Arnold renderer – First impressions

Maya 2018 | Arnold 5

As a 3D rendering instructor I’ve been recently required to get familiar with rendering animations using Arnold for Maya so that I’ll be able to train VFX / Animation students to do so.

So today, after about 15 years since the last time I worked with Maya, I installed the latest version of the software’s educational edition on my PC, and started finding my way around the basics, and rendering with the Arnold renderer.

So obviously, the Arnold renderer is a state of the art production ray-tracer for the film VFX industry, and it sure feels that way with its no-nonsense super-realistic uncompromising physical approach to all the aspects of rendering, giving the artist total freedom to configure whatever he or she can possibly want,
And for someone with an understanding of physical definitions of light sources, optical attributes of surfaces, physical shaders and the technical process of ray-tracing, it’s an absolute joy to use.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the Arnold renderer wasn’t developed as a practical rendering solution for independent artists relaying on one or two PC CPU’s as the main rendering work force.
Arnold’s Brute Force rendering approach is very convenient to use and provides awesome shading quality, but it requires massive processing power to be practical in production of animations, even with today’s multicore desktop CPU revolution that was started with AMD launching the Ryzen chips.

* I must admit that (in the field of 3D visualization) I got spoiled by using Mental Ray and V-Ray over the years and got used to rendering with at least 3 bounces of indirect diffuse illumination,
Something that using interpolated GI calculations like irradiance caching and such can be done relatively fast on a desktop PC, but using accurate Brute Force to do it (on a desktop PC CPU) makes it impractically too slow.

The good news:

A) The GPU rendering revolution that was enabled by the nVidia Cuda technology is making massively parallel Brute Force rendering practical at a fraction of the price of CPU processing power.
About 3 years ago I decided I must check what’s this “Cuda rendering” all about, so I purchased a Geforce Gtx Titan Black GPU (Geforce 7 series) for about 1200$.
That GPU had Brute Force rendering power equivalent to about 16 3Ghz CPU cores.
Today you can get the same speed and memory with a 300$ Geforce Gtx 1060 GPU.
But Arnold isn’t a GPU renderer.. one may rightfully say….
* It should be said that GPU rendering is currently limited in the amount of memory compared to CPU rendering, and also OSL shaders are not supported.

B) Cycles renderer, Blender’s own built-in render engine is a GPU renderer, and it’s very similar to Arnold in its highly physical no-nonsense Brute Force rendering approach.
So if you wish to enjoy an “Arnold Style” physical shading and Brute Force rendering workflow in a small indie studio environment, GPU rendering with Blender and Cycles is a good way to do that, plus the software is free.
A relatively modest investment in 2 Geforce Gtx 1070 GPUs will give you Brute force rendering power roughly equivalent to 40 3Ghz CPU cores, at about a 4th or a 5th of the price it would cost in CPU’s.

All that being said..
Arnold is absolutely awesome! 😀

It seam that a version of Arnold that can render on GPU is on it’s way, and this is great news!

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