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In Depth: 3D Renderers (Updated 6 November 2018)

In Depth: 3D Renderers (Updated 6 November 2018)
News, Tutorial, In Depth Nov 06, 2018 at 10:48 AM

There are so many renderers available out there, and how does an artist know what to choose? Although they really do the same thing, they work differently and have different results. Here is a breakdown of what the different renderers offer, not reviews, so you can decide which renderer is right for you.

Updated 6 November 2018 with new information on Chaos Group, Corona Renderer beta for Cinema 4D, U-Render Beta, Arnold update, Redshift update, and more.

Introduction

This has been a tough article to put together. My goal was to create a document to help artists decide which renderer is best for their work while presenting only facts... no opinion... for comparison. This comes with a lot of terminologies of which you must have a basic understanding. First, I’ll go over some terminology, then a comparison chart of some criteria with renderers, then a bit more about each renderer with some videos.

Note: This is a living document. We are focusing on rendering tools that we sell at Toolfarm to help our customers make the choice. As we add new tools to our store and as products are updated, we will update this article.

Disclaimer: Because of the vast amount of information here and the fact that updates come out so often, some information may not be fully correct, or may be out of date. Please let us know if something isn't correct and we will update the article and/or product information. 

Criteria

  • GPU/CPU
  • Biased/Unbiased
  • Physically Based Renderer
  • Platform Support
  • Host Support
  • System Requirements
  • Price

Note: Pricing and system requirements are accurate as of the publishing of this article. We will keep this document updated when we get around to it. Please check for current versions. 

Terminology

We're going to go super basic and barely scratch the surface here. See the "Further Reading" list below if you want to know more about each term.

CPU vs. GPU Rendering

Think of the central processing unit, or CPU, as the brain and control center of your computer. A graphics processing unit, or GPU, is there to render 3D graphics and to help the CPU perform its calculations. The CPU is based on single cores so it works on one bit of data at a time. The GPU is designed for parallel processing so they can work with a lot of data at once. There's a quote I came across from Kevin Krewell from Nvidia that sums it up nicely: “Architecturally, the CPU is composed of just a few cores with lots of cache memory that can handle a few software threads at a time. In contrast, a GPU is composed of hundreds of cores that can handle thousands of threads simultaneously.”

Some 3D renderers will utilize the GPU instead of the CPU, which can mean faster renders, but the downside is that GPUs are limited to the amount of VRAM or video memory. Many renderers are hybrid and use both the CPU and GPU.

GPU vs CPU Video Rendering and Video Editing

Robert Blake gives a great overview on if you should choose GPU or CPU rendering.

Biased vs. Unbiased

Biased means that the renderer will estimate values, or do a bit of educated guessing using mathematical functions, and not calculate every single pixel. The benefit is that it's much faster. The downside is that the results may not be absolutely accurate.

Unbiased, on the other hand, means that every pixel is calculated with no interpolation between pixels. Biased rendering methods include light tracking, path tracing, bidirectional path tracing, and metropolis light transport.

Many renderers are capable of producing both unbiased and biased renderers.

Grant Warwick about Bias and Differences of 3D Rendering Engines

Further reading:

Global Illumination

Global Illumination is the algorithm that a software uses to recreate natural lighting from the real world. There are several types of algorithms including radiosity, ray tracing, beam tracing, cone tracing, path tracing, Metropolis light transport, ambient occlusion, photon mapping, and image-based lighting. These can be used on their own or in combination with each other to create better results. [Source:Wikipedia: Global Illumination]

C4D Fundamentals | 07 - Advanced Rendering - Understanding Global Illumination

While this video is targeted to Cinema 4D, much of the information applies to any other 3D software.

Monte Carlo Method

This is a common algorithm for photorealism used by 3D software and it seems to be tied in with probability in gambling! “Monte Carlo methods are also efficient in solving coupled integral differential equations of radiation fields and energy transport, and thus these methods have been used in global illumination computations that produce photo-realistic images of virtual 3D models, with applications in video games, architecture, design, computer-generated films, and cinematic special effects." [Source: Wikipedia: Monte Carlo method]

Further Reading:

Embree Ray Tracing Kernels

Embree, developed at Intel, is a collection of high-performance ray tracing kernels. It is explained in the video below.

Many renderers use Embree ray tracing kernels. V-Ray Next includes a custom Embree ray tracing library "which speeds up anything from proxies to motion blur." [Source: Interview: V-Ray Next and the Future of Rendering - CG Channel] FluidRay RT, Corona Render, and others also use it.

Further reading:

Physically based rendering

Physically based rendering, often abbreviated PBR, uses mathematical theories that allow for photorealistic renderings.

What is PBR? Physically-Based Rendering Explained

Further Reading:

Renderers

Comparison Chart - Quick Reference

Renderer Developer Host Support CPU/GPU Bias GI Method

Arnold

Autodesk (Solid Angle)

  • Maya
  • Cinema 4D
  • 3ds Max
  • Houdini
  • Katana
  • Softimage

CPU

Unbiased

Physically based uni-directional path tracer

Corona Renderer

Corona

CPU

Unbiased & Biased

Path Tracing

Cycles 4D

Insydium

Cinema 4D with X-Particles

GPU/CPU

Unbiased

Path Tracing

finalRender

Cebas

3ds Max

GPU/CPU

Unbiased

Physically Based (Spectral) Wavelength Simulation

FluidRay RT

Fluid Interactive

Standalone and with integration plugins for:

  • SketchUp
  • Modo
  • Shade 3D
  • Rhino

CPU

Unbiased

Intel Embree ray-tracing kernels
Bidirectional Path Tracing, Direct Lighting, Path Tracing

Maxwell

Next Limit

Standalone with plugins for:

  • Maya
  • 3ds Max
  • Softimage
  • Form•Z
  • Modo
  • Nuke
  • Rhino
  • ArchiCAD
  • Revit
  • Sketchup

GPU 

Unbiased

Path Tracing

Redshift

Redshift

  • Maya
  • Softimage
  • 3ds Max
  • Cinema 4D
  • Houdini
  • Katana

GPU

Biased

Ray Tracing

RenderZone

Form•Z

Plug-in for Form•Z

Hybrid (NVIDIA CUDA GPUs, CPUs)

Unbiased & Biased

Ray Tracing

V-Ray

Chaos Group

  • Cinema 4D
  • V-Ray Next for 3ds Max
  • V-Ray Next for Maya
  • Softimage
  • Rhino
  • Modo
  • Nuke
  • Sketchup
  • Revit

Hybrid

Unbiased (optional)

Path Tracing


Autodesk Arnold Render

Description from the developer:

Arnold software is an advanced Monte Carlo raytracing renderer. It’s designed for artists and for the demands of modern animation and visual effects (VFX) production.

Autodesk Arnold Autodesk Arnold - The Details

Current release version: v5.2.1, released 23 October 2018

Platforms: Windows, Mac OSX, Linux

Host Support:   

  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Softimage
  • Houdini
  • Cinema 4D
  • Katana

License Options: Subscription, Floating, Multipacks, and maintenance plan renewal for perpetual licenses.

Price: One-year subscription starting at $615.00 (MSRP), Toolfarm price: $584.25

Learn More


Corona Renderer

Description from the developer: 

New advanced high-performance renderer for 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, and other platforms. Corona Renderer delivers high quality, physically-based shading in production rendering. All its features are tightly integrated into Autodesk 3ds Max.

Corona Renderer Corona Renderer - The Details

Current release version: v2, released 25 June 2018

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:   

License Options: Subscription with Floating licenses, with options of how many render nodes

Price: One-year subscription starting at $330.00

Learn more

 

Further Reading:


Insydium Cycles 4D

Description from the developer:
Cycles is an unbiased GPU/CPU render engine developed by the Blender Foundation and made available under the Apache 2 licensing system. Cycles 4D is a dedicated bridge plugin allowing Cinema 4D users to access the Cycles rendering engine directly inside Cinema 4D without the need for an external application.

With INSYDIUM&rsquo's own real-time preview and fully featured node editor, along with our eye for detail and quality, Cycles 4D is the ultimate render companion with unparalleled access to X-Particles.

Cycles 4D Cycles 4D - The Details

Current release version: 4th Service Update – Build 247 for Cycles 4D, 13 December 2017

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • Cinema 4D with access to X-Particles

License Options: Perpetual license

Price: MSRP: $249.00, Toolfarm Price: $236.55

Learn more

 

Cebas finalRender True Hybrid

Description from the developer:

finalRender is a photographer’s dream come true
trueHybrid™ technology - bringing the power of CPU and GPU together! finalRender for 3ds Max is the perfect choice for 3d artists and studios alike wanting the maximum in image quality and photo-realism, without experiencing a brain melt when setting up complex scenes for rendering! And no compromises.

Cebas FinalRender True HybridCebas finalRender True Hybrid- The Details

Current release version: 

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:   

  • 3ds Max 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016

License Options: Workstation, network license, GPU license

Price:

  • 1 Year Workstation License, MSRP: $294.00, Toolfarm Price: $279.30. 
  • 1 Year Unlimited Network License, MSRP: $294.00, Toolfarm Price: $279.30. 
  • 1 Year Unlimited CUDA GPU License, MSRP: $294.00, Toolfarm Price: $279.30. 

Learn more
 


Fluid Interactive FluidRay RT

Description from the developer:

A real-time renderer that provides the quality and features of high-end production renderers
Rendering has never been so much fun. All the tweaking of materials, lights or any other scene properties are immediately visible as real-time feedback in the viewport, making your workflow faster and much more pleasurable. With great speed and at a fraction of the price.

FluidRay RTFluid Interactive FluidRay RT- The Details

Current release version: 1.2, Released 16 September 2015*

*because the release is 3 years ago, it may not be compatible with current releases of hosts. Please download the trial version and test it on your own system before purchasing.

Platforms:  Windows, Mac (Shade 3D and Rhino are Windows only)

Host Support:  Standalone and with integration plugins for:

  • SketchUp
  • Modo
  • Shade 3D
  • Rhino

License Options: Perpetual license

Price: MSRP: $479.00, Toolfarm Price: $455.55

Learn more

 

Maxwell Render

Description from the developer:

Maxwell – 3D rendering software for architects and designers.
Maxwell is legendary for its quality and realism, and delivers great results via a simple set-up, which lets you focus on lighting. Maxwell now easily integrates a powerful denoiser (by Innobright’s Altus), while preserving texture and geometry details, effectively saving a lot of time. You can obtain your images around two to six times faster, depending on the scene for a similar amount of detail. Instead of having to render your images to a high sampling level, you can keep it low and let the denoiser do the job.

Maxwell Renderer Maxwell Renderer - The Details

Current release version: 4.2.0.3, Released 21 February 2018

Platforms: Windows, Mac (depending on host)

Host Support:   

  • Standalone
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Cinema 4D
  • Rhino
  • Form•Z
  • Sketchup
  • Archicad
  • Revit

License Options: Node-locked or Floating licenses

Price: Starting at $595, depending on the host

Learn more


Redshift

Description from the developer:

Redshift is the world’s first fully GPU-accelerated, biased renderer.
Redshift is a powerful GPU-accelerated renderer, built to meet the specific demands of contemporary high-end production rendering. Tailored to support creative individuals and studios of every size, Redshift offers a suite of powerful features and integrates with industry standard CG applications.

Redshift Redshift - The Details

Current release version: Redshift v2.6.27, 1 November 2018

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Autodesk Softimage
  • Autodesk 3DS Max
  • Cinema 4D
  • Houdini

License Options: Redshift is licensed per-machine with no limit on the number of GPUs*. No distinction is made between workstations and render nodes; 1 license is good for 1 machine.

Price: $500

Learn more


U-Render

Description from Developer:

High-Quality Real-time Rendering for Cinema 4D

Current Release: Beta 4 is now available

Platforms: Mac, Windows

Host Support:

  • Maxon Cinema 4D

License Options: This is still in beta so this will be updated when the renderer is for sale.

Price: Unknown at this point (still in beta)

 


Form•Z RenderZone

Description from the developer:

RenderZone Plus adds photorealistic render capabilities to form•Z
Add photorealistic rendering with global illumination, ambient occlusion, and radiosity effects to form•Z! Single user license of RenderZone plugin for form·Z 8.

Form Z Renderzone Form•Z RenderZone - The Details

Current release version: v8.6

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • Form•Z

License Options: Perpetual license for Form•Z Pro or Form•Z Jr.

Price: MSRP: $395.00, Toolfarm price: $375.25

Learn more

 

Chaos Group V-Ray

Description from the developer:

Smarter. Faster. Render.
Built for artists, designers & jacks-of-all-trades, our 3D rendering software helps you visualize anything imaginable. Save time and create your best work — with tech from Chaos Group.

V-Ray Chaos Group V-Ray - The Details

Current release version: 

  • 3.7 - V-Ray for Cinema 4D (learn more)
  • 4.02.04 - V-Ray Next for 3ds Max, Released 22 May 2018
  • 3.60.01 - Maya, Released 12 September 2017
  • 3.0 - Softimage
  • 3.6.03 - Rhino, Released  3 July 2018
  • 3.7.01 - Nuke, Released  24 April, 2018
  • 3.6 - Modo, Released 21 March 2018
  • 3.6 - Revit, Released 8 February, 2018
  • 3.6.03 - Sketchup, Released 26 June 2018

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • V-Ray for Cinema 4D New
  • V-Ray Next for 3ds Max
  • V-Ray Next for Maya New
  • Softimage (no longer in development)
  • Rhino
  • Modo
  • Nuke
  • Sketchup
  • Revit

License Options: Standard license includes 1 Render Node. Additional Render node licenses are available. Rental options and academic licensing are available as well.

Price: Starting at $695, depending on host support.

Learn more


Laublab VrayforC4D

 

New

Chaos Group has made V-Ray for Cinema 4D an official Chaos Group product. Read on to learn more and how to migrate your license.

Learn more

Posted by Michele Yamazaki

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