Surveillance Drone

The surveillance drone is a teaching tool. With it, I’ve taught hundreds of designers and engineers how to make KeyShot animations.

Project Summary

I’ve performed dozens of on-site KeyShot (software) training. As Luxion’s Global Training Specialist, I’m fortunate to have trained hundreds of designers. KeyShot allows designers to visualize their ideas through photo-realistic rendering and animation. As a trainer, I provide groups with 3D files to practice and learn with while teaching the course. I optimize each 3D file to teach specific tools within KeyShot. The drone is all about creating animations with many pivots.

Project Origin

For each major release of KeyShot, we create new 3D assets to go with new learning content. For the release of KeyShot 7, I designed and modeled this surveillance drone. The goal was to end up with a cool, fun model to teach best practices when animating in KeyShot. This also gave me an opportunity to focus on refining my modeling and animation process.


Every project begins with image reference. Maintaining student attention can be a challenge when teaching three consecutive eight-hour days. One way to combat boredom or distraction is to provide attendees with cool models to work with. With most students being male engineers and designers, I drew inspiration from machines. Below are some of the images I used as reference.  
Source left to right:  Image 1 – Image 2 – Image 3 – Image 4  


Relying on my industrial design roots, I started to sketch ideas on paper. Exploring forms, details and mechanical assemblies, the drone began to take shape. A specific helicopter rotor design lead me to thinking about aerial vehicles. With drones being recent consumer electronics, the design should be recognizable to trainees.

I also had to consider the organization of the CAD assembly. How you build the model determines ease of animation within KeyShot. Because of this, a little planning up front can save many hours down the road.

3D Modeling in Solidworks

Once I had my rough blueprints on paper, I blocked the model in using Solidworks 2017. I’d been using Solidworks on and off since 2010, so I was pretty comfortable with the program. But when creating a model for KeyShot animation, the approach requires proper assembly structure. To make sure I didn’t waste time, I used basic shapes to represent each moving part of the drone. This only took about 30 minutes. Then, using the Solidworks KeyShot plugin, I sent the model to KeyShot for evaluation.

I tried to animate each part to confirm my assembly structure. When I saw that some parts weren’t moving right, I returned to Solidworks to fix the assembly. I repeated this process until the model behaved the way I wanted it to. This process took another hour or so.

The assembly structure was complete. I spent the next few days detailing each part and refining surfaces. This is my preferred approach to modeling. The assembly structure was complete leaving me free to spend as much time as I had on details.

Animating and Rendering in KeyShot

Once the 3D model was complete, I exported the assembly and imported it into KeyShot. Next, it was time to bring the drone to life through animation. This part went quite fast as I was already familiar with how each part would move. That’s another perk to the earlier process of validating the assembly structure.

While KeyShot’s animation tools are very simple. But, you can stack transforms to create believable motion. I blocked in the animation starting with the broad strokes. This included rotating propellers and liftoff and flight path. I spent another day or so adding details like subtle pitch and roll as well as camera movements.

I validated the motion with KeyShot’s Animation Preview tool . I sent the finished animation to Luxion’s network of computers to render the final frames. This rendered over the weekend and the following Monday, I assembled the frames with Premiere Pro. I used Premiere Pro to speed up the animation. At first, the drone moved too slow, making it appear larger and heavier than it was. After speeding up the frames and exporting, the animation was complete.

Project Outcome

The surveillance drone has allowed me to teach many how to animate using KeyShot. Further, it’s helped designers and engineers learn how to model for maximum flexibility in KeyShot. What’s more, is that it’s a cool enough model that trainees try to create compelling animations with it.

And because of my process, I finished the entire project in under 10 working days. I used the drone in a couple of webinars too. It was a great use of time and the return on investment has been well worth it.

Lessons Learned

I’d love to have put more detail into the model or create more elaborate animations. Overall, it was a success. The big takeaway for me was the importance of a time-saving process. Planning out the model on paper and validating the assembly structure saved time. Using the block-in method for both the model and the animation also was a big time-saver. I’ve continued to use these techniques since


I created this model and these animations for Luxion with Luxion resources. Luxion, Inc owns this data and intellectual property. I just want to share my process with you here as part of my design portfolio. Thanks for looking.

PortfolioWill GibbonsComment