What Renderer Should I Use In Cinema 4D?

August 14, 2017 - By 

With so many different options to choose from, what renderer is the best one to use for your final render out of Cinema 4D?

There is no magic answer and in some ways that’s perfect. Some render engines are better for certain tasks. Below is a list of a few that we recommend and what their pros and cons are.

The Goal Of This Post

The goal of this article is to help motion designers and 3D artists make an informed decision on what renderer they would most benefit from.

What are the criteria? Glad you asked! All opinions assume you want to make photo real animations in a production environment with little to no problems. So each one is looked at through a production final-frame render lens.

Why listen to us?

We have over 40 years of combined experience with 3D rendering. Our creative director Chad Ashley has tried most of these personally and has used many of them in production. Our goal is to give you the right information to help you make the right decision for you and your team.

We understand there is confusion in the rendering space, and we are here to share what we know and what we’ve found.

The Short Answer

As of August 10th, 2017 this is our opinion of the current “Render Wars” and what we think is best for most artists. (stay tuned as I expect these recommendations to change from time to time)

For those who are ready for a GPU renderer that’s production focused: Redshift

If you or your studio have already made the jump to GPU rendering and have outfitted your workstations with multiple Nvidia GPU’s then I can firmly recommend Redshift as the best solution for you at this time.

For those dedicated to CPU or who have a deep appreciation for features/scalability: Arnold

For those of you still on the Mac platform or who have already invested heavily in CPU machines/farms, I recommend using Arnold as your primary renderer.

But let’s take a closer look at what may or may not be right for you.


Physical Renderer

Pros:

  • Built into the core of Cinema 4D
  • Ton’s of tutorials
  • Good representation of materials in the viewport
  • Great for stills
  • Reflectance is quite robust
  • Excellent noise maps

Cons:

  • Slow
  • No IPR,
  • Lacks strong pass (AOV) system
  • No node material editor
  • No curvature map (though inverse AO is close)
  • No tri-planar map
  • Not receiving regular updates
  • Lights are in need of serious upgrade
  • No dome light
  • IBL workflow is cumbersome

Who is Physical Renderer Good For?

I suggest you stick with Physical if you are tied down by hardware/OS and haven’t a budget to upgrade to anything else. It’s also entirely satisfactory if you don’t find yourself rendering any complex photo-realistic animations on a regular basis. It’s quite adequate on stills and can even handle distributed rendering with Team Render to Picture Viewer.

Check out some of our favorite Physical Tutorials


 

Arnold by Solid Angle / Autodesk

Pros:

  • Killer development team
  • Deep feature set
  • Custom AOV’s (Arbitrary Output Variables aka passes)
  • Light Groups
  • LPE (light path expressions)
  • frequent C4D plugin updates
  • simple settings
  • x-particle support
  • supports both Mac/PC
  • same engine in multiple host applications
  • scalability, stability
  • Many speed enhancing short-cuts and workflows

Cons:

  • Expensive (compared to competitors)
  • Confusing license system
  • CPU only
  • Slow compared to most GPU renderers
  • owned by Autodesk (bad track record of acquisitions)
  • poor choice for interior rendering
  • caustics are weak

Who is Arnold Good For?

I recommend it to those individuals/studios who demand high-quality images and who value stability. Arnold is also perfect for those who are not quite ready for GPU rendering but are looking for something beyond the Physical renderer in Cinema 4D. It’s also ideal for individuals or studios that have not yet made the switch to PC as Arnold will run on either Mac or PC. If you are an individual artist or a studio running lots of different sort of jobs (volumes, particles, large data sets) Arnold is the right choice for you. If you are studio with mixed 3D host applications Arnold’s proprietary .ass format is interchangeable which can be a great benefit. Arnold coupled with render farm solutions out there such as Pixel Plow is a potent combination. Arnold and cloud rendering gives small studios and independent artists as much firepower as most large studios. Arnold is one of my most recommended renderers.

Check out some of our favorite Arnold Tutorials

UPDATE: 08.22.17 Solid Angle announced new pricing on five packs of Arnold plus free licenses for educational institutions.


Octane by Otoy

Pros:

  • Easy photorealism
  • IPR Speed
  • IPR window features
  • speed of rendering (up to a certain level of complexity)
  • simple settings
  • custom material node interface
  • Octane Scatter Utility
  • tri-planar mapping

Cons:

  • Limited by GPU memory
  • Stability
  • scalability
  • no custom AOVs
  • no light linking
  • inconsistent/delayed updates
  • limited maps/materials
  • layering multiple materials is cumbersome
  • “Octane Effect” (see GSG Podcast).

Who is Octane Good For?

I think Octane is perfect for an art-director that is designing frames or doing basic look dev. It’s fast IPR, and simple UI will make it easy for a designer to create imagery, given they have the GPU power to run it efficiently. I’ve seen Art Directors have great success with Octane. Do boards with Octane, then move to a production renderer to finish the job. Octane is also useful as a “daily render” tool. I’ve often joked on our podcast that Octane should have a “send to Instagram” button as it seems to be used more on that platform than any other. Not sure if that’s good or bad. Up to you, I guess. I should also add that Octane is a fine choice for those doing primarily exterior architecture renders.

Check out some of our favorite Octane Tutorials


Redshift

Pros:

  • Balances load between CPU and GPU
  • Very Fast
  • production focused features
  • biased engine
  • unified sampling
  • versatile uber shader
  • tons of map types
  • a responsive development team
  • Redshift Proxies/Instances
  • X-Particles support

Cons:

  • AOV workflow is convoluted (too many clicks)
  • no ability to texture lights beyond images
  • not as many useful utility nodes as other choices
  • no support for X-Particles trails (or splines at all)
  • higher learning curve

Who is Redshift Good For?

I recommend Redshift to anyone running Nvidia GPU’s and who is looking for a stable production renderer and isn’t afraid to jump into some settings to squeeze out every ounce of speed out of your frames. It’s very well rounded and versatile able to handle arch-viz interiors, intricate character work, product viz, or complex VFX.

Check out some of our favorite Redshift Tutorials


Cycles Render by Mario Tran Phuc

Cycles4D by Insydium

Pros:

  • Works both on CPU and GPU
  • tons of features for rendering X-Particles
  • affordable
  • great node material editor
  • plenty of learning resources.

Cons:

  • Cycles is developed by the Blender Foundation and not Insydium. The open source nature can scare large studios who are looking for deep customer support and accountability. I’ve found that it also a bit cumbersome on seemingly simple shading/lighting tasks. AOV’s are also a bit lacking.

Who is Cycles4D Good For?

Anyone who’s work is primarily X-Particles based would benefit from Cycles4D. It’s CPU/GPU flexibility, and low price would make it an excellent choice for those on limited hardware/budget.

Check out some of our favorite Cycles4D Tutorials


“Want More To Read About This?”

We wrote an in-depth article over at Motionographer. If you’re still hungry for more information, go check it out!

“Why didn’t you mention My Favorite Renderer?”

If your renderer is not mentioned above, it’s either that we haven’t used it enough to form an educated opinion or we have used it and we don’t think it’s ready for use in production yet.



Still not sure? Take this silly quiz and see what you get! Share your results in the comments!

Posted In:  Reviews
58  comments
58 Comments
  • Really interesting article. I use Octane because for me its speed is really important. I need to see what I’m doing without waiting 4 minutes to previsualization. But I’m learning Octane and I see that It has a lot of things that doesn’t work well, like the textures or the displacement maps, and lot’s of little issues that obstruct my work. Do you know why Octane has that much problems? Is Redshift fast like Octane? And do you think I have to change to Redshift?

    Thanks and really good job Grayscalegorilla team!

    • Hi Gabriel! First off, if Octane is doing what you need there is really no reason to switch. However, if you find it’s limits getting in your way, Redshift is a great alternative. Yes, it’s just as fast at final frame renders (faster in most cases), but the IPR is a touch slower. Good luck!

      • Yeah now Octane is being useful to my work. But I think that the problems of Octane maybe can cost to me lots of time. I will show how is Redshift and maybe I will start to learn it. Thanks!

    • Yeah, Octane is buggy as hell, not sure if i saving time, because of restarting c4d. I love Arnold for stability, very handy when you can drop node into beauty channel to see what is in, but of course it is not gpu and not quick enough as Octane

  • Hi. Why didn’t you mention anythink about vray ? I think it’s an awesome and stable renderer for c4d. Please give me your feedback. I am really interested about your opinion .
    Tnx

    • I get this question quite a bit. The reason I don’t cover V-ray for C4D is that I used to use it in 3DS Max (for 8+ years) which was developed directly by the Chaos Group. The C4D version is not. Though it has recently received a great update, this plugin still has a poor history of updates, inadequate documentation, and support. I try to cover only renderers that I myself would TRUST in production. Again, this is my opinion based on 20 years of CG motion design production experience. Plenty of awesome artists are using V-Ray for C4D and I’m sure are getting great results. However, I am not interested in that plugin unless it becomes developed directly by the Chaos Group. Sorry to disappoint you. Again, if it’s doing what you need it to do, that’s great. To each their own.

      • These are all perfect reasons not to use it, especially in a production environment.

        Their software’s documentation is spread across 1.8, 1.9, and 3.4 versions of the software and it’s often confusing to find the most up to date workarounds and settings.

        If you haven’t used the most recent version; it’s very fast and blasts through huge frames at 2-3 min regardless of resolution without GI flickering that was problematic in 1.9.

        I think it’s a shame NOT to recommend it to new artists or small shops that want a better physical renderer though. $900 for a floating license with 10 render nodes is a steal and it’s probably the cheapest option for getting a render farm going other than loading a system full of GPUs and buying Redshift for $500 or Octane @ 20$ a month.

        • Arnold just announced 5 licenses for $1500 so that’s definitely a step in the right direction for the small shop with a CPU farm.

  • Great and thorough write up. Thank you. Would love to get your thoughts on KeyShot.

    • I’ve seen some really cool stuff done in KeyShot. I’ve never tried it. Mostly because my interest lies in production animation. We have quite a few KeyShot users that have used our HDRIs with great results.

  • Does Arnold have better X-Particles support compared to Redshift?

  • Redshift has the same old ugly interface like expresso.UI is a shame. Besides that is not very intuitive,maybe (also) because of the documentation lack.
    The c4d shaders are just partly compatible with Redshift.

    • Agreed, the documentation is lacking. Mostly because they are changing so much of it right now. I’m sure once the dust settles, proper docs will be available.

  • You should add one more con for Physical, Flickers in animation!!!!

  • Hey Chad, great article. Would love to hear your opinion of Corona.

  • Moutaz Al-Husseini August 15, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    A great descriptive article, but i’m still wondering which renderer is better and faster for the complex animations and MoGraph rendering, also the x-particles support… I want something that gives good quality renders also with fast rendering time for the tight deadlines… And also a simple learning curve for it… Usually i use standard renderer and Physical… But i want something more in delth with better quality, and fast rendering time… Thank you for the efforts

  • Hi, what do you think about the Thea Render? Really like to hear about it.

  • Man, where are VRay and Corona in this comparsions? Corona & VRay for c4d as 2 great renders – especially corona. And they are used like a lot 🙂

    • Agreed! I’ve been using Corona for several months now, and love it. It’s very easy to pick up and being a CPU renderer, it’s still pretty quick. Just wish development for the C4D version would pick up a bit…

  • I`m using Vray 3.4 and I’m happy with it. It is really stable and fast. The only problem is the support, Stefan Laub is a mess!!! 🙂
    It’s a pity, that it was not considered.

    • Simone, I’m irritated about your posting – are we talking about the same person ? I know a Stefan always paying attention for the needs of the vrayforc4d community. Even on weekends and in the late evening … And the forum community is very helpful, too.
      I was amused about the absence of Vray in this very helpful overview. OK, my needs are modest: a stable renderer for professional productions with very small time frames, support by the publisher, and by render farms, too.
      Sometimes these discussions remind my of the Nikon/Canon/Minolta … discussion of photographers. The truth is: you cant´t identify the camera system by the picture. The only way to achieve optimal result is knowing your system and all the tricks by persistend usage.

  • Good article.
    I use octane and physical sometimes too. I miss volumetric light in octane. Voxel volumes are quite slow here. In physical render is it easy to make light volumetric and to create moving fog. In octane I do not know how to do it since now.

  • Since the announcement of R19 having ProRender. I have been excited for it, until I heard you guys saying that ProRender is not up to par with its competitors yet. I am currently building a new workstation and Octane has me locked into using Nvidia cards. Which are not bad, it would just be nice to have more options in terms of hardware. I think eventually ProRender will be on this list in a few years.

  • Thanks, Chad.. Love the work GSG doing))

    Wish Arnold were GPU, then render wars will end))

  • What’s that ‘Octane Effect’ you guys were talking about in the cons section? I couldn’t find the podcast you guys were mentioning. Thanks for enlightening me.

    • Octane Effect: When an artist or studio starts an animation production using Octane and that production gradually increases in complexity making once instant render times climb dangerously high while also leaving the artist/studio no options for scaling (lackluster cloud support). This “Octane Effect” will have the studio/artist scrambling to find additional GPU machines to get the job done (driving to Best Buy at 8pm). 🙂

  • And Vray its no good for render

  • You guys never talk about hair and fur rendering. If you do character work like myself this is critical, and very few renderers focus on making it look good in different lighting setups.

    VRAY is the only renderer I’ve found that can realistically portray the way direct outdoor sunlight hits hair/fur. So none of the other renderers are viable. Just a heads up if anyone else is interested in that sort of thing.

  • Not only Arnold has good integration with X-Particles, it also has integration with Realflow in a way that you can write out all your meshes, hybrido particles and other parts of the simulation as Arnold Scene Source files and obviously open them in Arnold Procedurals. It makes workflow with large simulation sequences a lot faster. So, +1 to Arnold.

  • Why is Arnold less good at rendering interiors?

    • It’s not that it’s less good, it’s just not best suited for them. Arnold can be rather slow on interiors with many GI bounces compared to something biased like Redshift.

  • Nice article. You should talk about Corona which is fast, easy,CPU and powerful.

  • Great article Chad!!!
    I recently started using redshift. But couldn’t find much tutorial on redshift for Cinema 4D. Waiting to see a GSG tutorial on this.

    • I’ll be doing RS tuts, live-streams, and tips as soon as they tell me I can. Right now the UI is still changing so much that they’d rather wait till it was more locked down. Stay tuned and thanks for the comment!

  • You’re soooo right on track here Chad. Definitely looking forward to hopefully discussing this over a pint or many during Half Res next month.

  • Hey Chad,
    First of all, great article, thank you for your work!
    For the moment I use physical, as it seems for me that C4d material system allows me to create all of the materials procedurally (like marble, waffles, brushed metal and etc) without using texture images.
    Not long ago I started thinking to switch to Arnold. Is it possible to create a lot of different materials procedurally in Arnold without using any texture images (not just plastic or car paint)?

    • As of right now, none of the native C4D procedural map types are officially supported. I’ve been using a texture map based workflow for so long, it has become second nature to me. I recommend checking out Substance Designer if you still want the ability to create complex materials with procedural maps. THanks for the coment

  • And what about standard Cinema renderer (AR)?

  • Hey Chad

    Thanks for the article, it’s an intersting read. Redshift seems like a great renderer.

    I understand your concerns about VRay4C4D and I agree to some extend.

    On the other hand, it is really a great and fast renderer and the Vray Bridge has improved alot in 3.4 and 3.5 Beta. Note also that it uses the official Chaos Group SDK and is shipped with the Vray Standalone software. The Vray image viewer with post processing / effects manipulation is fully integrated in C4D. IPR / RT in GPU mode still has some issues tough. Network / Distributed Rendering works great. V3.5 even supports X-Particle attributes now. Lights, materials, subsurface and hair rendering are fantastic. There are tons of great material libraries available and all cgaxis models come in the Vray4C4D format.

    Also important to me: the license is bound to the C4D serial, no AD online crap. That’s actually the reason I got Vray instead of Arnold.

    But I find myself using Physical alot, thanks to the great GSG Topcoat and HDRI Rig / Link plugins.

    By the way, Renderwars update from today: Chaos Group bought Corona!

    Best regards, Michael

    • This is not entitely true … VRay did improve A LOT with 3.4 but as Chad stated, the implementation feels like a rogue dev team just did a C4D version and it is far away from a official built like chaos group. I think this isn’t a problem of the software team (I use it for 7+ years now and love it) but the communication, documentation, support handling just feels like a one man show (Stefan) with a few developers. They’re doing a great job, but it doesn’t meet the requirements of a production house. For me as a freelancer I’m totally loving it because of the Rebusfarm support – hence outsourcing the hardware costs with using a cloud service.

      But as a Mac user for instance, the Vray Frame Buffer feels like a peace of crap stuck on the GUI.

      Vray is a great option, but has downsides. It would be great, if Chaosgroup overtook the development.

  • Hello Chad,

    I don´t know if you are the one who moderates this discussion. But if you´re not please forward my question to the appropiate person.
    I replied to Simone remark about Stefan Laub (owner of VrayforC4D) with the report of my good experiences with VrayforC4d and its support.
    What was the reason to delete my answer ? It was polite in case of wording (in contrast to Simones description of Stefan as “a mess”) and reflected my experiences.
    I´m a customer of GSG since several years , and I aprecciate the company and website as always open for different opinions and well-founded discussions.
    Thank you for clarification .

    • Hi Idris, we never deleted it. Every comment must be approved and sometimes we don’t approve them for a day or so. We only delete comments that do not adhere to our rules of common decency or are outright spam.

  • What about the upcoming AMD Pro Render?
    Would that be suitable for someone working in an ad agency, creating less complex visuals now and then?

    • Without knowing the exact type of work you’re doing, I can’t really say. I suggest giving it a try and seeing if it meets your needs. Thanks for the comment!

  • Hey Chad!!! what do u think about the new Maxwell Render???

    • I’ve always liked the output of Maxwell. It’s not a renderer I’ve seen used much in animation production much so I haven’t been paying close attention. What’s cool about this new version?

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