Times they are a-changing, are they not? Once, long ago, a free version of Renderman or Mental Ray would have had us drooling all day. These days the only reason to write anything about them is when they are given away for free. NVidia are clearly playing for keeps with their Mental Ray for Maya effort now that they got the boot by ways of Autodesk buying Arnold, but no matter what – it’s dated technology that has seen better times.
On some level I feel that’s also true for Pixar‘s Renderman, though obviously their priorities are completely different and at version 21 you probably shouldn’t expect anything revolutionary and be happy that, to use a hollow marketing phrase, it’s a “robust, proven production renderer” that can chew through scenes with gigazillions of objects without crashing. They now have a non-commercial edition as well. Funny enough, a Cinema 4D plug-in still doesn’t seem to be high on their list of priorities.
In light of the previous it’s actually a good thing you now have access to the Cycles renderer via Cycles 4D. Compared to other products of its ilk it’s quite inexpensive and offers a broad and complex feature set by ways of nodes. Naturally, if you already use X-Particles, it’s almost a no-brainer to get it, too, given how you can access data from the plug-in just as well as MoGraph.
The bitch of it all? With so many options out there, you are facing the severe dilemma of having to decide which ones to learn and use. Not only will you need to have a handle on your 3D program’s native renderer, but also the ins and outs of your add-on renderer. As the situation with Mental Ray illustrates, this can quickly turn into a one-way road you can’t easily get out. And as Murphy’s Law dictates, what can happen will happen and after you spend years of finessing your Mental Ray skills or similar, you’ll end up on a job that requires VRay knowledge. It almost makes you pine for those simpler days, when we had to make do with what was built into the programs…