Nils Piirma Revs Up Auto Renders with KeyShot

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Nils Piirma is a freelance product designer in Estonia, turning out logos, layout and web graphics, and models of all types of products – with an extreme speciality in automotive visualisations. He models full illustrations, subject and environment, and renders all of his work using KeyShot.

He started drawing cars as a boy in school, and was introduced to Solid Edge to create engineering models while still in high school. “That was the point I started concentrating on car modelling and design," Nils said. "I’ve followed every AUDI AG car launch since 2001, creating concept drawings of those cars. But eight years ago, I changed course somewhat, and started modelling scenery and assets for car renders, especially the Audis. Rendering cars is what I love, applying my own design and lighting to create the best visuals I can. The lines, shapes and curves are what I focus on most.”

Turning Point

About three years ago, custom wheels manufacturer BC FORGED UK approached Nils to render a car with their wheel design. “At that point, my career took off. After posting a single picture on an Estonian Facebook design community, I was approached by many more companies specialising in car design and aftermarket tuning. Since then I’ve been producing models of cars, boats, yachts, watches, houses and more. It’s a great feeling to have mastered such an important part of the product design process,” he said.

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Nils favours a total immersion approach to each project. He said, “I imagine the scenery in my head. No matter if it’s night or day, walking home from work or sleeping, my subconscious always seems to be working out ideas. I imagine all of the scenery beforehand, when shopping for a scene or HDRI online, or creating my own. I imagine the outcome and the perspective. I always start with this idea and continue to concentrate on this idea throughout the rendering process.”

He also discovered early on the importance of having love and passion for what you do, and tells aspiring automotive designers, “You have to have imagination to feed your interest. You achieve the best quality by looking at the details in car imagery, advertisements and real life. Imagination has no limits, and neither should you.”

Solid Edge, 3ds Max and Keyshot

His main modelling packages are Solid Edge and Autodesk 3ds Max. Solid Edge was a part of the curriculum at his high school. Since then, he has been drawn to its ease of use, interface, patterns and so on, and stayed with it. “3ds Max, on the other hand, was the main software I used to create abstract wallpapers for myself and my friends when I was around 16. Now, I use it almost every day to create and modify scenes and models,” Nils said.

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”I use KeyShot at certain points through the whole workflow, primarily when I’m finished with models, mods or scenery. As soon as I think I have everything set up, I import it into KeyShot, slap some materials on the models, and I can check the results straightaway. Having said that, of course, getting to the final render is always a race, but as I’m also a computer hardware engineer and work with high end computers, I continuously look for ways to improve what’s possible.”

Rendering Lights & Animation on the CPU

For Nils, the greatest value is in KeyShot’s lighting and animation, both of which he finds are quite easy to use and logical. KeyShotVR, Luxion’s KeyShot add-on for setting up interactive, touch-enabled views, also makes a substantial difference when his clients are indecisive about viewing angles. 360° visuals can be created directly inside KeyShot, together with the assets needed to post them online.

The content can be viewed using a mouse or finger on touch-enabled devices. It does not need a browser plugin to work and, to suit more devices, is not dependent on WebGL. Because it outputs a true, fully spherical 360° experience, you can use the camera as a pivot point to create a first person POV or panoramic shot, and rotate or zoom in and out. The zoom level is set when you create the project and the highest image quality is preserved while viewing.

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There are six different KeyShotVR project types including animated VRs. Nils said, “A simple 360° KeyShotVR animation always gets the client smiling.”

A critical factor for Nils in using KeyShot is its CPU-based rendering, which supports high performance at a lower cost without relying on specialist graphics cards - its performance depends on the number of CPU cores that can be dedicated to it. He said, “This alone is a huge benefit for render output and makes all the difference when you can take other computers - that may not even have graphics in them - and outsource them with KeyShot Network Rendering. Through testing and then using this facility to utilize 200 cores in a production environment, I get the necessary performance while spending less money on hardware."