How The Arnold Renderer Works At An Animation Studio – Austin Visuals Reports

Many times, we here at Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio have talked about the importance of having video on your website. Not only does it increase customer engagement with your brand and your product, but it’s much more likely that people will stay on your Facebook profile or corporate website if there’s some interesting video to retain their attention. There is a lot of competition for people’s attention – eyeball time, if you will – and these days, you really need video to get it.


If you’re not going to have video, though, another way of engaging customers is with a striking image, like that of the tiger. That’s another service that Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio offers.

One of the ways to offer either a still image or some video would be by using a higher end rendering application like Arnold, created by the Solid Angle company. Arnold is a physically based, unbiased, path tracing 3D application that has been used in such notable films as Gravity, Underworld: Awakening, Alice in Wonderland, X-Men: First Class, The Avengers, Captain America, Thor, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. If you’re interested, Here’s a little taste of what it can do in motion:


Getting back to the image at hand – the tiger looks very complex and interesting, yet it was actually very much a pleasure to create. Although fur and hair are quite often tricky to do, they can end up looking very impressive when done right. There is no one clear solution to achieve a favorable result in all cases, granted – for instance, long hairs require a different attack than shorter ones. As we were creating the image, one approach to the workflow we tried was to treat the fur in two discrete stages – prototyping and production.

In the first stage, we simply tried to preview the final product in a very quick and coarse way. We’ve learned that creating works that contain fur or hair often become rather tedious, so you need to be able to make sure the project is advancing properly by previewing the final result in a progressive manner. In this stage we used ZBrush (Fibermesh). We tried to be as fast, not caring about the details too terribly much. What mattered most was the length of the fur and the direction.

Then in the production stage, the fur has to be done a second time, but with a huge change. The fur is very thin and sparse, and the product of this step in ZBrush will then be sent straight to the host program, such as Maya. It will then be used with a third-party hair plug-in, such as Shave and a Haircut. Therefore, the fur needs to be properly groomed in ZBrush. After this, the Fibermesh is pulled into Maya, then changed into curves, where Shave and a Haircut can then use those curves as geometry to grow fur from.

At first glance, this sort of workflow might seem to take some extra time. The tradeoff is, though, it’s very much less prone to any sort of headaches in the end, or unintended consequences since it’s been produced from a strong foundation.


Obviously, the renderer we used for this project was Arnold as well, and it gave us a stellar performance, while at the same time giving us absolute reliability even when working on a rich and complex picture.

As we’ve used Arnold, we’ve learned a few things we think you should know about the renderer. So here are The 5 things you should know about the Arnold Renderer…

1. Arnold is a well-designed renderer, both powerful and easy to learn. Yet it does operate on brute force, for one thing meaning that the operator does not have a lot of control over optimizing the render speed. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can still do in order to help dramatically reduce your render time. First, consistently work your way from bottom to top, increasing your samples along the way. Start with shader or light samples, and then based on the scene you’re creating, increase reflection, diffuse or glossy samples, and only then do the AA. The only time you’d ever start with AA is if you might have Motion Blur and/or DOF active at the time. In that case, increase AA and decrease the other samples until you have a clean looking render.

2. Create your textures first, then convert them all to .tx format. You’ll save yourself a huge amount of render time. Look in Maya under the Arnold menu for the Tx manager, and for makeTx in the MtoA bin folder. One easy way to replace these converted textures is to turn on the “Use Existing .tx Textures” option in the Textures roll-out in render settings.

3. Keep in mind that Arnold itself does not offer a layered shader. However, you can layer your shaders on top of one another yourself by using Maya’s own layered texture, then plugging that as a pass-through into a surface shader, and then ultimately assigning that onto the object you’re creating.

4. Is the scene you’re creating heavy and large? It will likely be much easier and more efficient to export the heavy meshes as standins, and use those instead. Even if the mesh happens to require displacement, or static, you might just ignore making a displacement map in the first place. Just turn your high poly count object into a standin, then use that. This will then let you skip the displacement tessellation process as you render. Keep in mind that Arnold chews polys and eats millions of them for breakfast!


5. Another thing about Arnold that’s absolutely amazing is MtoA IPR. We advise your to get used to it as quickly as possible. It allows you lots of node initializations, meaning that while you are in IPR mode, you can create objects and change displacement features or lights, and it will render them for you instantly, right then and there. How cool is that! Clearly there’s a lot to Arnold, but as you can see from the images it can produce, it’s well worth the effort to learn.

Isn’t it time you invested the services of a professional video company like Austin Visuals to create a video for you? We have several top-notch animators on staff, ready to help you out with video-related need you can conceive of. Give us a call at 512.591.8024 and we can talk about your needs and the best way to fulfill them. 

At Austin Visuals 3D Animation Studio we specialize in providing the following 3D Animation and Video Services:

  • 3D Animation, FX,  3D Renderings,
  • Animation, Video Production, and Graphics from concept-to-completion

Contact us Today to request a free quote and to learn more about how Austin Visuals can help you with your business and your 3d animation needs. Austin Visuals can help you save time and many headaches of getting your project off the ground and best of all we make your imagination, reality. Call us today at 512-591-8024 or email us at :