the image was done, we just applied some smoke and flares in our image processing software on top of the actual render.  It was easy as that.We completed all the images within one day.”

On Location: David Burgess

Just as Luxion KeyShot’s standard backgrounds can mimic various studio settings, photographers’ own outdoor shots can create the illusion of on location settings with the aid of High Dynamic Range Images (HDRIs).  And they can even do the rendering outdoors.

“I shot the backplate and HDRI at the same time and at the same location,” says London photographer David Burgess of his colorful ad images for the Ford Interceptor. Seconds after taking the shots, he found a piece of shade from the Nevada sun and processed the image in the Luxion software.

“I had my laptop with me so I could work with the CGI model as I shot the backgrounds to make sure I liked the way the image was looking,” he says. “It is much easier to shoot alternative backgrounds when you work this way as opposed to doing everything later in the hotel or back at your studio.

“I think this was only made possible with KeyShot, as any other software would not have allowed me this freedom to look at a full color, working CGI model with complete HDRI lighting on a laptop on location. KeyShot is the only real solution for photographers who work visually rather than technically.”

Read more about the new KeyShot from Luxion at

[Portions of this article appear in the February 2009 issue of Professional Photographer:]