Pixar has recently made “Renderman,” the 3D rendering engine that created everything from Woody to Doug the Dog, freely available to the public for non-commercial use. The release is big news for aspiring artists, software enthusiasts, and Spare Room creatives (Adobo Hoboshop is getting a major upgrade). The headlines usually read something like “make the next Toy Story!” But before you let that free software buzz carry you away into a startlingly realistic animation daydream, let’s take a second to consider what free non-commercial Renderman can and cannot do.
First off, “Toy Story” was an incredible movie and there will never be another one like it.
Second, RenderMan is a rendering engine, not a complete animation studio. The software adds photorealistic lighting effects and details to existing wire models, but it can’t create them to begin with. To do that, you’ll need a 3D modeling application. Here’s where that free software buzz gets coffee and a cold shower.
3D Modeling and You
Your best bet is Autodesk Maya, but that software comes in at a whopping $3,675 – or $185 a month, so it’s doable . . . if you can skip your car payment. There is a free version of Maya, but it’s only available to students and on a trial basis. For those no longer a student, hobbyists, or just starting out, this may not be an option.
If that’s you, and the creative passion that started your Spare Room is 3D animation, your best bet might be Blender, the gold standard in open source animation software. The software has been around since 1995, and has capabilities that rival programs like Maya. Blender has gained a lot of attention in recent years thanks to Open Movie Projects like “Big Buck Bunny,” “Sintel,” and “Tears of Steel.” But the most remarkable thing about Blender is the organization and mission that continues to improve and promote it: “to build a free and open source complete 3D creation pipeline for artists and small teams.”
You would think that Blender and RenderMan are a match made in animation heaven (where all dogs go?), but there is another problem. Blender supports five rendering engines, and RenderMan . . . is not one of them. There was a grassroots effort that made great strides toward making the two compatible, but it fizzled out in late 2013. It’s disappointing, but understandable, due to the expertise in coding and software design needed to bring that project to fruition, and since Renderman was only made available on March 23 of this year.
So we have two options here: a rendering engine – by many accounts THE rendering engine, since it was used on nearly all of this year’s VFX Academy Award nominees – with no modeling tool, or a modeling tool with no rendering engine.
But Hey – it’s RenderMan!
Even though RenderMan isn’t the be-all end-all of animation needs, there has never been a better time to pursue an interest in 3D animation. If you can get your hands on Maya and RenderMan, you now have one of the best 3D content creation pipelines in the industry, and I can’t wait to see what you do with it.
If, like us, you want to see open collaboration and 3D animation brought to a whole new level, join us in bringing this issue back to the attention of the open source community. Visit the Blender Foundation to see how you can get involved, and poll your Twitter network with #blendertorenderman.