This article is my personal opinion, this question comes up a lot, so I’m going to try break it down here. This article is for people without any allegiances. I will attempt to break down why i made the choice that i made and depending on your situation which render engine would be good for your needs.
[update]: cycles4d has been released, and while i haven’t had much time to test it yet, it looks like my new number one choice. partly because its developers are the same as xparticles and its all integrated, but mostly because they do a great job of documenting features, which makes the whole process a lot easier. So stay tuned for updates.
Vray – the grand daddy of 3rd party render engines for c4d.
- Big user base. Like REAL big
- lots of material presets
- many/most features of c4d supported
- too many settings ( this is promised to be fixed in next release)
- no gpu support, so not as speedy as others (also should be fixed next release
Arnold – The new big gun.
- Can handle astronomical sizes of scenes without problems
- Supports lots of features straight off, including hair, xparticles, openvdb volumes from houdini.. etc..
- if you are planning on working in production houses this is the way to go.
- aquired by autodesk… ( chance of being discontinued development for other applications)
- you’re really going to need a render farm for everything. its very slow to clean up noise.
- also no render node licenses, but really only go for this render if you are relatively free with your budgets.
Octane – The first GPU render, with super fast growing popularity
- lots of features supported. especially turbulenceFD
- very large user base, and growing rapidly
- otoy don’t sell render nodes, so you will never find farms that support it. they promised their own farm solution, but its not out yet. And even then there will be one farm, so if something happens to it, if its down, you have no alternatives.
- only gpu render, so if you run out of memory on your video card, there is no work around, no fall back.
- aggresive online activation system: for example this quote from an online chat: “what’s with octane today, said i have to deactivate, and i did, said i had to wait 60 minutes, and i did, then i try again and says deactivate and i did, NOW 60 FUCKING MINUTES AGAIN!!!!!! AHHHHH I’m losing my shit”
: Octane just announced availability of new version: https://home.otoy.com/octanerender-3-and-roadmap-update/ This may be a pretty big shift. If i find the time i’ll go experiment with it. I like a lot of the stuff they brought up there. eg. $10/month for up to 2 gpus. and then just pay for their render farm is an approach i kinda like. But still the aggressive licencing might prevent me from using it on jobs.. will experiment see how it goes.
[edit2]: ORC octanes render cloud/farm thing is live. It renders right from c4d. Awesome! BUT you need to upload orbx files. which is pretty much alembic.. which means all the animation is baked.. which means a 10mb file can become a 22gb file which you have to upload… fun…
Thea render – First and only render engine to combine CPU and GPU.
- uses all available cpu’s and gpu’s together. If GPU runs out of memory, can just keep rendering on CPU.
- render nodes available. results in farms being available.
- substance material converter.
- material repository which is cross platform. so thea users that make materials for sketchup, max etc, can share those materials and they can be used in c4d.
- relatively small userbase at the moment.
- still behind octane in feature support, for example turbulenceFD, motionblur and some other small issues. ( read my thea review for more details)
- doesn’t support xparticles colors like arnold does.
- lacks node based material editor
Here are some more renders, that ive heard very little about, but i felt like i should mention them: Corona, some say its as fast as gpu renders, but on cpu. I tried, i disagree, but then again im using a 4790k, maybe on a 12 core its actually blazing fast. but so far, haven’t heard anything great about it. Indigo render, only seems to have an exporter. so its not a native implementation, also plugin doesn’t seem to have been updated since july 2015. Redshift in an biased GPU engine, that is rumoured to be heading for c4d. but hasn’t yet been released. Maxwell is basically Octane/thea but only on CPU, so it makes really pretty things, but its kinda slow. Im not sure what is market position is right now.
Biased vs unbiased
You might here these terms regarding render engines thrown around. In short. Unbiased render engines are brute force light calculations. Generally most unbiased render engines will have a very similar look and feel to them. So Octane, Thea, maxwell.. etc. While biased means that the render engines cheats in order to increase speed. so it throws more power at the areas with more details, and less at smooth surfaces, and then averages stuff. This is the reason you get splotchy renders and flickering in animations. Modern days biased render engines have ways of overcoming these shortcomings, with relatively little effort, but nonetheless, its still an issue sometimes.
So lets wrap this up
Once again, this is targeted at someone who is just looking at 3rd party renderers. And mostly this is my opinion and specific to my situation. If money for farms is no obstacle, i would probably recommend arnold. If you can afford it, as it stands right now arnold + cash = awesome. It supports the most c4d features can handle any scene you can throw at it and is used by top studios so it’ll probably help if you are intending to get employed. For me this is not the case. Im not looking to get full time employment or work for hollywood movie productions and i need more speed. If arnold introduces GPU i will re-evaluate my options.
Now on to Octane i personally like choice, so im not going to lock myself into a company that doesn’t let me use 3rd party farms. Right now they do not have a farm service, they are building their own one, but still it will be just one farm. So if its down, you’re up a creek. Also it means you can’t build your own mini farm at home without paying for a full license for every computer you use. ( octane has no render node licenses). Also if your gpu runs out of memory, you have no choice, you can’t do anything about it. that’s it. either optimize your scene or re-do the render in another engine.
Vray im actually very excited to see what the new vray4c4d can do. It sounds REALLY promising. but i need something now, and well it’s not avaible right now. The current version is not GPU accelerated, so its not really on my radar for that reason.
And well this brings me to Thea. It runs on both CPU and GPU, it comes with 2 render nodes. If your gpu runs out of memory you can just render on c4d ( albeit a bit slower). Its crazy fast, recently hired c4d specific developers which have been doing an awesome job, the speed improvements have been phenomenal with every release. Has 3rd party render farm support. Since it uses both CPU and GPU, it can clean up noise really fast, as it uses the strengths of both architectures, GPU is good for cleaning up areas of uniform light due to its 100-1000’s of cores and cpu for cleaning up smaller details. And to boot it’s cheaper than the competition. So if your projects don’t need turbulence fd or complex xparticle color control its a really solid option. more info in my review.
So there you have it. If you have any amendments you think i should make please do tell me, im only human and have only so many hours in a day to keep up with all this.
P.S. I am a beta tester of thea render, but i receive no compensation for writing this article.