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Coming Soon: RenderMan for Maya

By Frank Moldstad

Chris Ford
With the release this summer of RenderMan for Maya, Pixar is turning its focus toward a broader market for its renderer, which up to now has been aimed at high-end studio applications. Chris Ford, Pixar's business director - RenderMan, explains this shift and how RenderMan for Maya differs from the newly released RenderMan Pro Server version 12.5.

With RenderMan for Maya, Pixar is broadening RenderMan's user base.

Yes. It's really a big new departure for this year. RenderMan for Maya essentially is RenderMan -- but packaged in such a way that it's more accessible to the Maya general 3D user. RenderMan Pro Server, the core RenderMan we have had for some years, is a very open, accessible and configurable 3D rendering solution. But to get the most out of it, you need to have some skills in writing shaders, and having a TD around can help. Obviously, that isn't as approachable for someone who's doing fast turnaround commercials in a post facility, but who wants quality RenderMan rendering. Well, RenderMan for Maya will produce that.

Renderman for Maya is integrated into the GUI
So you're now addressing two different types of users.

Exactly. RenderMan for Maya is tightly integrated into the Maya user interface. Literally, you can't really tell the workflow apart from the Maya renderer. You select the RenderMan renderer and up pops the picture in the RenderMan window, it translates all of the Maya shaders into RenderMan ones. It does it all automatically, so it's very easy to use. Of course, there is a compromise we had to make -- the compromise is you don't have the same degree of customizability or accessability as you would with the full version. But then again, we don't expect to have high-powered TDs using RenderMan for Maya.

If someone wants that capability, they should get the Pro Server version.

Exactly right. Obviously, we don't want to cannibalize our own business, but the reason why we're doing that is Pixar's had so many requests from a far broader range of 3D users just wanting to get the kind of look, stability  and quality you get from Renderman at a more acceptable price. And to do that, we've had to substantially repackage and redo the translation path between Maya and RenderMan. That's what RenderMan for Maya is, it's very much a totally integrated plugin for Maya. So for example, it doesn't write out big files or anything, it just instantly renders a frame. It's a whole new departure for Pixar, really. This is going to be an online ecommerce product. When the customer goes to the Pixar website with a credit card, they'll get it for $995.

Global settings in Renderman for Maya
How big is the file download?

I don't actually have the final size, but we're not talking about hundreds of megabytes. We're talking about the tens of megabytes at the most. It's a pretty modest plugin. But it is RenderMan, not some kind of lite or warmed-over version. It is the full version which is used in Pro Server. The way you interact with it is more integrated into the Maya GUI and you lose the customizability and the ability to deal with Direct Shaders and things like that.

Other than those kinds of things, is RenderMan for Maya able to do anything the Pro Server version can do?

Essentially, any of the effects you see that RenderMan can produce you can do in RenderMan for Maya. There isn't really a limitation. But let's say, for example, I wanted to create some core new shader to do skin that is dissolving in Nitric Acid, then waiting to write some very specialized shader. You wouldn't be able to do that in RenderMan for Maya. You'd need to have the full RenderMan for that. But again, we anticipate anyone who's in a post house or is doing art work or video work or any of those things isn't going to have time to do a TD's job anyway.  

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Related Keywords:RenderMan, Pixar, Chris Ford, RenderMan for Maya, Pixar, Renderman Pro Server, renderer

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