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Will Gibbons on KeyShot, YouTube & Creating Educational Content

3D Artist and Content Creator Will Gibbons told us about his experience with KeyShot, spoke about the behind-the-scenes of creating educational content, explained why his YouTube channel is his portfolio, and shared an insightful breakdown of the Whiskey Glass Animation project.


80.lv: Please tell us about yourself and your path.

Will Gibbons, 3D Artist and Content Creator: My name is Will Gibbons. In 2011, I graduated from College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, Michigan, with a B.F.A. in Industrial Design. At the time, my goal was to become a Product Designer at a design firm. 

College exposed me to design processes, frameworks, and industry-standard software, though I never actually held the title of Product Designer. I worked at Felt Bicycles in California for three years after graduating, creating technical documentation. I used renderings, sketches, and graphics to explain the technologies featured in the bicycles.

Self-contained bicycle multi-tool concept I designed while in college

After leaving Felt, I freelanced for a couple of years, in which I focused on my 3D modeling and rendering skills. In 2016, I accepted the position of Global Training Specialist at Luxion, the makers of KeyShot. This was when many of the gaps in my knowledge about KeyShot and rendering in general were filled in.

In 2019, I left Luxion to offer product rendering and animation services. And for the past two years, I've focused completely on teaching product rendering to other creative professionals

80.lv: How did you get into digital art specifically? How did you learn the basics of 3D modeling, rendering, and animation?

Will Gibbons: I was fortunate enough to attend a great fine arts college, which introduced me to different creative career paths. I always loved fantasy and sci-fi concept art as a kid. I chose to study industrial design since it felt both creative and technical. Concept art felt a bit unlikely a career for me at the time.

In college, I took courses on 3D modeling and ended up most comfortable with a CAD program called Solidworks. To turn those 3D models into realistic visuals, I used a program called Hypershot, which I was also introduced to in school. This program would later become KeyShot after a change in ownership.

Getting Comfortable With KeyShot

80.lv: How did you get the hang of KeyShot? What helped you master the software?

Will Gibbons: When I began freelancing in 2014, I spent every day on the KeyShot online forum asking questions and participating in community challenges. Shout-out to some friends who helped me early on: Esben Oxholm, Magnus Skogsfjord, Richard Funnell, and Dries Vervoort.

By participating in the KeyShot online forums, I learned a lot. I began making tutorials covering some of the basics. In 2015, there weren't many KeyShot tutorials online. I learned more by teaching and sharing my knowledge with others.

In 2016, I was offered a position to join the KeyShot team as a Training Specialist. It took me about six months to learn as much as I could from the existing training specialist and to get comfortable with presenting in front of teams of designers. By training a new team of professionals nearly every other week, I became very comfortable with KeyShot, teaching, and presenting. I did this for about three years.

Becoming a Teacher

80.lv: Could you please tell us more about your career as Content Creator? Why did you decide to dedicate your life to educating aspiring creators?

Will Gibbons: I left Luxion to take a break from travel and try my hand at offering creative services. I provided rendering and animations for product launches for a couple of years. When I was working at Luxion, I was too busy to publish KeyShot tutorials on my YouTube channel. But in 2019, I returned to YouTube with weekly tutorials. The comments were very nice and appreciative, saying I explained the concepts well.

As a side project, I spent evenings and weekends recording my first big course, the KeyShot Rendering Masterclass. After about three months of work, I shared it with my email list and audience on YouTube. My first Masterclass was well-received. I enjoyed the process of planning lessons, scripting videos, recording and editing, packaging and publishing. The first month that course launched, I made about 35% of my annual earnings.

When I was able to monetize my educational content through selling courses, it allowed me to leave the world of freelancing. I made free KeyShot tutorials, which would help me promote my paid courses. And creating content is a lot less stressful and more enjoyable for me than freelancing.

The YouTube Career

80.lv: Could you share a few words about your YouTube channel? When and why did you decide to start it? What is your approach to producing video tutorials?

Will Gibbons: My YouTube channel is very special to me. It's becoming my life's work. It's my portfolio and my way of giving back. I began uploading tutorials in 2015 because I like teaching and sharing my knowledge. I only committed to uploading tutorials regularly in 2019, once I'd left my teaching job at Luxion. 

80% of my videos begin with someone asking me for help. I receive many emails or direct messages on social media asking how to solve a specific problem. If it's a question I receive more than once or the question is challenging or interesting to me, then I try to make a tutorial out of it.

Let's say I'm making a tutorial showing how to render an illuminated lighting fixture. I'll source a handful of really cool-looking light fixtures. Then, I'll design and model my own using a 3D tool like Fusion 360 or Blender. This allows me to make sure my teaching aid is ideal for demonstration in the tutorial and that I can legally share it with my audience so they can follow along with the tutorial.

I then bring the model into KeyShot and work on making the nicest-looking image I can, which will be the thumbnail on the tutorial. Once I'm happy with it, I re-make the image 3-4 times, trying to do it faster and more efficiently every time.

Then, I record the tutorial, do some very light editing and upload it to my YouTube channel. Making tutorials allows me to be creative and forces me to really understand concepts all while helping others out. Currently, the subject of all my tutorials is Product Visualization with KeyShot since that's what I know best.

Working at Luxion

80.lv: You mentioned that you worked as a Global Training Specialist at Luxion itself, could you please tell us more about your responsibilities there?

Will Gibbons: I worked from 2016 to 2019 as a Global Training Specialist at Luxion, the makers of KeyShot. My main responsibility was teaching teams of designers and engineers how to use KeyShot. Often, a large company with an internal design team would be looking to improve the skills of their entire team as a whole. My goal was to ensure every designer could use KeyShot more quickly, confidently, and productively than before I trained them.

This job took me to many places domestically and internationally, and I had the pleasure of teaching at many of the most influential brands today, including many on the Fortune 100 list. This job helped me get comfortable presenting and gave me an idea of what customers wanted to learn.

The Whiskey Glass Animation

80.lv: You recently revisited the incredible whiskey glass animation showcased in 2022, could you please tell us more about the history behind this project?

Will Gibbons: Yes. I met Jerry Lin-Hsien Kung through a mutual friend. I enjoy rendering glass and other transparent materials in KeyShot. Jerry is a glass sculpture artist based in the San Francisco Bay area. After exchanging some emails with Jerry, he offered to share a CAD model of one of his glass whisky sippers.

When I looked at the curvature of it, I knew it would be fun to shine a light on it inside of KeyShot. The real treat was seeing the beautiful, symmetrical geometric patterns the caustics, refraction, and dispersion created. 

When I shared the result with Jerry, he was stoked since he was seeing his own creation in an entirely new light (pun intended). KeyShot made it easy to animate the glass in a way that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to do practically with a camera.

80.lv: What was the pipeline behind the animation? How were the caustics and dispersion effects for this animation in question made? Please describe the process for beginners.

Will Gibbons: The setup for the animation in KeyShot is very simple. There are four main components: 

  1. The glass: The glass animation just tilts the glass back and forth a couple of times.
  2. The camera: The camera orbits around the glass in a 360-degree circle.
  3. The light: The spotlight moves around while pointed at the glass.
  4. The ground plane: The plane is made invisible but catches the caustics.

The caustics change based on where the light is in relation to the glass as well as the orientation of the glass. 

For this animation, the pipeline is also pretty minimal. I received the 3D model, which was created in Solidworks. I imported the model into KeyShot and applied materials, lighting, and created the animations. I rendered out an EXR sequence from KeyShot, then brought the frames into DaVinci Resolve, my editing suite of choice. I added some minor color grading and lens effects in Resolve to dial in the color and give the glass a bit of glow. From there, I exported an MP4 file.

The caustics and dispersive effects are very easy to create in KeyShot since it's such a simple piece of software. I applied a dielectric material to the glass. As long as caustics are enabled in the render settings, and you have a small, bright light source pointed at the glass, you'll see the caustics on a plane underneath the glass. The dielectric material inside of KeyShot lets you set an Abbe value, which is a number often used to measure dispersive effects. I took creative liberties here by exaggerating the Abbe value.

Lots of people see this animation and ask about or comment on render time. Creating an animation that relies on caustics like this can take a lot of compute power. This animation took about 43 hours to render on an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970x 32-core processor.


80.lv: What are your current plans? What new projects are you working on right now?

Will Gibbons: My current plan is to continue making KeyShot tutorials. Maybe I'll get into making tutorials for other software too. I'd like to make time to do some more collaborations with other designers, creators, or brands moving forward. There's magic in a good collaboration that I miss out on when working alone all day.

80.lv: What would be your advice to beginning artists willing to get the hang of KeyShot? What should they focus on?

Will Gibbons: For beginner-to-intermediate KeyShot users who want to improve their skills, here's what I recommend: 

  • Grab a copy of my free KeyShot Rendering Roadmap. This will give you some quick wins you can use right away as well as access to my most popular beginner-friendly KeyShot tutorial and follow-along project files.
  • Check out the playlists on my YouTube channel! I have KeyShot tutorial playlists for each topic covering Beginner-friendly, Lighting, Materials, Animation, Render Critiques, and more.
  • For the professional or someone who prefers a more comprehensive approach to learning, I offer the most in-depth training available on KeyShot. You can check them out here.
  • Once the software is no longer a challenge, and it all makes sense, it's critical to focus on good image-making. Really study photography and cinematography. Ask yourself why an image looks good and try applying one or two techniques to your next rendering.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my story with you!

Will Gibbons, 3D Artist & Content Creator

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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