Bunkspeed HyperShot (User Review)1 Feb, 2009 By: Gabriel Mathews
For one designer, real-time rendering is a dream come true.
The buzz around Bunkspeed's rendering software, HyperShot, had leaked into my office. I decided I wanted to take a week or two to test the free trial and see if the claims were true: final rendered scenes in real time and amazingly easy-to-achieve photorealism. HyperShot is a tool for all types of designers, from architects to artists and animators to aerospace engineers and jewelry makers, but I was curious to find out how HyperShot might fit into my own work as an industrial designer.
This review might propagate the buzz, because I found that — with a few small reservations — I must confirm the rumors. And I discovered other advantages unique to HyperShot that make simple sense for product designers.
The rendering application is available as a stand-alone product for both PC and Mac platforms. I'm an industrial designer and work in Rhinoceros, the NURBS modeling solution from McNeel. So I tested Bunkspeed with its Rhino plug-in, which was a beta version at the time.
To give you some background, typically I use a different add-on rendering engine for Rhino. I build in all my rendering materials and apply them in series: The process is click-and-apply, click-and-apply, click-and-apply, then finally click to render. The rendering application pops up, and it starts rendering. The renders can take from 2 minutes for a simple rendering to as long as 4 hours for a really complicated one. My day-to-day work — which isn't supercomplex — takes 20 minutes on average to render.
With HyperShot, the plug-in interface would be familiar to most 3D users, but there is already a major difference right at the outset. My model loads into a lighting scene first. I still apply my materials one-by-one, but in HyperShot, I get to see the 3D scene change with each step along the way. In just a couple seconds, the material appears on the model in that environment, including all the final shadows, highlights, and reflections (figure 1). HyperShot continually renders into higher and higher resolutions. If you let it go just a few seconds more, you really get the clean and crisp photorealism that you'd expect from a final rendering, not a preview.
Figure 1. Putting some glamour in your product is easy and impressive with HyperShot. The rubber on the knobs and plastic finishes used here come standard.
So right away, I've got a model in the 3D scene that I can use, and I can immediately add or change materials to my surfaces to see how it's going to look within a few seconds. What I think most people like about HyperShot is this instant gratification. Everything about HyperShot emphasizes a faster timeline for the designer — the program's loading time, the rendering process time, and the ability to make quick modifications to the 3D composition.
As for model setup for HyperShot, there's not a lot of difference from the conventional renderers out there. One thing I had to learn was to change the groupings of surfaces in Rhino to correspond to the materials, not how they might be grouped during the building of the model. If I apply a material in HyperShot, it colors every item in the group. But this adjustment is rather easy to do after you've figured it out.
When you begin rendering within this 3D environment, it's also possible to tweak the lighting, rescale or reposition the model, or change the camera vantage point. Again, the scene will re-render automatically after each adjustment. It makes the overall composition of any scene much easier for designers to achieve than using some of the other popular rendering tools.
Advancement in Effects
A couple of interesting new features in HyperShot really help designers get the illusion of reality instantly.
One of the first steps of rendering in HyperShot is choosing an environmental file — a predesigned global lighting scheme along with background imagery. HyperShot offers several free packages of preset environments when you download the application. Called high-dynamic range imaging (HDRI), they basically are 360-degree photo backgrounds with the lighting captured from where the picture was taken. They are very effective in instantly creating a realistic context for a product. Any shiny material you use will pick up the reflections from the image. Again, HyperShot does this function automatically, and the results are very convincing.
Another subtle effect is the soft shadow. HyperShot automatically generates soft shadows at the base of the object for whatever you set as the ground plane in your model. As a test, I used a photograph of my desk as my HyperShot background, then matched the ground plane of my model of a computer mouse (rendered in HyperShot) to the desk surface (figure 2). The instant it renders, you get the illusion of depth from both the ground shadow and the shading of the object itself. Both effects are calculated in real time. It doesn't take much work to composite a model into an HDRI background and seamlessly blend it into the scene.
Figure 2. The background here is an actual photo of the author's desk. The mouse model was rendered in HyperShot. This image is essentially what you see when you preview the rendering — the entire global lighting scheme, realistic materials, and shadows — in just a few seconds.
This kind of effective shadowing is what designers have always wanted. The subtle shadows down at the base are not the regular 1980s animation that cause harsh shadow lines. No longer will I waste countless hours fussing around to figure out those perfect shadows. When you've got deadlines, creating this kind of high-quality output with minimal controls is priceless.
HyperShot also heightens reality with its extensive and very easy-to-maneuver materials library, filled with the exact likenesses of the plastics, metals, and finishes of finished products.
In my original rendering program, I have to build every material I want to use. Preset materials are available, but they rarely match what I need; they include stock materials such as clear glass, glossy plastic, or matte plastic, and they usually are red and black. I have to pick my desired color, build a bump file in Photoshop, import it, and then set it to the bump channel.
In HyperShot, all these real colors and materials already are on the palette bar, ready for application on the model. Bottom line: They look great, and there's no setup time. If I need to change them, I can make my own materials easily or tweak the ones that are there.
As with every software review, I must tell you about the learning curve, that it takes some time to get up to speed, and so on. It took me some experimentation to get used to how HyperShot operates, especially those small differences in functionality that I've already mentioned.
One of few complaints I have with the program is that the hot-key commands aren't customizable, as in most design tools. I am instinctively used to certain keystrokes to navigate Rhinoceros, and they differ in HyperShot. The program does have a nice cheat sheet of commands that you can have open on the screen, but I keep catching myself using my usual buttons, and it's an annoyance. As far as customizing the layout of tools and windows in the work area, however, HyperShot is great.
I also noticed that several settings and control functions worked reliably, but they could be improved to give users quicker access or perhaps offer more visual cues for adjusting settings (using slide bars rather than just numerical entries, for example). Given that this software is a version 1 release, I'm willing to give Bunkspeed a pass. All these user-interface issues are relatively minor. In future versions, I expect Bunkspeed will turn its attention to these nuances.
Playing at a New Level
The real meat of the argument, of course, is the core programming of the real-time rendering technology, which in my opinion, Bunkspeed has mastered. For a product designer, HyperShot is a dream application. It has all the features I want, and I immediately have the results I need to see how colors, materials, and finishes look together. You can just compare what comes out of the previews of other popular rendering solutions to what you get in HyperShot, and the choice is obvious. HyperShot blows the competition out of the water.
Gabriel Mathews is an industrial designer at Con-Cor in Portland, Oregon.