Once fundamentally a technical concern, rendering has been elevated into something of an art form over the years. Developments in technology and software have widened the use of 3D in motion graphics to industries as diverse as architecture, gaming, manufacturing, product design, education and advertising; all requiring increasingly sophisticated processes for rendering their respective worlds.
Answering this growing demand for faster render speeds and better, more tactile visuals in a rapidly expanding industry, GPU render engines are beginning to revolutionise the world of motion design. Producing stunning photorealistic results and giving real-time render feedback, The new breed of GPU render engines such as VRay and Octane can be used natively within 3D packages like Cinema 4D to bring an exciting addition to the motion designer’s arsenal.
Obviously, you don’t always require photorealism or shiny product shots in motion design; sometimes the content and messaging are more important than the finish of the visuals. But as the use of 3D and motion graphics expand across industries, the thirst for more enticing visual design continues apace. Although a physical render still produces brilliant results, there will always be issues with painfully slow previews and a compromise in the way things look. We motion designers are therefore champing at the bit to jump on any development that promises amazing renders at increased speeds – without breaking the bank.
So viva the GPU Revolution! And welcome Octane.
A New Contender
OTOY’s Octane render engine is ‘the world’s first and fastest GPU-accelerated, unbiased, physically correct renderer’ (This is an accolade the Arnold Renderer could also claim, but we’ll get to that later). After months of admiring the astonishing and tactile renders coming almost straight out of the box, I finally got the chance to play around with it. So what’s the verdict?
First off, I love the definitive Octane look with it’s classy yet ‘gritty’ feel. Even though it has this very recognisable style, the creative power remains firmly in the hands of the designer. The composition you produce is down to your technique of lighting and texturing and how you utilise the settings Octane offers. It appears to render very well in low-lit scenes too, and it’s been heaps of fun playing with the Octane camera Imager properties. This not only gives you control over the lens response curves that you can switch between on the fly, but also allows full control of all properties of exposure, gamma, white balance and more – without re-rendering. The depth of field is really quite beautiful and makes it super simple to handle, managing all the passes in a really intuitive manner.
Octane also provides unparalleled render speeds and this, partnered with almost real-time feedback, (Live viewer and Interactive Preview Render or IPR), gives you so much more time to consider how you light and texture a scene, and subsequently more time to animate and create. What’s more, like Arnold, VRay and a few others, it’s unbiased, or ‘completely physically correct’ which produces stunningly accurate and desirably tactile renders without artifacts or compromise.
What’s more, it is fully set up to support 360 rendering. Inspired by the innovative work of Hoodass (Filip Hodas) and Beeple (Mike Winkelman), prolific users of Octane – (check out Beeple’s remarkable film Zero Day, a Virtual Reality masterpiece of audio syncopation) – I was able to use Octane to reproduce this 360 camera setup and build my own entry-level stereoscopic VR renders.
With this current shift to the GPU, one of Octane’s biggest limitations is, surprisingly, the hardware. At present, it will only run on machines fitted with an NVidia Cuda GPU. And there’s no getting around it… not yet anyway.
This isn’t great when a large number of Apple machines ship solely with Radeon cards. This may change, but Apple also makes it notoriously difficult to physically upgrade or add internal components such as stacking video cards. It seems that if you want to get the most power and speed out of Octane, a custom built PC may now once again be a better option.
Obviously, Octane is not the only new kid on the block when it comes to real-time and unbiased rendering. As I mentioned previously, Arnold was actually the first one (currently not GPU until the heavily awaited Version5), followed by Cycles and then Octane. They all hit roughly the same benchmark visually, albeit with their own subtle differences. Hands down, Arnold is the most fun to use with its ‘node-based’ material editing and a large variety of shader packs. Let’s not overlook Redshift though, which, at around the £500 license budget, is also a strong contender in terms of incredible speed, usability, and compatibility. It’s currently gathering momentum and I’m convinced it will be in the spotlight before long, particularly for large-scale agencies. These other GPU unbiased engines (including the eagerly awaited ProRender), also offer 360 rendering – but with VR needing super high 8k resolution, and stereoscopic requiring double the render time, whichever engine you choose to use for VR.. just make sure it’s the fastest!
That’s a Wrap!
So is Octane really a contender for the leadership of the GPU render engine revolution? Aside from the issues of its hardware limitations and high licensing costs, for small-scale agencies and independent designers, I would definitely say that it’s head and shoulders above the rest. With its outrageously fast speeds, brilliantly intuitive mechanics and a vast and hugely welcoming forum, it’s hard to beat. Whatever your personal preference though, what’s clear is that we’ve entered an age of unprecedented choice for rendering in the motion graphics industry – and that can only be a good thing – for creators and clients alike.
This animation by Stig was rendered in Octane.
About the author
Stig Coldham is Head of Motion at Tilt. With over 15 years’ experience in motion design, Stig brings his creative and technical talent to all aspects of Tilt’s motion projects, from concept and branding, through to animation, 3D tracking, editing, and grading. A brilliant visual storyteller, he has produced work for top global brands including Renault, BP, Nickelodeon, Barclays, Pilsner Urquell, Lenovo, Nikon and Fatboy Slim.
The header image is from TFMstyle and the artist “The French Monkey”