Here at NGP, we’re just as invested in artists as we are in consumers. In fact, many of you are both!
That being said, we want to provide as much useful info as we can on various topics, especially for artists who are just starting. Obviously, when it comes to rendering, there’s a lot to cover, but we can definitely go over the basics and clarify some things for anyone who’s iffy about certain terms.
We’ve talked a bit about several popular programs, like Daz, Blender and SFM. We’re going to go a little further with this article and talk specifically about rendering, the process that happens post (usually/mostly) texturing.
If you’re interested, you can find that article here: A noob’s guide to getting Started with 3D
Now, you’ve probably noticed that many artists use the same software to produce their work. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times not, but after the initial process, the way they render can be completely different. Both Daz and Blender have their own built in rendering software, but there are many alternatives, both free and paid.
Before that, however, let’s hammer down a bit of hardware terminology, so we can determine our best option. We’re not gonna go crazy heavy into it, but basically there are two different ways that renders can be built.
CPU ( central processor)
Essentially, CPUs are the brains of any computer. They are built on single cores, so they can’t handle as much info at one time (especially for graphics) but they generally have access to much more ram. Many modern processors are plenty powerful enough to render an image wonderfully, though you may be waiting for a while to get your finished image.
Additionally, since there could potentially be such a heavy load on your CPU, don’t expect to be doing much multitasking on your computer while you wait.
GPU (Graphics processor)
Yep, these are the things that you see tech nerds and gamers getting all hot and horny for. GPUs are dedicated display cards. They work in almost the opposite way a CPU does: they have many, many more processors, hundreds, in fact, and can handle thousands of threads of info all at once.
Initially, it seems that GPUs would always be the way to go when it comes to rendering, but there’s a few caveats to that. For one, not all rendering software is capable of using every core on a GPU, and secondly, much of the software is made specifically for one kind of GPU.
Because of this, several rendering softwares use a hybrid of both GPU and CPU, pulling from each at different times for different applications.
The point of all this info is this: If you’re on a budget and your CPU outweighs your GPU in performance(or vice versa), you may want to try using what you have. Many high performance Apple computers can render without the use of the GPU at all!
Hardware vs. Software
Without computer hardware, nothing 3D would exist, but software is to hardware what the mind is to the body. No matter how powerful your rig is, if you don’t have the right software (or the know-how to use it) you won’t be rendering anything particularly desirable.
Of course, no single piece of hardware will replace a well rounded system, and many noobish PC builders find themselves in a hole after spending $900-$1200 on a fancy GPU only to find that it doesn’t fit in their rig (or their power supply isn’t big enough!)
As always, with anything hardware related, do your homework before buying anything!
Let’s get to the tools! There are quite a number of options available when talking about dedicated rendering software, but again, we’ll be mentioning some of the more popular ones.
You’ve probably seen/read a lot about Iray if you’ve dabbled in 3D, but it’s important to note for newcomers that Iray itself isn’t a standalone program.
Rather, Iray is an Nvidia owned tech that serves as a rendering engine for many applications, Daz being one of the more popular ones.
Being owned by Nvidia means (you guessed it) Iray is really only compatible with Nvidia hardware. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, (they are leaders in the GPU industry, after all) just something to make note of.
Past that, there are jillions of Iray specific assets and models out there, so if you want something with options and intend to stick with Nvidia, you probably won’t have to look much further.
Here we have two different artists, Morfium and 3DZen. Both are fantastic artists, and both use the same rendering engine (Redshift, I believe) but the end results are quite different.
Redshift is a professional grade program that is entirely GPU accelerated. It’s awesome, but it costs $500, not exactly cheap for most creators. Regardless, the results of a dedicated rendering software can be clearly seen, so it seems like a small investment for anyone who’s looking to get serious about their 3D.
Some artists, like Fab3DX, use Daz to build their image, but render with a program called Octane. A quick glance at some benchmarks will tell you that Octane is probably going to render and image faster and better than Daz’s built in software, but again, it really depends on your rig.
Octane only works with Nvidia cards, and has multi-GPU support, so those with powerful self built or customized Nvidia gaming PCs will probably get a lot of use out of it. Unlike Redshift, Octane offers a relatively affordable subscription plan (30 euros month to month) so it would be much less of a cost just to try it out.
I haven’t forgotten about AMD users! For all those with Radeon CPUs and/or GPUs, Blender is a popular, unique software option, but they also have their own rendering tool called Cycles.
Blender pitches itself as a multi-platform, open source software: it’s even compatible with Linux for all you penguin lovers! Incidentally, their rendering engine is equally flexible.
I’ve been told by several artists that Blender’s software itself may have a bit more of a learning curve to it than Daz, but it supports many different formats with a little tweaking. This means that it’s possible to export/import certain formats to try out Cycles, even if you have no interest in the rest of the software. Their website is a great place to find more info on format compatibility.
Blender (and Cycles) is also free! They do offer a subscription to their cloud service for an exceptionally affordable price, but it’s quite possible to never have to pay a dime for it, even if you’ve used it to develop a product you intend to sell.
Vray tech is a lot like Iray, in the sense that it’s not a standalone application, but an engine implemented for other software.
Vray uses ‘ray tracing’ as opposed to Iray’s ‘path tracing’. Without going into too much detail, that basically boils down to two things. Vray is able to split rays, giving the software the ability to calculate lighting and reflections faster and (often) more accurately. Because of this, it was originally (and still is, to a great extent) used for architecture and CAD, though many artists render awesome images with it.
In the end, Vray may be better suited for backgrounds and landscapes. Unlike Iray, Vray is not a ‘progressive’ renderer, so it’s unable to offer the visual progress that some artists obsess over. That being said, it can potentially render images much faster than Iray, so if you don’t need a show and just want to get the job done, it might be what you’re looking for.
In addition to all that, Vray utilizing software, like Sketchup and Rhino, offers options for people with non-Nvidia specific computers.
Unity is an interesting beast. It utilizes what they call “real time” 3D creation, among other features, to make animating and game building potentially easier. It’s wildly popular for game development, due to its ability to “run” a game as it’s being built, but many 3D artists use it to make animations. PuppetMaster is one of the best examples of an artist using this program.
If you haven’t heard or seen mention of “Sensual adventures” or “Brittany Home alone” you probably haven’t been hanging out on 3D porn sites. One only needs to watch a trailer of PuppetMaster’s work to see how fluid animations can come out in Unity, but again, I’ve been told that there may be a significant learning curb vs. some other products. Unity is also pricey, starting at subscriptions that cost about $40 a month, but I believe they offer a demo.
So there’s a little rundown of a few popular rendering tools, some of which are also complete 3D suites. As always, it’s generally recommended to start small and work your way up. Depending on your budget, the look you’re going for, and your skill level, it may definitely be worth investing in a dedicated rendering software.
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