Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Arnold, My Old Friend

Marcos, the creator of the Arnold renderer in use at Sony Pictures Imageworks was recently interviewed. Fun read. In an email conversation with him, he pointed out some recent papers he was directly and indirectly involved with. They too are worth reading if you are into raytracing.

Physically-Based Shading and Lighting at SPI
Siggraph 2010: Course on Global Illumination

And for added fun, here are some wayback renders done in the early versions of Arnold for 3dsmax. Some of which I did;)

Vray vs. Mental Ray

I have gotten some requests to expand on my transition to Vray so I'll take an opportunity to do so.

What sold me on Vray during early tests was its general speed at handling GI renders. Without getting into specific benchmarks, it was pretty clear to me that Vray had a substantial speed gain in complex GI scenes. The other major influence was "The Nederhorst" settings, as they have come to be known around here. These settings leverage Vray's powerful Deterministic Monte Carlo (DMC) sampler. The general idea is to minimize the amount of settings you need to tweak to affect your render quality. In production, as in life, simpler is better.

The specifics are here, but the general method is to tell Vray's sampler to be fully adaptive, so it will refine samples only in areas that need it, based on a simple contrast threshold setting. This sped up our productions significantly, as we needed to do much less tweaking to get quality renders.

This is what prompted the switch. Since then, Vray has grown in features, and I can confidently say, that it is now better integrated into Maya than MentalRay. It has added hair rendering, will render its own fur, fluids, particles, and has a much easier-to-use pass system. We consistently spit out custom channels for material id, AO, Z, normals, and other custom textures, in one neat-and-tidy render. Vray negates ever having to touch Maya's renderpass system, and makes our lives much nicer.

Another benefit is in Vray's handling of "Linear Workflow." With a click of a button, Vray will adjust all input colors/textures to any gamma you like... thus compensating for the 2.2 baked-in gamma of most textures and colors in Maya. We really don't even think about linear workflow, as we are always in it. Using the Vray Framebuffer, you can dynamically switch on sRGB compensation, to adjust your linear image to monitor-space for quick evaluations. You can plug in your own LUT, you can quickly add your own curves in the framebuffer to imitate what color treatments you may apply later. It adds linear workflow to Maya in the way it should always have been done.

Another great addition is the easy-to-use distributed rendering. We do a lot of hires print images. 5-15k. So no GI renderer on a single machine will be speedy. With a dedicated set of machines on a farm, you can toggle a button and harness many machines to attack a single frame. 5 k renders done in minutes, as buckets race across the screen. While MR standalone will allow you to do this as well, you'd have to invest the extra bucks for that, and Vray is still faster and easier to set up.

Lastly, VrayRT has appeared in beta form, and is now changing the way we light once again. We have already put it in production on our latest automotive renders, with great results. VrayRT-GPU may again change things in just a few more weeks. We look forward to using the additional horsepower already in our towers.

So, that's the sales pitch;) Really, it has been a great ride in the last year, and I thank Chaos Group for working so hard on this product.