Rendering with PhotoView 360

I’ve been using SOLIDWORKS since the first year of my aerospace engineering degree in 2007. My cohort took one module of CAD and technical drawing to show us the basics and we were basically left to fend for ourselves after that.

Fast forward to my final year of school, three years later. I had gotten pretty good at modeling, so my thesis was full of pretty black and white models, which amounted to not much more than screencaps of isometric drawings. I submitted my thesis, left university and carried on teaching myself the software in my newly acquired free time.

Exactly one week after leaving university, I was going through the software and looking at the add-ins, when I noticed one in particular. It was labeled “PhotoWorks,” and I loaded the add-in. I looked at the options and saw a phrase that I had heard from my 3D animation friends, but had not seen in my CAD course. There was an icon in the screen with the words “final render” written on it. I clicked the icon, and my ancient desktop PC fan started groaning under the CPU load. I wondered, what was this? What was happening to my CAD model? It was transforming into something else—it was rendering.

After about 45 minutes, my hitherto textureless model had been born again—with photorealistic lighting and materials and everything. I kicked myself for not knowing about this function a month sooner. My thesis would have been far prettier with this rendered model included.

So that was my introduction to rendering. Six years later, the rendering engine has evolved somewhat (and hopefully, so have I).

In addition to showing you the basics of rendering, I will be taking a look at some of the new features available in PhotoView 360. PhotoView 360 is basically the upgraded render engine in SOLIDWORKS, which has a bunch of nice new features bundled with SOLIDWORKS 2016—and which we will look at later.

Air Motor

I was considering what sort of model I should use to show off the new features in this tutorial, and I settled with an old project that I had worked on back in my aerospace engineering program: an air motor.

I chose this for a few reasons. The air motors that we built in the workshop were constructed from different materials, having an aluminum cylinder, a painted steel base, a brass cam and a polished steel flywheel. These different materials and textures will demonstrate the different appearances that can be achieved in PhotoView 360.

Also, the air motor has moving parts, so I can show you some of the newer features too (motion blur!).

So let’s begin.

Assigning Appearances

The SLDASM assembly file has been loaded into SOLIDWORKS and is a uniform gray color (Figure 1), which was the default color used during the modeling process.

Figure 1. The air motor assembly, in default gray color (trimetric view).

First, let’s look at the Material Selection hierarchy.

In the Feature Manager design tree, select the part, body or feature. Clicking the mouse (right button) will bring up the Context Tool bar. On that menu, you will see a multicolored sphere icon with a little arrow next to it. Hovering over this icon will display the name of the icon—in this case, the icon is named Appearances. You can also right-click on the part itself in the graphics area and access this icon.

Clicking this icon will open a drop-down menu, which displays the Appearance hierarchy for this particular part.

This is demonstrated in Figure 2. At the very top of the hierarchy, you can see the word “CYLINDER” next to an icon representing the Assembly level of the hierarchy. Appearances applied at this level will override any appearances applied at the lower levels. However, appearances applied at this level will not be stored in the individual SLDPRT file—only in the assembly file.

Figure 2. The Appearance hierarchy tree.

Appearances applied at the next level (Face) will override those that are at lower levels and so on. We don’t particularly wish to apply different colors or appearances to each individual face in this instance. In real life, this part would be machined from a piece of aluminum, so we can go down to the bottom of the hierarchy and apply the appearance to the PART level.

Clicking any of the options within the hierarchy will open the Appearances, Scenes and Decals panel on the right hand side of the screen. Select the little arrow next to Appearances to expand the various types of appearance folders will be displayed. For this case, I opened the Metals folder and selected polished aluminum. This will give the entire cylinder part an aluminum finish. Any appearances applied below the assembly level will be saved in the individual SLDPRT file.

So by following the above procedure, I can apply different appearances to the individual parts from within the graphics area. You can see the results in Figure 3.

Figure 3. The appearances have been added to the model.

Selecting a Scene

Clicking on the Scenes icon in the Appearances, Scenes and Decals panel will open a drop-down menu that offers a variety of scenes for your model. Scenes consist of background images and lighting configurations. Figure 4 shows an example of one scene in particular. In this case, I have selected Scenes > Presentation Scenes > Office Space background. Double-click the selected scene, or drag it into the main area to apply it. I was not happy with the office scene, so I selected another, a generic one called Studio Room 2” (Figure 5). As you can see, some scenes have imagery in the background, while some have no imagery. Personally, I prefer the blank ones, as the lighting effects appear more pronounced in my opinion.

Figure 4. Office background.

image005Figure 5. Studio Room 2 background.

Ready to Render

Now the appearances and scene have been set and we are ready to render. First, we need to load PhotoView 360 into SOLIDWORKS. This can be achieved by clicking the SOLIDWORKS Add-Ins tab in the Command Manager and selecting the PhotoView 360 box in the menu. This will create a new tab next to the Add-Ins tab labeled Render Tools.

Figure 6. The render options.

The Render Tools tab is where you can set all of your render options and it contains some features that are new and updated in SOLIDWORKS 2016.

The first updated feature I will mention is the Preview Window. Clicking this icon will invoke a small pop-up window that shows a preview of the render. It takes much less time to render the window due to its smaller size and resolution—and because it doesn’t utilize all of the same rendering effects as the final render. Unsurprisingly, it is very useful for getting a quick preview to see how a small change in settings will affect the final render. New to the 2016 edition is the inclusion of a resolution slider at the bottom of the Preview Window. Moving this slider to the right adjusts the rendering effects of the preview (but takes a little longer to render), while sliding it to the left has the exact opposite effect.

In the render preview image below (Figure 7), I have decided that I do not like the color of the main base plate on my air motor model (so I changed it to a wooden finish). I am also unhappy with some of the lighting effects, so I play with the lighting settings (by default located in the Lighting tab of the Scene Property Manager in PhotoView 360) until I am happy with the preview. Typically, a higher value for reflections, refractions and so on will increase the render time. Using the render preview allows us to see how changes to appearance, scene and lighting will affect the final render without having to wait for a full render.

Figure 7. Render preview image, which looks a little bright (note my CPU warning in the top right, indicating that rendering is intensive).

Scene Illumination Proof Sheet

Still on the subject of scene lighting, another addition to SOLIDWORKS 2016 is the Scene Illumination Proof Sheet. This is much like a proof sheet that you may see in the photography industry or in graphic design. Clicking the icon will render your light settings and will display a new panel of tiles, each showing a rendered model with variations of the illumination settings (Figure 8).

The main settings under scrutiny are the render brightness, background brightness and scene reflectivity. Moving the increment slider allows us to alter the settings (coarse or fine) and we can see the changes as they are applied to the tiles. Selecting a new tile containing a rendered image will set this tile as the new baseline and we can iterate and play with it until we are happy with the results. We can switch between the correctly selected tile and the original image at any time by switching between the two tabs marked Original and Current Selection in the center of the panel.

Figure 8. Scene Illumination Proof Sheet.

Motion Blur

Another cool feature of SOLIDWORKS 2016 is the ability to add motion blur to static renders and animations in PhotoView 360.

This article will not focus on how to create animations, but you can find a nice video here that will explain how to achieve this.

So let’s assume that you know how to use the motion study function and that you have created an animation. Clicking the save animation icon in the motion study window will open up a Save dialog box (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Save dialog box.

Select PhotoView 360 from the renderer drop-down menu and check the motion blur checkbox. Select the image size and aspect ratio and click on Save. The animation will begin to render.

If you want to capture a static image of the assembly in action, complete with motion blur, then simply move to the frame you wish to capture within the motion study window and press Final Render in the Render Options ribbon at the top of the screen.

Whether you want motion blur or not, when you do push the Final Render button, you will be greeted with another new addition to this latest version of PhotoView 360. Remember that pop-up window in previous versions that would encourage you to select a perspective view or add a camera? Well, that is back with a few more options for generating realistic renderings. You are no longer provided with a recommendation in a dialog box, but instead are provided with a list of options. These are:

  • Add a Camera: Cancels the current rendering and opens the Camera Property Manager to let you add a camera; to continue rendering using the camera, click Preview Window, Integrated Preview, or Final Render
  • Turn on Perspective View: Turns on Perspective View and lets you continue with the rendering
  • Continue without Camera or Perspective: Continues the current rendering without turning on perspective or adding a camera; you can select one of these options and await your final render, as with previous versions

Figure 10. Close-up of final render with motion blur.

Figure 11. Comparison of render with and without motion blur.

So there you have it. That is how you render in PhotoView 360 and you have seen most of the new additions to SOLIDWORKS 2016.

There is one more new feature that I have not covered in depth, but it is a pretty elementary feature and is very easy to grasp.

In this latest version, you can include dimensions and annotations in a final PhotoView 360 rendering if they are currently visible in a part or assembly. It’s that simple. If they are visible in the part or assembly, then simply render as usual and they will appear in the final render. This is a nice touch actually and I am surprised it has taken so long to add this feature.

Hopefully, my little guide has been informative to you. It certainly has been informative for me to write it—this is the first time I have ever tried to render an animation as my computer is so ancient it would take days to complete usually. Thankfully, I have a friend with a decent graphics card who loaned me her computer!

For those who are interested in my first crude attempt at motion blurred animations, you can take a look at the video below.


About the Author

keane 2

Phillip Keane is currently studying his PhD at the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His background is in aerospace engineering, and his current studies are focused on the use of 3D-printed components in spaceflight. He previously worked at Rolls-Royce and Airbus Military and served as an intern for Made In Space and the European Southern Observatory.

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