RenderMan for Maya
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 11 (November 2005)

RenderMan for Maya

Pixar’s RenderMan for Maya software is a rendering and a programming environment designed to seamlessly integrate with Maya running on a Mac, Windows, or Linux system. Installation on a Windows XP workstation was easy, and RenderMan is accessed through the Maya plug-in manager.

The renderer itself is switched on using the Render Globals menu, which is where you choose between Maya’s own renderers or Mental Ray; installing RenderMan simply gives you another option. Selecting RenderMan gives you a number of additional panels within Render Globals, where you can tweak the rendering quality, set up rendering passes, or turn on motion, blur, raytracing, and global illumination.

Rendering always starts with applying textures and creating shaders. A RenderMan shader is authored in Maya’s Hypershade window, which is also where other Maya shaders are created. Most Maya materials and shaders are automatically converted to RenderMan, which helps simplify the learning curve. For advanced RenderMan features, such as subsurface scattering, you must go into the Hypergraph and attach the subsurface nodes directly to the object. One feature missing in RenderMan for Maya is the ability to author your own RIB shaders. This must still be accomplished with advanced tools such as Slim and MTOR, and requires an upgrade.

Standard Maya lights can be used, but RenderMan also supports lighting models such as global illumination for softer, more realistic lighting. The Deep Shadows feature allows for higher-quality shadows, with support for advanced features, including object transparency and volumetric effects.

When testing shots rendered in Mental Ray and RenderMan, I noticed some subtle differences in the character of the renders. Reflections were quite nice, and the shading seemed a little softer than Maya’s renderer. In some scenes, however, the power of the lights didn’t quite match between the Maya renders and RenderMan, so I had to change the intensity.

RenderMan for Maya will also render Maya’s proprietary features, such as its hair, fur, paint effects, and particles. Paint Effects offered great results. When I loaded a heavy Paint Effects scene that I had created previously, the render crashed. Perhaps the scene needed more than 4gb of RAM to render, but it should not have crashed the application. Suffice to say, this is a 1.0 release, and there will be a few minor glitches.

Advanced features such as subsurface scattering and global illumination were also tested and produced realistic effects. Overall I really like rendering to RenderMan. Not only does it produce great-quality images, but it also gives artists easier and more affordable access to RenderMan rendering. I think RenderMan for Maya will find a wide audience that will take this robust renderer into a whole new level of studios.

Price: $995
Minimum System Requirements: Apple Mac OS X Version 10.3.1 (or higher), Linux 32-bit (2.2, 2.3), Linux 64-bit (2.3), or Windows XP Pro, 2000 Pro (Service Pack 2 or later).