A render of Dino-bike created using Keyshot 5“Dino-bike” (Model Credit: Flying Kiwi Motorcyles)

It’s hard to imagine how you could take the most loved-up rendering software of 2013 and make it better. But they have, and they’ve done it in style. I’d buy it just for the new user interface, but there’s so much more in this release. Is it perfect yet? Well, you’ll need to read on to find out, but if you’re looking for a canned demo of what’s new, there’s a video further down this page that wraps it all up nicely.

The rendering software market is a crowded and often confusing place but Keyshot pitches itself as “fastest and easiest to use 3D rendering and animation software available” so I’m going to take a look at both claims. Keyshot 5 is the “fastest” – at what? Fastest at sucking you in with its new slick new user interface – yep. I’ll give them that one. With most rendering solutions, you can quickly lose your model under a pile of dialogs and windows, but the new UI in Keyshot 5 keeps these windows in check by allowing you to stack, dock, stack-tabbed and so on. It makes focussing on the task of say lighting, or texturing, an absolute joy without having to close a bunch of other windows. But you’d hardly describe the product as being the “fastest” when discussing model import workflows. You’ll very quickly discover that the importers for mainstream CAD products like Solidworks & Inventor are 2 years out of date, Alias needs to be installed, Maya needs to be licensed… (Hang on – Maya? Why would you render in Keyshot if you already have Maya installed and licensed?) So if your CAD software is up-to-date, you’ll have to export your models as an alternative format, then import them into Keysot. That’s not particularly “fast” in my book. If you are lucky enough to have either an old copy of your favourite CAD product, or other geometry-creation software that’s one of Luxion’s favoured partners, then the new “Live Linking” your models will certainly be of interest. Change the CAD model and the Keyshot scene updates – I would describe as “fast”. Bring on some updated importers and this might catch on!

“Easiest to use”. Let’s be honest, “easy to use” usually translates as “limited features”. But Keyshot really is superbly easy to use: Import – wait – image! You can then spend some time lighting and texturing, but that almost-instant image surprises you every time. So if you want an image-in-a-can, then I really can’t argue, it’s certainly down there with the easiest of all the rendering software. If you want a bit more, then you need to go digging. Software only becomes “easy to use” as you become familiar with it. It’s not a living organism that changes between uses, you just get used to where the buttons are – so “easy” is a bit of a meaningless quality here. Sadly, this is also where I started to find some limitations. Functions like motion-blur and caustics are on/off toggles. To blur one object more than another becomes a complex task of animating objects at different speeds. It’s time consuming and certainly not “easy”. There’s a collection of canned animation cycles, but if you want to get a bit more advanced, it’s certainly not the animators dream. To be fair though, I don’t have the $500 Animation add-on, I’m only driving the “Pro” version so I know I’m missing out on some more goodies.

Looking at the marketing images, the target audience appears to be existing CAD users, or creative media-types who’ve probably already invested in good hardware. So why is “CPU rendering only” a good thing? There isn’t even an option to invoke the 600 Cuda-cores on my laptop’s standard graphics card. It seems a bit of a “missed opportunity”, not a feature. Sure it makes sense on a consumer-grade computer that only has basic on-board graphics, but even the most basic gaming graphics cards have GPU capabilities begging to be used.

Dino-bike rendered in Luxion Keyshot 5“Dino-bike” (Model Credit: Flying Kiwi Motorcycles)

Getting back to the good stuff (because there’s plenty of it), if you watch the video at the end of this post you’ll appreciate the ability to wind back the number of CPU cores used for the real-time rendering. (It’s a handy way to regulate the temperature of your coffee if you leave the mug by the vent on your PC.) Importing models can be a disappointing exercise if you’ve already textured it in the host application, but the new Keyshot library of physically accurate materials, coupled with the scene tree, makes texturing easy. It’s actually fun watching the model come to life as you drag and drop the materials into place. The library has a good selection of pre-built materials that you can tweak, and then there’s always “Keyshot Cloud” where you can upload your hard work and share it with others.

Lighting in Keyshot 5 received a boost with the Sun and Sky System (Pro version only). There’s plenty of granular control in this lighting system and when you’ve created your perfect daylight, you can save it out just like other HDRI’s for re-use on another model. On the subject of HDRI’ – there’s now an HDRI editor (in all versions) that make tweaking the scene illumination quick and easy.

Perspective Matching (again only in Pro) is so easy it’ll make you laugh – watch the “What’s new” video to see it in action. (Was this tool lifted directly from last year’s Autodesk 3d max? It’s almost identical!)

NURBS Ray Tracing (Pro feature) is a very clever addition in this release. Prior to this tool, you would typically have to strike a compromise between mesh quality and rendering time. The finer the mesh, the better the curves on your model look, but the longer it took to render. The NURBS Ray Tracing tool reads NURBS data from your model (the actual curves – not the faceted approximation) and then renders stunningly smooth curved edges.

Scene sets (Pro feature again sorry!) It’s an update on last years “Model Sets” and lets you switch between various setups within a single file. The scene sets remembers camera views, object visibility, environments, and back plates.

There is something curiously appealing about Keyshot 5 that quickly draws you in. Maybe it’s that damn good UI, or the rave reviews it gets in online forums, or the almost-instant renderings, but once you’re in, there’s enough to keep you busy for quite a while. There is a lot to like about it. But if you already have experience with other rendering products, or you’re looking for something that’ll let you choose how to utilise your hardware, or give you super-high-level control over all rendering elements, then maybe it’s not quite ready yet.

If you are coming from the dull-grey world of your existing CAD system and looking for something to motivate you to get into work early, then Keyshot 5 really is hard to beat.

Keyshot 5 “What’s new” video