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What Renderer Should I Use In Cinema 4D?

by Chad Ashley

It’s the number one question artists ask me. “What renderer should I use? Which one do you like the best?” Ok, so here’s my answer…

I’ve been doing 3D professionally for over twenty-five years, built pipelines, ran jobs (large and small), creative directed at several award-winning studios, and during that time, I’ve used MANY different render engines. It’s become a bit of an obsession.

So, I recently collected all my thoughts and decided to update my ideas on rendering in Cinema 4D (my favorite 3D application). Below you’ll hear my thoughts on what I consider the big three render engines, Arnold, Octane, and Redshift. Let’s jump in!

My Recommendation:

So What’s the deal, Chad? What should I use? Well, I recommend to everyone the same two I use on a daily bases. Arnold and/or Redshift. Arnold is a versatile, rock-solid, and feature-packed and creates photoreal images with ease. Redshift is fast as hell, and it’s production features get better with every release. There is a full breakdown of my thoughts below if you really want to dig in.

How do You Choose?

You need to do your homework, download the trial versions of all three and take them for a test drive. I encourage you to map out what you value in a renderer. Is it purely speed? Versatility? The look it delivers? Stability? There are so many criteria to consider, I suggest making your own pro-con list and see which one rises to the top.

Why no love for Physical/Pro-Render?

So before we begin, I should address the elephant in the room. You may have skimmed this post and noticed that I didn’t include any of the built-in renderers for Cinema 4D. Namely, Physical Renderer and Pro-Render. Both are decent enough, but given how the technology has advanced in the last few years and how incredibly behind Physical is and how incredibly limiting Pro-Render is, I decided to not include them in this post.

The Big Three Players

Aside from the Standard/Physical render engines that come with Cinema 4D, there are dozens of third-party renderers for C4D and the other 3D applications.

In this post we are going to focus on the big three, Arnold, Redshift, and Octane. These render engines support most major 3D platforms (Cinema 4D, Maya, 3ds Max, Houdini, etc) and you can use them between these apps with a proper license.

In this scenario, we are going to focus on the render engines as they work inside Cinema 4D.

Arnold (C4DtoA) by Autodesk

Arnold is best known for being the built-in renderer for Autodesk 3D applications. It’s also been used in film production for over fifteen years. This renderer has been built around rock-solid features and uncompromised quality.

  • Compatibility – Works on both Mac and PC, works on both CPU and Nvidia RTX GPUs
  • Annual Price – $342 (locked) via Toolfarm
  • Annual Price – $598 (floating) via Toolfarm
  • Monthly Price – $45 via Autodesk e-Store
  • Educational Institutions – Free
  • Trial VersionYes

Image by Kakela Studios via Autodesk

Strengths:
  • Versatile – The most versatile out of the three boasting CPU and GPU versions, works both on Mac and PC, and even includes a robust Toon system. It’s also widely supported on cloud-based render farms like Pixel Plow.
  • Feature Rich – The most feature-rich renderer in its class matched by one of the best plugins out there.
  • High Quality – There is a reason Arnold is synonymous with quality. It’s been the go-to for feature films for over 15 years.
  • Easy to Use – Arnold has fewer knobs to fiddle with and that’s something I appreciate.
  • Fun – I can’t stress this one enough. If a plugin/tool isn’t fun or a pleasure to use, I’m gonna be looking for alternatives. Arnold never gets in my way.
Weaknesses:
  • Speed – Both the CPU and GPU versions are not the fastest in this comparison, but because I value features and look over speed, it’s not a game-changer for me. Though I totally understand those who value speed over everything else.
  • Licensing – Though the license system has improved, it still has a long way to go. It’s overly technical and a bit of a pain to get set up properly.
  • Autodesk Stigma – Many artists are skeptical about giving Autodesk money or supporting a renderer owned by the mega-giant. There is always that feeling in everyone’s’ mind that at one point they may stop supporting other 3D applications outside of their domain. However, these fears are mostly unfounded and so far the only negative thing to happen has been the loss of the beloved Arnold logo in exchange for the Autodesk version.
My Take:

Arnold is my daily driver renderer, I use every-single-day. I use Arnold primarily for the incredibly beautiful looks it delivers, but the plugin itself is a joy to use thanks to its thoughtful design and added production features.

Want to Learn More about Arnold Renderer?

No matter what one of these three renderers you pick, we have the training to get the most out of these renderers. Want to dive deeper into Arnold? Watch our robust “Guide To Arnold” training inside of Greyscalegorilla Plus. Not a member? Join for only $49.

Redshift by Maxon

Recently purchased by Maxon, Redshift is quickly becoming the go-to render engine for the motion design market. It’s biased approach to rendering makes it one of the fastest around.

  • Compatibility – PC native, Nvidia GPU only
  • Node-Locked Price – $500
  • Floating License Price – $600 (minimum 5 licenses = $3,000)
  • Annual Maintenance – $250 for node-locked ($1,500 to cover floating 5-license minimum)
  • Annual Subscription (including, but limited to, Cinema 4D) – $81.99 per month via Maxon
  • Monthly Subscription License (including, but limited to, Cinema 4D) – $116.99 per month via Maxon
  • Educational Institutions – Free
  • Trial VersionYes

Strengths:
  • Fast – Redshift’s biggest advantage is its incredible speed. Being a fully GPU accelerated renderer (biased at that) means that this thing is gonna fire out renders fast.
  • Production Focused Features – Redshift directly targeted 3D production environments when they designed Redshift and it shows. As far as GPU renderers go, Redshift is one of the most feature complete.
  • Large User Base in Motion Design – Redshift’s popularity over the last few years have skyrocketed largely due to the fantastic training out there. If you’re a freelancer, you’ll want to learn this renderer.
  • Maxon Owned – Not long ago, Maxon announced it had purchased Redshift and I’m confident that soon we will see the benefits of having Redshift developers and Maxon’s engineers teaming up for something awesome.
Weaknesses:
  • Limited Features / Plugin – I know what you’re saying. “Hey, didn’t you just say that it was packed with production features?” Well, yeah. Sort of. Redshift is still very limited in terms of Mac/PC support (until Metal drops), CPU/GPU versatility (a long shot), no toon system, and a Cinema 4D plugin that still annoys me with a cumbersome UI/UX.
  • Many Quirks – Anyone who has used Redshift extensively understands this one. The plugin often requires far more clicks than you would think necessary and there are often many hoops you are forced to jump through or to endure to get cookin.
  • Effort for Realism – You can most certainly achieve beautiful results with Redshift, but it will take more effort. This one is entirely subjective so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I can just tell when something is rendered with Redshift.
My Take:

Redshift is my go-to for quick turn around 3D work. Perfect for simple or fast bashing out of ideas. I’m typically using Redshift for shiny stuff, logos, machine parts, etc.

Want to Learn More about Redshift Renderer?

No matter what one of these three renderers you pick, we have the training to help you dive deeper. Watch our robust “Guide To Redshift” training inside of Greyscalegorilla Plus. Not a member? Join for only $49.

Octane by Otoy

Octane has been a big player in the motion design industry for over four years. It’s ridiculous speed and stunning output quality has earned it a rabid fan base. Lately, it seems to be falling out of favor with artists and studios in production due to it’s instability and lacking features.

  • Compatibility – PC native, Nvidia GPU only
  • Annual Price – $600 (super confusing pricing structure)
  • Monthly Price – Starting at $19.99 for small studios
  • Educational Institutions – NA
  • Trial VersionYes

Image by Cornelius Dammrich via OTOY

Strengths:
  • Fast – Octane is the fasted GPU renderer I’ve ever encountered. Its speed is unparalleled and often feels like some sort of magic.
  • Beautiful – I think the look Octane delivers is reliably gorgeous. Due to it’s unbiased spectral approach to rendering, it’s just friggin sexy. It’s actually hard to make an Octane render look bad.
  • Innovative – Otoy’s CEO is sort of like the Elon Musk of our world. Jules Orbach is just as much as a personality as the mogul behind the Tesla. His vision and wild ideas are gonna push Octane into exciting new areas (holo-deck?).
  • Community – Octane is used by MANY artists and often many studios. Its large user base can be a blessing and a curse.
Weaknesses:
  • Unstable – With innovation comes instability. It’s just a fact of life. Octane is probably the most likely to crash of the big three. It’s the complaint I hear the most.
  • Not Feature Focused – Often it feels like the Otoy team is not certain which market they want Octane to serve. It is lacking quite a few production features and most studios learn to stay away from Octane on large projects.
  • Quirks – I think most GPU renderers just suffer from quirks, it’s a trend I see. Octane has many things that annoy Octane users but that incredible speed and look keep them coming back.
My Take:

I simply don’t like creating materials and doing work in Octane. I find it’s material system confusing and cumbersome, its settings too complex and quirky, and its features too limited for shot-based production. That being said, I still use it occasionally to do concept boards and I’m always impressed with the beautiful images it renders.

Want to Learn More about Octane Renderer?

No matter what one of these three renderers you pick, we have the training to help you dive deeper. Watch our “Getting Started With Octane” training inside of Greyscalegorilla Plus. Not a member? Join for only $49.

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