Testing 3D Rendering Software: Barrel Test

I recently went through Tim Kaminski's 3D Prop Pipeline tutorial series to learn more about basic prop modeling techniques in 3DCoat, Zbrush, and Substance Painter. At the end of the series, Tim rendered his barrel prop inside of Substance Painter's IRay renderer. I wanted to do something with the prop that I had created, so I decided to use it as an excuse to test out many of the popular rendering programs on the market today.

Tim Kaminski's Barrel on Artstation

Before I could get any renders, I first had to learn the basics of each software package and how to make their materials match what I had created in Substance Painter. Fortunately, Allegorithmic has a number of guides for setting up textured models in other programs, and there are a few videos on Youtube that cover the process as well. While exploring each application, my goal was make the renders look like the nice studio lit industrial design renders that you might see on sites like Behance. 

This was my first time using many of these programs, so all of my results and opinions come from a novice's perspective. The level of quality that I was able to achieve is based on my limited understanding of each application. I hope this blog post will be useful for other 3D artists trying to figure out which program to use for rendering their models.

The software packages listed below are ranked from favorite to least favorite:


#1 Marmoset Toolbag

Pros

  • Real-time renderer
  • Quick and easy to export images and turntable videos
  • Affordable
  • Ideal choice for rendering individual objects
  • Easy to adjust lighting and HDR maps
  • Options for a transparent floor and background color/blur tweaking
  • Has lots of customization and tunable options like post processing effects
  • Fast to setup and make test renders with while you work on your models
  • Easier to use out of the box than other real-time renderers like Unity and UE4

Cons

  • Some issues with normal maps if not baked and setup correctly
  • Time based free trial with small watermarks
  • Takes extra work to set up materials for multiple objects and things like glass
  • If you're rendering a complex scene or don't care about nice product shots, you might as well just use UE4 instead
  • There's free software that can achieve a similar look, but Marmoset is much easier to use

Links

Substance Painter to Marmoset Toolbag 2 Setup


#2 Redshift for Maya

Pros

  • GPU based renderer
  • Extremely fast, works great for quick previewing and iteration
  • Affordable
  • Materials are easy to set up
  • No time limit on it's trial version
  • Easy to light via an HDR dome light and area lights
  • The Substance Painter to Redshift Setup page has a custom config file and shows you how to setup it's export settings for PBR in Redshift
  • The Substance Painter to Redshift Setup page has an example file that demonstrates how to setup materials

Cons

  • Trial version for Maya has large watermarks
  • Can't see light shapes in Maya's Viewport 2.0
  • Built-in Redshift export option for Substance Painter gave strange looking normals

Links

Substance Painter to Redshift Setup


#3 Keyshot

Pros

  • One of the easiest out of the box solutions
  • Has pre-made studio lighting options and HDR maps that you can just throw on your model and get nice results
  • Setting up materials from Substance Painter to Keyshot is very quick
  • Has an HDRI editor that lets you customize your HDR maps
  • Not as fast as Marmoset, but still updates its render preview quickly

Cons

  • Customizing lighting outside of the presets is tedious, you have to apply a light material to 3D shapes and they're not very easy to manipulate
  • Very expensive software, should probably evaluate other options before choosing Keyshot
  • Limited trial that includes an insignificant watermark

Links

Substance Painter to Keyshot Setup


#4 Unreal Engine 4

Pros

  • Real-time renderer
  • Easier to get a nicer looking result out of the box than Unity (with a similar studio lighting setup)
  • Has a built-in option to export an image from a camera with no additional setup or scripting needed
  • Easy to render out a video using it's Sequencer tools
  • Quick, free, and works especially well with many objects or more complex scenes
  • Supports a variety of post process effects

Cons

  • Takes some additional work to set up its material graph vs drag and drop in Unity
  • No presets for things like an invisible shadow plane or easy background color tweaking
  • Doesn't offer area lights and it takes extra work tweaking its light baking and world settings to get high quality soft shadows

Links

Substance Painter to UE4 Setup


#5 Substance Painter IRay

Pros

  • Comes built into Substance Painter, no additional setup needed
  • No need for setting up materials and textures all over again in a separate program
  • Can use HDR image lighting to get a nice looking render
  • Has lots of post processing options to help tweak the final render
  • Fast results if you don't care too much about finessing the final image or want to see your progress as you texture your model

Cons

  • Limited lighting options
  • Not as robust or customizable as the Maya rendering plugins

Links

Substance Painter IRay Setup


#6 Unity Engine

Pros

  • Real-time renderer
  • Setup from Substance Painter to Unity is straight forward and the material is easy too hook up
  • All that's needed is a directional light, a curved background panel, and optionally an HDR image as the skybox
  • Good for speed and for your renders you can just take screen grabs of the scene
  • Becomes a more favorable option as your scene grows and you have an environment in place
  • Easy to get a quick GIF if you're using a tool like GifCam to capture animations
  • Every feature needed for a nice looking render is free (unless you use the Asset Store)

Cons

  • Takes additional work to get soft shadows, might require finding an asset on the Unity Asset Store or creating your own custom solution
  • There's no image export or render option, you have to find or write a script to render your camera out into an image file format

Links

Substance Painter to Unity Setup


#7 VRay for Maya

Pros

  • Fairly quick render and IPR render time
  • Felt almost as fast as the GPU based renderers
  • Easy to set up its materials and lighting to match Substance Painter
  • Has options for placing a dome light with an HDR texture and some area lights

Cons

  • The VRay frame buffer needs to be tweaked because of gamma problems, might be better to just use the normal IPR render
  • Has contrast, color, and gamma issues, as well as some discrepancy between renders and how they actually look when saved (try both raw and color-managed image when saving your render)
  • Maya trial plugin has a time limit that's difficult to uninstall and extend via another email account
  • A pricier rendering option

Links

Substance Painter to VRay Setup


#8 Arnold for Maya

Pros

  • Adds a nice list of lights (area, dome, portal, etc)
  • Supports HDR maps
  • Rendering setup is pretty easy. After setting up your material, all you need is a curved backdrop panel, some area lights, and maybe a dome light
  • Built into Maya 2017
  • Lots of sample scenes and resources online

Cons

  • Painfully slow, pretty much made me unable to use any other application on my computer while it was rendering (although a friend said it worked fine for him)
  • Renders were ugly when I used any color tinted HDR maps, but were fine with clean studio lighting HDRs

Links

Substance Painter to Arnold Setup

Arnold Learning Scenes


Octane and Renderman for Maya

Pros

  • I've seen great renders come out of both programs
  • Both Octane and Renderman have fast IPR rendering
  • The free version of Renderman gives you a lot of control and has some useful light presets
  • My coworkers use Octane and they produce some fantastic looking results, it was just too much of a pain for me to debug its problems when there's other software that already works great with minimal hassle
  • No time limits on either trial
  • Both are affordable

Cons

  • I was unable to replicate how my barrel looked in Substance Painter in either renderer
  • Renderman had a lot of problems with normals and getting the low poly to look like the original hi poly model (there were weird artifacts around the model's edges)
  • Most of the guides for Substance Painter to Octane use its standalone application instead of its Maya plugin, so there's less hand holding when it comes to setting up the material
  • Octane might be fast, but Redshift is as well and has better Maya integration
  • The Octane trial limits the dimensions of your render and adds large watermarks

Links

Substance Painter to Octane Setup

Substance Painter to Renderman Setup


Upwards: Oculus Rift Platformer

(The following is the same post that I made on the Oculus Rift Developer Forums)

Hey everyone,

I just started working with Unity and the Rift in my last quarter of school, and for my capstone project created a short VR platforming game. The current version of the game, titled Upwards, represents the work that I did over 3 months, with lots of help from Mixamo Animations, the Unity Asset Store Fantasy Megapack, GameTextures, and Stopsecret’s Peerer’s Edge parkour script. My intention is to remake the game from scratch, possibly in Unreal Engine 4, so that I can work on developing a story, parkour based fighting and puzzles, and higher quality environments.

Upwards

There are still a number of bugs in the game that haven't been resolved, but I felt that I should at least release what I’ve done so far before starting over. The primary inspirations for Upwards and the next project that I’m working on are One Piece, Skies of Arcadia, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, and Skyward Sword/Wind Waker (I also borrowed some music from those games). I’m looking to mix the visual style and sense of exploration that you get in those games with mechanics similar to games like Mirror’s Edge and Titanfall.

Upwards

I hope that you enjoy some of the VR experiments that I attempted with Upwards. If you get stuck or encounter a bug, you can access the in-game menu to reset your position or fix your orientation if it’s no longer centered. The game is playable with a keyboard or an Xbox controller using TattieBogle (controller driver for Mac OS). The download links for the game are listed below, feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions.

Upwards

I’d also appreciate any thoughts or feedback. If you have any cool ideas or encounter issues with the game please let me know so that I can try to include or fix them in the next version. There are a lot of things that I’d like to do, so I’ll see what’s possible.

For those of you who get motion sickness easily, there’s an option to reduce rotation sensitivity in the settings section of the in-game menu. You can adjust that to help reduce motion sickness; if you’re using an xbox controller I’d recommend increasing the sensitivity to 4 or 5. Changing the sensitivity should help a little, but if you're very sensitive to fast motion I'd suggest pacing yourself and taking in the sights versus running around as fast as you can.

Upwards

Upwards was developed on a Mac, so there might be a few problems with the PC version (I was noticing issues with jumping while holding sprint and mesh flickering in the PC version).

Be sure to check out the game mechanics list in the starting menu area, it's useful to know that you can double jump, wall jump, etc. Thanks and enjoy!

Upwards