Octane render preview material

Octane Render preview material

Octane Render is a standalone, unbiased render engine which works with most modern 3D packages. It also uses your CUDA-enabled GPU for rendering.

That sounded like a lot of jargon, so let me make this simple – Octane is fast. Very, very fast. Some people will remember a CGTalk thread where the idea of rendering purely from the GPU was dismissed as fantasy. Well I’m happy to report that my opinion has changed completely – it’s fast, accurate and I never want to go back!

Like Maxwell Render, Luxrender and the new physical render in Cinema4D R13, Octane will render as long as it can until you tell it to stop. If you’ve never used an unbiased renderer this can take some getting used to, but it’s certainly an enjoyable way to work. What’s unique about Octane (at least to people who haven’t used the hardware acceleration in apps like 3DSMax) is that it renders every change you make directly to the viewport. What you see is literally what you get. All material changes, quality settings etc. are rendered progressively in real time, so there’s no need to sit around waiting for your GI to calculate before you can get feedback on a material.

Did I mention that Octane is fast? Let me give you an example. At work, I use a fairly old quad-core workstation with bags of RAM. A 1080p frame with AO, some reasonably complex geometry and soft shadows will take me around 3 and a half minutes to render in Cinema4D’s native renderer. In Octane I can get much higher quality (including, I might add, working AO) in about 1 and a half minutes. Better yet, this is all done on the GPU. All of it.

Another little gem hidden away here was the option to undertake a little instant post-work on the fly- as far as I can tell there is no render overhead for things like exposure changes or tonemapping.

I should mention at this point that my graphics card is very modest – a nVidia GTX470. It’s certainly not a high end workstation card, but it does a good job with both Octane and general viewport navigation. And this little sub-£180 card is better at rendering a complex 3D scene than my quad-core CPU.

So. Octane is fast, it’s interactive, it’s required hardware is relatively cheap. What’s the downside?

Well – for one thing it’s In Beta. Yes, a commercial engine in working beta, so sometimes you are left with decisions that feel like least-worse options. You can find examples of these all over the fairly obscure interface, and even to experiences like making a purchase and receiving a license.

Secondly, there is no official plug-in for Cinema4D (which I’m going to assume you use if you’re reading this post), “just” an exporter script. Its basic, but enough to get an .obj with material separations into Octane, ready to render. It’ll also send an animation over, too. A recent email from the developers assures me that they expect a C4D official plugin to be released as late as a years time – and it will cost extra.

Finally on the Cons side; there’s the realisation that your prior efforts at shading weren’t that great. With the current system, you might as well not bother shading in C4D at all, such is the difference between a material translated to Octane and its counterpart in C4D. I’ve also not managed to find a way to export a full scene including disparate objects from C4D; instead each component must be exported and imported as a discrete node.

Summing up: Incredible power, simply mindblowing for those with mid-range or slightly old machines and the right graphics cards. However there’s a big trade-off here in terms of living with quirks and a greatly changed workflow.

If you have any questions regarding Octane, I’ll try my best to answer them in the comments or via Twitter. Alternatively, you could head over to Refractive Software and give the demo a try for yourself.