Thursday, October 11, 2012

RenderMan Studio 4 and RenderMan Pro Server 17

Last week Pixar released their latest instalment of RenderMan Studio and RenderMan Pro Server. This is quite exciting news so a good reason to write something about it.

Versions and Pricing for RenderMan Studio 4

Pixar used to have two product lines. The cheaper RenderMan for Maya which was a limited plug-in but with an embedded render license and the more expensive RenderMan Studio which had all the regular tools like Slim and "it" but needed a RenderMan Pro Server license to actualy render anything at all. Pixar has consolidated their two Maya plug-ins into one and has adjusted the pricing and functionality. The RenderMan for Maya product line no longers exists and only RenderMan Studio is now available. RenderMan Studio still has all functionalities but Pixar added an embedded render license. In combination with the price drop to $1300 a license this will give bigger companies a considerable expense cut and gives smaller companies the full set of tools for only $300 more than the old RenderMan for Maya license.

This new pricing gives smaller studios the opportunity to start building their RenderMan pipeline without the huge investment that it used to be.

New Features in RenderMan Studio 4

RMS 4 contains the following applications.
  • RenderMan for Maya 5
  • Slim 10
  • "it" 10
  • Pixar's RenderMan 17 (embedded version)
  • LocalQueue
  • Tractor 1.6
The two new applications are the embedded RenderMan 17 and LocalQueue. This last one is particularly handy for artists who like to render locally controlled by a render manager without having to set up an entire render management infrastructure. The embedded renderer is exactly the same as the Pro Server version so there is no difference if you render it locally or on the render farm.

There is a long list of improvements and efficiency updates but one of the more interesting features is "Phisically Plausible Shading". This is a new easy to use advanced shading and lighting workflow which creates very realistic results. Keep in mind that this new workflow is not compatible with the older RMS 3 workflow although the old workflow is still available if you wish to use it. You have to choose which workflow you like to use at the start of your project and stick with it.

Some interesting features of the new RMS 4 plausible shading workflow.
  • Raytraced and point-based global illumination: This is controlled with special global GI lights. It supports light linking so it is possible to use pre-computed point clouds for a set while rendering the hero objects with raytraced global illumination.
  • Image based lighting is now de-coupled from global illumination. The new RMSEnvLight is a bit slower to calculate but the quality has improved a lot.
  • New Area Lights: Area lights are quite hot nowadays. They provide realistic lighting and soft shadows.
  • Light Blockers: Although I used this feature many years ago as a custom light shader they have now included this as a standard. This is incredibly handy to subtract light in certain areas of your scene.
  • Subsurface scattering trough raytracing: No need to compute pre-passes anymore. This can be handy for relighting purposes as pre-passes can take up too much time.
To facilitate these features Pixar has added new shading nodes which are directly accessible in Maya or trough Slim. The general purpose surface shader supports layering which in my opinion is a very important feature.

New features in RenderMan Pro Server 17

RPS 17 is mainly a speed and efficiency update. I'll mention the features which I think are the more important ones. Hair and fur render up to five times faster and the new implementation of RSL has a 20% speed increase on average on shading calculations. There is also a volume rendering optimization and a new implementation of objects instancing.

Also new: RenderMan On Demand

Pixar also created a new online service called RenderMan On Demand. Whenever you have not enough render capacity it is possible to send your scenes to Pixar and let them render out your scenes. The service fee starts at 70 cent per core per hour.