Making Short Work of Rendering Workflows with SOLIDWORKS Visualize
More and more, rendering is becoming an important part of an engineer’s job. Today, it’s not uncommon for engineers to have to produce compelling visuals for both marketing and the C-suite in order to sell their ideas. That represents a shift in the responsibilities of everyday designers who’ve already got enough on their plate. With more responsibilities stacking up, there’s increased demand for rendering software to be simple and quick to use.
In the past, if an engineering firm needed to showcase stunning visuals in front of an audience, they’d often look to dedicated rendering expertise at graphic arts studios to do the dirty work of transforming their CAD models into something more seductive. Using layered workflows of specialized software, these visual wizards could transmute objects that only existed in the digital realm into convincingly realistic facsimiles with all of the aesthetic qualities of a real product without ever being actualized. What’s more, no engineer time was used to create such awesome images and content.
In today’s engineering world, firms have learned that they don’t have to release their valuable IP to third parties or use specialized software to achieve photorealistic rendering results. Instead, CAD packages are coming equipped with an ever-growing arsenal of rendering tools or packages that make creating an image simple. Take, for example, SOLIDWORKS Visualize.
SOLIDWORKS Visualize is a standalone rendering package from Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS. Within its minimal layout, engineers are presented with only the tools that they’ll need to make clean, crisp images. In Visualize, the rendering workflow is straightforward. With a model imported into Visualize, users only need to complete three steps in order to export a high quality render.
Importing a Model and Adding a Scene
At its most basic level, a rendering studio has to be an open forum, free of file type biases. If a studio can’t handle a file type, then its use is limited. Apparently, Visualize’s designers took that idea to heart as the software supports 25 of the most popular file formats including Inventor, CATIA, Rhino, Creo, STLs and more.
Similar to other programs, Visualize’s import process is straightforward. Choose a file, choose the quality of mesh that you’d like to import and then presto, the geometry appears in a scene.
Well, sort of.
At the outset, Visualize doesn’t assume that it knows what kind of scene you’re going to need. Some products require an indoor scene, others benefit from a render that’s outdoors. Whatever your project might require, Visualize has an environment option for you.
For this test, the model I’ll be using would do best with an indoor scene.
To add a scene, users simply click the scene icon located in the Visualize toolbar. With the scene options enabled, a series of scene “environments” are displayed. Each environment is a high dynamic range (HDR) image, containing all the lighting, shadow and reflection information in one simple file. Users can also add a matching backplate and lights to their scene for even more control.
Though Visualize has a number of stock environments, none of them are completely fixed. For each environment, variables such as caustics, reflections, shadows and light intensity can be adjusted to better suit the scene.
To add an environment to a scene, users simply click on the setup they prefer and drag it into their scene. Within seconds, the environment appears and Visualize begins calculating the render, displaying a live preview of the scene.
Adding Materials to a Model
After deciding on a scene, the next stop along my Visualize workflow is Appearances. Like other rendering studios, Visualize comes stocked with a load of materials to create a photorealistic look for a product render. Whether you’re looking for wood, glass, metal, plastics or even composites, Visualize’s Appearances department has you covered.
To add materials to a project, a user must sift through material choices, select the appearance that fits their need and drag it onto their model. Once applied, a preview of what the material will look like when mapped to the model appears.
Similar to its Scene feature, all of Visualize’s materials can be edited by the user to change a scene’s appearance. If a gold is too rosy or a paint just a shade too red, a few adjustments of a slider can bring the material that a user is looking for to life.
For my model, I chose a mix of rubber, gold, wood and metallic painted material to show off the quality of Visualize’s material library.
Setting Up Cameras
With materials now in place, it’s time to set up the camera, or cameras, that will frame a user’s render.
Like each previous step in the Visualize process, setting up cameras is painless. To add a new camera, users can right click in the Camera menu and drop in as many lenses as they need. Once a user has the appropriate complement of cameras for the scene, they can begin positioning them using sliders or simply moving the camera in the viewport. In addition to positioning, all cameras in Visualize can be tweaked to leverage depth of field, focal length and several other features.
Exporting a Final Product
The final step in the Visualize workflow is, of course, exporting the render. While users have been able to preview what their model will look like throughout the render setup process, the results they’ve been viewing in Preview mode are far from what they can expect from the final image. To get the full, photorealistic effect that Visualize can achieve, users can simply turn on live raytracing in the Viewport using either Fast or Accurate mode. Once satisfied with the materials, environment and camera, users can simply export a render.
Using Visualize’s Output Tools, users have the ability to define their render’s output size, its resolution, the quality of their render and whether it should be processed using CPUs, GPUs or a hybrid combination of the two. With all of the relevant output options selected, users just have to click Start Render to send Visualize on its way.
After 20 minutes, a photorealistic render appears. Not bad for 10 minutes of work!
As rendering’s role in product design continues to grow, engineers will need to incorporate more advanced tools that can produce photo-realistic visuals rapidly. In the near future, CAD packages might integrate rendering so deeply into their DNA that it’s impossible to distinguish where the engineering elements of a software end and a rendering studio begins. But if rendering is expected to take an outsized role in engineering, studios will have to continue to make rendering workflows straightforward and simple.
That’s something that SOLIDWORKS Visualize has been able to do.
About the Author
Kyle Maxey is a mechanical designer and writer from Austin, TX. He earned a degree in Film at Bard College and has since studied Mechanical and Architectural drafting at Austin Community College. As a designer Kyle has had vast experience with CAD software and rapid prototyping. One day he dreams of becoming a toy designer.