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In Depth: 3D Renderers (Updated 11 March 2019)

In Depth 3D Renderers

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

Note: Update log is at the bottom of the page.

Introduction

This article is difficult to put together, and as a result, there is a lot of information to digest. Indeed, I hope this will be a highly used resource. My goal was to create a document to help artists decide which renderer is best for their work while presenting only facts… no opinion… so that users can compare. 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 3D rendering engine 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. By the same token, as we add new tools to our store and products are updated, we will update this article.

Disclaimer: There is a  vast amount of information here and updates come out so often. We will try our best to keep it updated, nonetheless, some information may not be fully correct or may be out of date. Please let us know if something isn’t correct so that we may 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. so make sure that you 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. To sum it up, a quote I came across from Kevin Krewell from Nvidia explains it well: “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

Roberto Blake gives a great overview of whether 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 the software uses to recreate natural lighting from the real world. There are several types of algorithms such as radiosity, ray tracing, beam tracing, cone tracing, path tracing, Metropolis light transport, ambient occlusion, photon mapping, and image-based lighting. Even more, 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! To explain, “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. Hence, it is explained in the video below from Intel.

Many renderers use Embree ray tracing kernels. In addition, 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

Finally, 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
GPU with Arnold GPU (beta included with Arnold 5.3)
Unbiased Physically based uni-directional path tracer
Corona Renderer Corona
  • 3ds Max
  • Cinema 4D (beta)
  • ARCHICAD (alpha)
  • Blender (add-on in development)
CPU Unbiased & Biased Path Tracing
Cycles 4D Insydium Cinema 4D with X-Particles GPU/CPU Unbiased Path Tracing
finalRender Cebas
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya (beta)
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
KeyShot Luxion Standalone CPU Unbiased Real Time Ray Tracing
Maxwell Next Limit Standalone with plugins for:

  • Maya
  • 3ds Max
  • Softimage
  • Form•Z
  • Modo
  • Nuke
  • Rhino
  • ArchiCAD
  • Revit
  • Sketchup
GPU Unbiased Path Tracing Photorealistic
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
  • Unreal
  • Universal Nodes for:
    • 3ds Max
    • Maya
    • Softimage
    • NUKE
    • KATANA
    • Standalone
    • Blender
Hybrid Unbiased (optional) Path Tracing
U-RENDER Uppercut
  • Cinema 4D
  • Standalone
GPU Unbiased Real-Time

Autodesk Arnold Render

The description from the developer:

Arnold software is an advanced Monte Carlo raytracing renderer. Undoubtedly, 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: v5.3, released 20 March 2019

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

Further reading:

News: Arnold 5.3 with Arnold GPU Public Beta – Now Available – 20 March 2019
What’s New in Arnold GPU, A Sneak Peek and Beta Information – 19 March 2019


Corona Renderer

The 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:

  • v3 for Cinema 4D, released 8 January 2018
  • v3 for 3ds Max released 23 November 2018

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:   

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

Price: One-year subscription starting at $350.00

Learn more

Further Reading:


Insydium Cycles 4D

The 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. Additionally, 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’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

The 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: 3ds Max v4.2 (Subscription Drop 2), released 4 December 2018.

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:   

  • 3ds Max 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016
  • Maya is in beta as of March 2019 (Beta info)

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

The 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


KeyShot

The description from the developer:

KeyShot is a stand-alone, real-time ray tracing and global illumination program used to create 3D renderings, animations, and interactive visuals. With its CPU-based architecture, photorealistic real-time rendering can be achieved on both Mac and PC, even on laptops, without the need for high-end graphics cards.

KeyShot supports more 3D file formats than any other rendering software, importing over 25 different file types. It has a simple user interface with drag-n-drop material and environment presets, interactive labeling, texture mapping, physical lighting, animation and much more.

KeyShot KeyShot – The Details

Current release version: 8.2.80, 11 February 2019
Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support: Standalone

License Options: HD, Pro, and Enterprise

Price: Starting at $995

Learn more

KeyShot


Maxwell Render

The 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. Now, Maxwell 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

Further reading:

Maxwell Render exporter for Blender

While there doesn’t seem to be official support for Blender, there are some tools that you can try. I have not tried either of these so these links are informational.


Redshift

The 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 v2.6.37, 19 March 2019

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • Maya
  • Softimage
  • 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

u-renderThe description from the developer:

High-Quality Real-time Rendering for Cinema 4D

Current Release: Early Access, v2019.03.01, 7 March 2019

Platforms: Windows

Host Support:

  • Maxon Cinema 4D
  • Standalone

License Options: This is still in beta but an early access version is available.

Price:

  • Early Access starts 17 December 2018
  • Free Public Beta Ends
  • Start Price 199 EUR / 229 USD (net plus applicable taxes)
  • In addition, all updates are included for 12 months.
  • Starting as Beta and reaching Stable during the Early Access phase
  • Furthermore, the price after Early Access will be 399 EUR.

Learn more

News

UPPERCUT U-RENDER 2019.03.01 – Improvements for Live Mode

UPPERCUT U-RENDER v2019.01.17 Release


Form•Z RenderZone

The 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: v8.6.3

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


V-Ray

Chaos Group V-Ray

The description from the developer:

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

Chaos Group V-Ray – The Details

Current release version: 

 

Host Version # Release Date Notes
 

V-Ray for Cinema 4D

3.7.02 17 January 2019 details
release notes
V-Ray Next for 3ds Max Update 1.1, v4.10.02 18 December 2018 details
release notes
V-Ray Next for Maya 3.60.05 27 February 2019 release notes
Modo 3.60.01 21 March 2018 release notes
Nuke 3.7.01 24 April 2018 release notes
Revit 3.7.04 8 October 2018 release notes
Rhino 3.6.03  3 July 2018 release notes
Sketchup 3.6.03 26 June 2018
Unreal 8 November 2018 details
Softimage 3.0 (previous version)

 

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Host Support:   

  • Cinema 4D
  • 3ds Max
  • Maya
  • Softimage (no longer in development)
  • Rhino
  • Modo
  • Nuke
  • Sketchup
  • Revit
  • Unreal
  • Universal Render Nodes for V-Ray for 3ds Max, V-Ray for Maya, V-Ray for Softimage, V-Ray for NUKE, V-Ray for KATANA, V-Ray Standalone, and V-Ray for Blender. (*V-Ray Render Nodes are required to render with V-Ray 3.0.  Will not work with v2.x and below.)

License Options: Standard license includes 1 Render Node. Additional Render node licenses are available. Additionally, rental options and academic licensing are available.

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

Learn more

  • V-Ray for Blender Plug-in – Free and open source plug-in, but you must have the Universal Render Node installed.
  • Laublab VrayforC4D – 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.

Updates

  • 21 March 2019: Updated Arnold to 5.3/Arnold GPU, Redshift Update
  • 11 March 2019: Added KeyShot update, U-Render update, Redshift update, Cebas finalRender Maya beta info
  • 30 January 2019: KeyShot information added and a U-Render update
  • 18 January 2019: More information on Blender rendering options.
  • 9 January 2019: Information on Corona Renderer 3 for Cinema 4D and replaced all videos after a bug blew them all away.
  • 18 December 2018: A huge update to this document with new information on U-Render, Redshift. V-Ray Next for 3ds Max, cebas finalRender drop 2, Corona Renderer, and more.

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