The Best Rendering Software for CG Lighting for Animation

by | Updated: May 17, 2021 | Tips & Techniques | 0 comments


What is the one thing that all good animated films have in common? An exceptional renderer for CG lighting. Rendering is the automated process of generating an image – photorealistic or non-photorealistic – from a 2D or 3D model through a computer application. Rendering is the last step in the animation process. The process applies a variety of visual effects to the final models such as shading, texture mapping, shadows, reflections and motion blurs. It takes a highly capable renderer to create detailed, hyper-realistic images.

There are several industry standard CG applications for CG lighting that we could recommend. These are: Arnold, Redshift, VRay, Renderman, Maxwell. These CG applications come packed with intuitive features and each one has its pros and cons. Let’s get to know these renderers to find out which one suits your needs:

1. Arnold

CG lighting
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Arnold is an unbiased ray-tracing 3D rendering application created to satisfy the demands for feature-length animation and visual effects. Developed by Solid Angle, Arnold is the renderer of choice among top movie studios, particularly Sony Pictures, which adopted Arnold as Imagework’s main renderer.

Some of the most memorable animation films were rendered using Arnold including Alice in Wonderland, Monster House, Pacific Rim, and Gravity. Arnold is so widely used in the movie industry that it was recognized with a Scientific and Engineering Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Today, over 300 studios worldwide use Arnold, including ILM, Framestore, MPC, The Mill and Digic Pictures. Arnold integrates seamlessly with Maya, 3ds Max, Houdini, Cinema 4D, and Katana. It also comes built into Maya and 3DS Max.

Why Choose Arnold?

Why choose Arnold as rendering software for CG lighting for animation? Arnold generates exceptional image quality. It’s more user-friendly than other rendering engines and it plays well with other CG applications. The controls are straightforward so rendering is easier, more organized. It’s also dependable, able to handle massive data sets with ease.

Arnold Pros and Cons


  • Production Proven
  • Deep feature set
  • Frequent C4D plugin updates
  • Simple settings
  • MAC/PC Support
  • Speed-enhancing shortcuts
  • Dependable performance


  • Some 3DS MAX features are still not available
  • Offers Arbitrary Output
  • Expensive compared to other render engines
  • Not suitable for beginners – exceptional results will require a lot of tweaking

Also, check out our Arnold workshop

2. Redshift

CG lighting
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Redshift is the world’s first fully GPU-accelerated, biased renderer. Designed by Redshift Rendering Technologies Inc., Redshift makes 3D art creation faster, more efficient. The software provides production-quality images and support that “meet the demands of contemporary high-end production rendering.”

This CG application provides the speed of GPU acceleration and the flexibility of existing CPU-based render solutions. In addition, Redshift offers a full suite of powerful features that integrate seamlessly with industry standard CG applications including Autodesk MAYA, Houdini 3D animation tools, and Katana.

Why Choose Redshift?

This render engine may be the new kid on the block but it is packed with powerful features that cut the rendering time in half. This renderer is designed for speed and accuracy so you get more things done without compromising the quality of the images.

Redshift Pros and Cons


  • GPU accelerated for faster rendering
  • With Dense Compute nodes for fast query optimization, and distribution
  • High performance
  • Efficient data compression
  • Optimized to handle large data
  • Affordable
  • Horizontally scalable
  • Seamless integration
  • Massive storage capacity
  • SQL interface
  • Excellent security features


  • Relatively new renderer, steeper learning curve
  • Requires specific hardware
  • Slow to use on scenes with dense objects

3. V-Ray

CG lighting
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Created by Bulgarian tech company Chaos Group, V-Ray is a rendering plugin used for visualizations and computer graphics. This rendering engine utilizes global illumination such as path tracing, photon mapping, and irradiance maps to create photorealistic images.

V-Ray is designed for speed, precision, and seamless integration. The robust performance allows V-Ray  to render massive numbers of images quickly and efficiently, all without sacrificing quality. This rendering engine integrates seamlessly with other 3D modeling programs, including Rhino, 3DS Max, and Sketchup. It offers an extensive selection of material library and resources, allowing users to render images with life-like precision.

Why Choose V-Ray?

If you have a tight deadline and you need a robust renderer that could handle massive data then V-Ray makes the perfect rendering engine for you. It’s fast, accurate, and it yields detailed, high-quality results. V-Ray is renowned for handling realistic light and shadow more accurately and realistically than most renderers!

V-Ray Pros and Cons


  • Robust performance
  • Life-like precision
  • Flexible, suitable for film, games and design visualization
  • An arsenal of useful tools and features
  • Seamless integration
  • Optimized to handle large data


  • Steep learning curve
  • More expensive than similar renderers
  • Hardware dongle

4. RenderMan

CG lighting
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The secret to Disney Pixar’s crisp, hyper-realistic animation films is Renderman. RenderMan is Pixar’s preferred rendering engine. Pixar produced the software in the ‘80s specifically to overcome the “ever-increasing challenges of 3D animation and visual effects” then and now. Until 2014, RenderMan was Pixar’s proprietary tool until the company decided to offer a free non-commercial version of the software.

RenderMan is a rendering API that offers a highly optimized framework for a variety of production needs. According to Pixar, this award-winning renderer is “battle-tested,” to produce amazing results. The technology offers a variety of features that yield sophisticated 3D imaging. RenderMan was used to render all of Pixar classic films, including Cars, Toy Story, Up, and the Incredibles, just to name a few. RenderMan work seamlessly with other CG lighting programs like Katana.

Why Choose RenderMan?

RenderMan is used to render all of Pixar’s films, including feature films, shorts, and content for theme parks and marketing. The quality of the rendered images is impeccable.

RenderMan Pros and Cons


  • Award-winning quality
  • High performance
  • Cutting edge technology
  • Offers optimized framework for production needs
  • Seamless integration with other CG applications
  • Optimized to handle large data
  • Flexible, suitable for feature films, short films, and content creation


  • Steep learning curve
  • Not a 3D modeling application
  • No raytracing

5. Maxwell

CG lighting
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Maxwell is an unbiased 3D rendering software application designed by Madrid-based company, Next Limit Technologies. This standalone renderer is designed for film, animation, and VFX applications. It is also used in architectural and product design visualization. One of Maxwell renderer’s features enables light and color intensities to change in real time, a feature that was used to its fullest in the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Maxwell also comes with Multilight™ FIRE, which allows for fast, interactive rendering with immediate feedbacks. This technology allows for real-time adjustments to lighting, materials and camera settings. In addition, this render engine comes with industry standard support, fast scene setup, and seamless compatibility with many hair systems. Maxwell also comes with denoiser that makes rendering up to 8 times faster than conventional rendering engines. Its extensive materials gallery gives users thousands of free Maxwell materials available to download.

Why Choose Maxwell?

As one of the most popular visualization tools in the business, Maxwell offers a host of features that are suited for the film, animation, and digital production industries. This rendering software boasts of a proprietary rendering algorithm to create incredibly accurate, hyper-realistic images.

Maxwell Pros and Cons


  • Achieve Hyperrealism
  • With denoiser for quick adjustments during and after rendering
  • Intuitive interface
  • Extensive materials library
  • Seamless integration with other CG applications
  • Excellent documentation with a massive community


  • Slow rendering speed
  • Gives less control over the materials
  • Interface is set in another window
  • Features and tools require photography know-how

There you have it; these are the best rendering software that we recommend for CG lighting! These applications are an industry standard for a reason. Each one can take your 3D renderings to a whole new level. As most render engines cost a pretty penny, be sure to check the features to make the right choice.

Over to you!

There you have it! Now you know what the best rendering software programs are. 

Next, let us know in the comments below:

What’s your favourite program?


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