MSR Pocket Rocket Animation

This compact backpacking stove was modeled, rendered and animated as an example for a couple of workshops I presented at KeyShot RenderWorld 2018.

Project Origin

At the third annual KeyShot RenderWorld conference I presented two workshops. Each focused on ways to improve your KeyShot skills. One workshop focused on efficient 3D rendering workflow for professionals. The other focused on advanced animation techniques within KeyShot. To illustrate my workflow and animation processes, I presented live demonstrations. Each demo featured a camping stove model I created using Autodesk Fusion 360. I created an animation using the camping stove to show off KeyShot Animation capabilities.

Planning on Paper

As an industrial designer, I rely on the tried-and-true method of using pen and paper to plan out each project. This is a time saver. It’s also crucial to gaining support from others.

On paper I:

  • Decided what product to model and animate

  • Planned the assembly structure (to offer freedom during the animation process)

  • Chose some cinematic references for inspiration *cough, 2001: A Space Odyssey, cough*

  • Storyboarded each shot focusing on composition

  • Annotated each thumbnail with what animations to apply and how

  • Built a schedule as I had to knock this out in less than one week

The process was quite straight-forward. I own this beautifully-well-designed backpacking stove, designed and manufactured by MSR. I used it for reference and first created a 3D model using Autodesk Fusion 360. I chose to model as many details as possible to enhance the effectiveness of the final animation. KeyShot animations are also easier to make using properly-nested CAD assemblies.

3D Modeling

I began using Fusion 360 for 3D CAD Modeling about 2.5 years ago. While it’s not the most feature-rich, I use it to build models for product design and visualization. I’ve become quick at using it, so I decided to build my model in Fusion 360.

As an Eagles Scout, I’ve always appreciated well-designed, utilitarian objects. This stove is no exception. With various articulating parts, I thought it’d be a great subject for this animation. Using the actual model for reference and my digital calipers, I began blocking in the model in Fusion 360. I organized the scene tree to resemble my on-paper plan. The exact hierarchy is crucial to making the model easy to animate in KeyShot. Parent-child relationships and assembly structure is what determines grouping and axis for rotations.

Periodically, I used the Fusion 360 plugin to send the model to KeyShot in a semi-finished state. There, I’d test the assembly for animation ease-of-use. Once happy with the joints and assembly, I poured another cup of tea, put on some sci-fi soundtracks and powered through the modeling process, detailing out all the little bits. I wanted to capture as much detail in the model to reduce work on the material creation front. Also, knowing I’d be creating some very close-up shots, I wanted the details to be in the geometry. 

Teamwork

I was grateful to find all parties involved to be professional, highly-responsive and generally on top of things. For reference, I received a set of images where the talent (fitness instructors) were running on a prototype treadmill in a studio setting. I would use these images to match perspective and camera angles for the final renderings.

Animation with KeyShot

Once the model was complete, I saved it as a Step file and imported it into KeyShot. KeyShot’s Geometry View is an OpenGL window that results in smoother animation playback all while the Real-time view is paused. Using the Geometry View, made it easy to view the final shot while animating the model. I animated in the geometry view while keeping an eye on my final shot in the Real-time view. When under a tight deadline, efficiency is key.
 
The approach to animation was like the modeling process. Start with blocking in the major movements. Then, establish each camera and its composition. Once I was happy with the animation speed, I finessed details like speed ramps and framing.
 
I also chose to distribute the movements between the cameras and model as much as possible. For instance, in the beginning, it looks like the stove is flying toward the camera. Instead, I had the camera dolly to the stove because it was simpler. Keeping the stove in its original location made framing easier as well as reassembly.
 
Finally, I rendered out a low-resolution animation preview to check my work. Thais happens within KeyShot’s animation timeline. It took a few minutes and I had a good idea of what the final animation would look like.

Creating a Mood

I mentioned above that 2001: A Space Odyssey was a major inspiration for this animation. The ethereal delicacy Kubrick injected into the ships of 2001 inspired me. I wanted the viewer to feel like she was in space, observing a beautiful feat of engineering and design. The long, slow, opening shot builds anticipation. This comes right from Kubrick’s masterpiece. The goal was to create lighting like what’s seen in outer-space photos. I built the single, bright directional light source, then filled in from there

Creating Materials in KeyShot

After completing the animation, I needed to create the materials for this stove. The materials play a large part in this product’s function. The patina and discoloration from the open flame create some beautiful, colorful gradients. I always love a material-creation challenge in KeyShot! My approach was to create a separate KeyShot file for material creation. I build the materials in a balanced, studio environment. This allows me to match what I see by eye and ensure that materials will work in a majority of lighting scenarios.

Once again, to manage my time, I block in the base materials. Beginning with material type and color keeps me moving. Next, it’s time to add textures and then finish off with wear, and imperfections. While the wear and imperfections can be fun, it’s important start with accurate material properties. IoR and Specular values are important when dealing with lots of metallic materials.

After completing the materials, I saved them to KeyShot’s library and created a Material Template. Material Templates are super-underrated features of KeyShot. They allow you to assign a bunch of materials to a model with one click. By mapping and finessing the textures on the model in a studio environment, I was able to build the materials as quickly as possible.

Returning to the animated KeyShot file, I applied my material template. And in one click, all my materials were properly applied.

Lighting the Animation

Since I wanted to pursue that outer-space feeling, I knew that I had to create a lighting setup that’s like outer space. This meant a major light source to be the ‘sun’ or bright, omnidirectional light. I used fill lights to make sure the animation was bright enough. Creating some subtle, soft and cool lights, I mimicked the glow of the earth’s atmosphere.

I wanted the stove to remind us of photos of the space station hovering above Earth’s atmosphere.

In the end, I used area lights applied to various-sized planes for light sources. This produced nice falloff and ease of control when it came to shadow sharpness. Finally, using physical lights allowed me to animate them if I wanted to have further control over how the light danced across the model.

Rendering the Animation

After lighting, it was time to render out the frames. I chose to use Adobe Premiere Pro to compile and edit the animation. This meant I’d use KeyShot to render out an image frame sequence. Final resolution would be at 1920 x 1080p for typical HD. I chose to render in EXR format for a couple of reasons.

EXR is a lossless, 32-bit extension that allows for tonemapping, color correction and grading. It does this while avoiding banding and color loss. I do this to fix the blown-out specular reflections on the metals and play with curves. The goal is to match what our eye would see.

Another consideration is the challenge of fireflies or hot, white pixels. This is a common challenge in rendering. It’s made worse when working with metals and physical lights. I increased Material Samples on both the lights and the materials to try to reduce the fireflies. In the end, there’s a shot with visible fireflies that really bums me out. I didn’t have my settings high enough and that’s what I get.

Luckily, since this was a project for Luxion, I could use their Network Rendering hardware to render this animation over a single weekend. I rendered 60 frames-per-second. This gave me very smooth motion and allows me to create speed ramps without jumpy playback. The downside here is that it doubled the number of frames I had to render.

Editing the Animation

Once I had my frame sequence, I imported it into Premiere Pro. Another benefit of working with a frame sequence is that if you need to, you can re-order the frames to re-sequence the animation. Not ideal, but certainly possible. I tracked down a music piece and tried to match cuts to the beat of the track as much as possible to add some emotion. I made subtle adjustments to the order of the animation, and added some speed ramps to make it more dynamic.

After color-correcting, color grading and using a LUT to give this a more cinematic feel, I created the credit card at the end. Then, I set my export settings and rendered out the final animation.

Video Property of Luxion, Inc

Video Property of Luxion, Inc

Conclusion

I shared this entire process over the course of two workshops at RenderWorld 2018. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share with others, what I enjoy doing and learning about so much myself. If you’d like to watch the recorded workshops, you can find them on Luxion’s YouTube channel or embedded below.