BOGOFs come to the world of rendering
These are interesting times to be in the business of rendering software. Unfortunately, that’s not because great new strides are being made, new horizons discovered etc. Rather, it’s the ‘what can we do to avoid being crushed by the Autodesk juggernaut?’ kind of interesting.
But let’s back up a bit. For starters, not everyone reading this will know exactly what rendering software even is, so here’s a super-quick primer: My company is in the architectural visualisation business, so when a client comes to us to create imagery or animations of its building, we need software to help us do it. There are three main stages, modelling, rendering and post-production. You probably already know all about stage 1, it starts with your CAD drawings and ends with 3D geometry. Stage 3 is already under the sole ownership of Adobe Inc’s ubiquitous Photoshop software. But that’s ok, as it’s cheap and brilliant.
What happens between the two is where it gets complicated. Software is needed to turn 3D geometry into an image, to paint the pixels. There are numerous packages available, but they pretty much all have the same thing in common, they use variations of a technology called Ray Tracing. In days of old (’90s, ’00s) the output quality of different renderers was highly variable, but these days the vast majority are excellent. Something else they all have in common is that they devour resources, no amount of RAM or number of CPU cores will keep a renderer happy. The happiness of our render farm is almost the direct inverse of the happiness of our company accountant.
So, what’s changed? After years of taking a stand-off approach to rendering, Autodesk, the eighth-largest software company in the world and giant of all things in the building industry, has decided to get involved. Early last year it went shopping and came back with Arnold, a renderer previously little-known outside the Hollywood special effects industry. It now includes it free with its 3ds Max and Maya modelling software. Well, free with caveats. It won’t cost a penny to render on your own PC, but to send it to a render farm (how most archvis companies work) will cost you about the same as a licence of V-Ray, the current most-used archvis rendering software. It’s also brilliant quality, fairly straightforward to use and lightning fast.
Back to those in the business of rendering software, what do you do? There’s about an 80% chance your customer in architectural visualisation already uses 3ds Max, which now comes with one of your biggest rivals pre-installed as standard for no extra cost. You need to add value to your product, and fast.
First to react has been V-Ray maker Chaos Group, which has merged with Render Legion, creator of key competitor Corona Renderer. This has caused much consternation among users, particularly on the Corona side, but really, what else could either company do? Although it hasn’t yet happened, buy one, get both is a pretty good value proposition, nothing else makes a lot of sense. Like I said, interesting times.
Bill Nuttall is technical director at London visualisation firm Glass Canvas