Daniele Di Donato Lights and Textures His 3D World with Keyshot

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3D Artist Daniele Di Donato has been interested in computer graphics since he was young, and grew up watching movies with lots of visual effects and playing video games whose graphics improved steadily, year by year. “I was fascinated by this world, and began studying 3D graphics online, watching tutorials and, finally, taking a course at Academy of Fine Arts. It was there that I improved my knowledge in 3D and digital arts. Now, every day, I try to improve and learn new techniques.” 

His decision to follow the example of popular artist Mike Winkelmann, more widely known as Beeple, marked a turning point in his career. “He is a very interesting artist that changed the way I view my work. He publishes an artwork every day, and I thought, 'Why don’t I do the same?' When I started my own daily art project in June 2017, the first few days were hard – I realised that my workflow was not so good and my ideas were not clear but every day became easier.

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Finding Direction

“Before this big project, I was only doing small exercises or personal work. I have never been as productive and organized as I am now, while at the same time refining a style different from other 3D artists. My workflow is a lot better and I want to continue this project as long as I can.” 

What is unusual about Daniele's approach is that he prefers to start a project with only a rough idea of the direction it should take. “During the production, I define and evolve my initial idea, sometimes totally changing it. I use reference images as guidelines to keep me focused on the result I want to achieve. I like to work with simple geometry, to give more importance to the composition and to the final image. My style is very technical, geometric and, I hope, unique.”

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Daniele uses Autodesk Maya for all of his work, and commented, “It's not the simplest software for 3D modelling but because it’s one of the most popular, you’ll find a lot of tutorials and useful plugins online. Simply customizing hotkeys and menus will improve your productivity with it quite a bit, and once you feel comfortable with Maya, you can model very quickly.”

When working on the image composition, he likes to use KeyShot real-time ray-tracing and global illumination software for 3D rendering and animation to produce a fast preview of what the final result could be. He prefers to create visualisations of this type using KeyShot instead of the viewport in Maya. “It’s extremely easy to import and update the meshes from Maya to KeyShot. It has a library of materials and HDRI images that open up a lot of possibilities without losing time. When I’m satisfied with the composition, I set up the final appearance in KeyShot by applying textures before I run the final render.”

Fast and Simple

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Daniele described two important aspects of KeyShot that make it practical and very useful to 3D artists - simplicity and speed. It works by directly importing models from a user's host 3D software. Once a model is inside KeyShot, any of about 600 scientifically accurate material presets can be applied, and the real-time 3D view instantly shows how the applied material appears on the model with accurate colour and lighting.

The lighting, and how it interacts with the models, colours and finishes, is also very accurate and realistic because it is introduced by selecting a HDRI image from the Keyshot resources. Finally, you can adjust the camera in the same way as a real camera – changing angle and distance, controlling perspective with focal length and field of view settings and adding depth of field to a scene.

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KeyShot directly imports a huge number of 3D file formats from most modelling applications without using a plugin, but several package-specific plugins have been developed. They transfer 3D data and model information faster – linking the 3D software and KeyShot together, rather than putting KeyShot inside the application - and deliver tighter integration, making the workflow quite fast overall. 

Maya to Keyshot

The Maya plugin, for example, retains parts materials and layers and the hierarchy of objects created in a scene tree, and supports part and camera animation, and hair. It also has LiveLinking, which means you can continue to work in Maya after the initial transfer to KeyShot. At any point you can immediately update your designs in KeyShot. Only the changed parts and layers will be transferred to KeyShot, without losing any materials, animations, lighting or camera set-up.

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“The KeyShot library is really good – it has everything you need for renders. You can also customize your own materials and HDRI environments very easily, and see all the changes in real time,” Daniele said. When KeyShot 7 was released in August 2017, the resources library was improved at the same time with new HDRI environments from Aversis 3D visualization service and new photorealistic textures from Poliigon, a photorealistic texture developer. For environments, Aversis supplied ten 3K and ten 6K HDRI environments, and Poliigon added over 150 3K textures for bricks, concrete, fabric, wood flooring and similar materials.   

Regarding speed, Daniele said, “Keyshot render times are excellent, even on my old notebook, and I find the render options are easy to understand. Furthermore, because the KeyShot plugins make it easy to import and update meshes from different modelling software, it is important to have even during the modelling phase.” 

About Style

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He also has some advice for artists interested in doing what he does. “Just do it. It’s not hard, but you do have to work - just don’t give up or demoralize yourself by looking at works of other artists,” he said. “They may be better than you, of course, but it’s mainly a matter of time, experience and personal style. I think it’s very important to find your own recognizable style. If you have talent but you follow what everyone else does, you won’t set yourself apart. You need something special - your own style.

“Promise yourself to keep going, improve yourself, improve your art. Focus on simplicity, on what inspires you, on what you want to communicate. Popularity is just a number. You’ll know you’re doing well when you publish a work you’re happy with. Find your own style and take care of it, practice what you like, try something different, have fun!”  www.keyshot.com