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Q&A: Luxion KeyShot

By Ralph Grabowski, Sep 17, 2012

Luxion a decade ago invented real-time raytraced rendering. The company's vp of marketing Thomas Teger talked to CADdigest managing editor Ralph Grabowski about the origins of the company, the current product line, and the future of rendering.

Thomas Teger

Q: Where did Luxion come from, and how old is the company?
A: Luxion has been around since 2003, when it was founded by two brothers in Denmark, Claus Wann Jensen and Henrik Wann Jensen. Henrik Jensen is probably the best known researcher in the rendering world, having authored over 50 papers for SIGGRAPH. He won a technical Oscar for his work in simulating some 98.5% types of human skins in renderings. Now he works at University of San Diego, continuing to develop real-time raytracing.

As a result of their research, their first product was launched in 2007 by Bunkspeed at SolidWorks World, under the name of 'Hypershot.'

Q: I still have that T-shirt, and wear it to volleyball.
A: We'll have to get Ralph an updated T-shirt! The Jensen brothers still work on other products, such as VLux Daylight Visualizer; see

Hypershot quickly got a lot of traction in CAD, especially with Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, and Rhino, being used to visualize products quickly in the native file format. This allowed companies to take CAD data directly to the marketing department through images that were realistically rendered. In less than three years we gained ten thousand customers.

Q: Bunkspeed is no longer associated with Luxion, so what happened there?
A: Luxion had licensed Bunkspeed to market our software as Hypershot. This ended when Bunkspeed was unable to pay the licensing fee, and so in 2010 Luxion renamed and relaunched Hypershot 1.9 as KeyShot 1.9, taking over marketing and support. (Bunkspeed subsequently licensed replacement technology from nVidia's GPU-based iRay.)

We released an all-new version with a new UI, labeling, translucent materials, and all those human skin types. We now count 80-95% of original Hypershot users as KeyShot users. In addition, we worked hard on making partnerships, and so we were one of just three Creo launch partners with PTC. Luxion now works with SolidWorks, Autodesk, Rhino, Alibre, and SpaceClaim.

Q: Is KeyShot Windows-only, or does it run on other operating systems?
A: Everything in the Windows version is supported on Macs. For us, Macs are only 20-25% of Windows sales, but we see it gaining in importance when we look at design departments around the world, at home users, and at schools.

But not all CAD vendors support Macs (such as SolidWorks and CATIA), and so our Mac version uses importers from a third-party. We do not charge extra for our importers and plug-ins, and they can be downloaded from our Web site free.

Q: Tell me how KeyShot works with CAD programs.
A: We just provide a button inside the CAD program that you click, called Render. There is no need to export drawings; tessellation is taken care of automatically.

You don't even need to have KeyShot installed on your computer. When those free-of-charge plug-ins detect no KeyShot, they save data to our native .BIP format automatically; the file can be given to a computer running KeyShot.

Q: In setting up renderings, the big hassle for me is placing lights. You do things differently, right?
A: The key to KeyShot is that we don't mess with lights; we don't use lights. We use an HDR image which de facto implements the lighting, depending on the scene, such as inside a warehouse or out in the desert. (See figure 1.)

Figure 1: Specifying the environment in KeyShot sets up the lighting automatically.

Just in case there is too much or too little light, KeyShot Pro does let you adjust the brightness, saturation, hue, and other common parameters within the KeyShot HDRI Editor.

You can pin lights in the HDRI Editor and see them instantly in scenes, for instance to add a hotlight. As you move the light, the rendering is updated in realtime and you see the effect instantly. The color, shape, and location of pinned lights can be modified.

Q: What is new in the latest release of your software, KeyShot 3.3?
A: We have a partnership with DuPont Paint, so you can see what products like cars and airplanes look like with exact paint chips, even metallic paint. DuPont is interested in replacing those 2"x4" physical paint chips with digital paint chips.

You cannot edit the parameters of these paints in KeyShot (except for roughness), because they are exact matches to the DuPont line. Some are included free with KeyShot 3.3; for the other colors, you need to contact DuPont, because they have 300,000 paints in their library and we just can't include them all. In any case, a typical customer works with just a half-dozen or so colors for their entire product line.

Q: One of your new products is KeyShotVR. Tell me about it.
A: It came as a request from customers who wanted to be able to spin objects around in renderings - rather than just view the still shots we have produced until now. We didn't go with Quicktime VR (it is dead) or Flash (it is dying), but wrote our own "virtual reality" technology and patented it.

KeyShotVR does four types of VR, including turntable (rotate in a plane), spherical (360-degree rotation in all directions), hemispherical (360-degree on a plane), and custom. It does a real-time preview before rendering all the images, so that you know what to expect. (Smoother motion requires longer rendering time due to the larger number of frames.)

 The output is HTML5 and JavaScript code for Web sites; upon completion, it launches in your Web browser automatically. KeyShot VR works in any browser that handles HTML5, including on Androids and iPads. VR is available today as a $1,000 add-on and has a floating license.

Q: LuSt is also new. What is the name short for, and for whom is it intended?
A: LuSt is short for "Luxion Sabertooth," taking initials from both companies. The point to LuSt is that it is a Web-based platform meant for configurators, like at a kiosk in a car dealership made by advertising agencies. It lets teams of people change colors, components like car tires, and environments. (See figure 2.)

Figure 2: Sabertooth's Configurator uses KeyShot's engine to push renderings over the Internet to Web browsers.

It supports large organizations who need online, simultaneous users - like 12 users accessing the model on a 24-core system (each user gets two cores). This is not possible with GPU-based systems, because they cannot handle multi-user sessions. This can only be hosted on a CPU-based cloud, and would not work on a GPU-based one.

Q: Because I am not familiar with Sabertooth, can you tell me who they are?
A: They are an interactive content provider, such as for advertising agencies doing online configurators. For instance, they created all the interactive content for the Game of Thrones Web site.

They took our KeyShot engine (where we peeled off the UI, leaving just the API), and then run it remotely off a server - nothing is local. It minimizes the user interface. The demo of the Mustang I am showing you is made of six million polygons.

Q: Who would be your competitors?
A: Number one is the CAD companies themselves, because many have integrated rendering functions into their software. In this case, the IT departments of large firms especially will argue that a second rendering solution is not needed. But from ease of use and quality standpoint, we win hands down.

Another big competitor is inertia, people who don't render - even when it is free in their CAD package. They tell us, "We don't need renderings."

There so many other rendering systems out there, such as vRay, Maya, and 3dmax, but their users tend to be individuals who have rendering expertise, whereas we market to the masses with quick, high quality renderings for tasks like selling concepts, creating internal presentations, and exploring digital prototypes, as well as generating images and video good enough for marketing materials.

Q: What are some of your future plans for KeyShot?
A: We are answering the question, "What happens to a rendering where just one part of an assembly changes?" We showed earlier this year live-linking between KeyShot and CAD systems, specifically Creo, SolidWorks, and Rhino. When we release KeyShot 4 late this year, you will be able link from KeyShot back to the CAD program, establishing a live link. As you work on the 3D model, the new Update button will push only parts that have changed shape or position to KeyShot. The materials and animations of parts are retained, and so the re-rendering will be much quicker.

Q: How to you see the future of rendering developing?
A: The future of rendering is touted as being all-GPU, especially by nVidia. But we see GPU-based software as too hardware-specific. It needs multiple, special graphics boards, which limit the number of calculations they are able to perform for fast renderings; this just isn't going to happen on laptop computers. The majority of our customers are mobile, meaning they are running CAD on laptops, because they need to be able to move around the office and the world.

In contrast, we are 100% CPU-based. This lets us run on any recent computer. The only limit to our software is the amount of RAM in the computer; more RAM is better. KeyShot will use all cores and threads in the CPU 100%. You double the cores, CPUs, and/or threads in your computer, and we double speed of KeyShot. On a 64-core SuperMicro system, our software maxed out all 64 cores with no rewrite to the software.

Being CPU-based, any networked computer can be a slave in a render farm; no special graphics boards are used and no software is installed when firms run our separate KeyShot Network Rendering software (priced at $15/core/year). When office workers go home for the day, their computers' dual and quad cores can be utilized by our networked rendering software.

You didn't ask me about the cloud!

Q: I forgot. Sorry. What is Luxion doing about the cloud?
A: We have no cloud-based solution available yet, but we are getting requests of being able to upload models for rendering so that local machines are not tied up. The great concern from users, however, is over IP [intellectual property] leaking out of the design office.


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About the Author

Ralph Grabowski is one of the leading CAD journalists and authors, with over a 100 books and many hundreds of articles. His upFront.eZine may be the industry's longest running newsletter. Ralph holds a civil engineering degree. More...

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