What Software Does Pixar Use For 3D Animation?


Pixar Animation Studios needs no introduction. It has taken part in the creation of some of the most iconic animated movies of all time, such as Toy Story or Finding Nemo. Founded in 1979, Pixar started out as a part of the Lucasfilm computer division, but then over the years became its own entity.

Aside from their older classics, Pixar never ceased to create some of the most breathtaking animations ever. Remember Coco? How about Brave? We can’t skip mentioning Up, which according to many is one of the most profound and well-made animated movies of all time. 

What connects all these brilliant titles, you might ask? The answer is simple — every single one is a result of the hard work of a team of skilled 3D animators. Countless artists work for Pixar, and it’s their work that we are able to admire and think back to many times once the movie ends.

Now a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, Pixar continues to enrich the lives of millions of people all over the world. As said, none of this could happen without the work of animators — but modern animators need a bit more than just a certain skillset to create a masterpiece. These days, the entire process of 3D animation could not be done without the help of the right piece of software.

Software used for animation is very demanding, but it can truly make just about every dream come true. Do you want to know what software Pixar uses for 3D animation? We’ve got all the facts — read on to find out!

3D Animation Software — What Can It Do?

When you think of 3D animation, you may be unaware of how fully ingrained it is into our current world. Without skilled animators equipped with adequate software, so many of our favorite movies would never come to fruition.

3D animation is used in making video effects, animated movies, motion graphics, VFX, 3D movies, commercials, video games, and more. Most of the modern-day blockbusters that we see these days have been worked on by 3D animators. In the case of Pixar, its work completely relies on this type of software. 

As far as software goes, there are both free and paid options readily available online. This software performs all the rendering of both 2D and 3D animations, heavily relying on a good computer in order to do so efficiently. 

Some of the most popular 3D animation software:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Blender
  • Zbrush
  • LightWave 3D
  • Autodesk 3Ds Max

While Pixar certainly uses more than one type of software for certain tasks, they also rely on their very own program for 3D animation. What’s more — they have made this program available online for free for non-commercial use. What is it and where can you get it? 

Pixar RenderMan

Pixar RenderMan is a photorealistic 3D rendering software that has been produced by Pixar itself. It’s used for rendering their in-house 3D animated movies. Originally called PhotoRealistic RenderMan, the software itself has been around for years, but has been made open source for non-commercial use back in 2015. This means that any fan of 3D animation can get their hands on Pixar RenderMan

The origin of the software dates back to many years ago when Pixar’s engineers invented it with the purpose of speeding up rendering, which has always been both time and resource consuming. 

Since its inception, it has been used to create digital visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters, namely movies such as The Lion King, Toy Story, Avatar, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, and more. It has become Pixar’s staple tool and one of the strongest weapons in their digital arsenal.

RenderMan’s influence is widespread, as the program is available to both commercial and at-home users. Due to this, Pixar’s RenderMan is also often used in movies that aren’t Pixar’s usual style of production. It’s used throughout the film industry for rendering visual effects. 

What Does It Do?

RenderMan uses the RenderMan Interface Specification to define cameras, materials, lights, and geometry. This allows for communication between 3D modeling and animation software, generating high-quality images and aiding the creation of the graphics that we see in the end-product.

There are countless uses to animation programs — so much so that it’s quite impossible to list them all here. However, let’s talk about some of the greatest strengths of RenderMan.

No Uncanny Valley

Modern animation covers more than just cute and friendly animated characters we all know from children’s movies. In fact, many real-action titles these days supplement or even entirely replace actors thanks to visual special effects. This sometimes may include creating a human character from scratch.

Pixar’s RenderMan does a remarkable job of avoiding the so-called “uncanny valley”. It greatly increases the quality and realism when it renders skin and other soft or delicate materials, aiding the animators in creating a very believable image.

Camera Control

Over the years, Pixar has perfected camera control and the use of light in their animations. RenderMan proves that by allowing the artists to have a lot of creative control over the beams of artificial light in their animations. This helps them in creating a realistic light experience with shadows and reflections.

Shading Improvements

Pixar Studios pioneered many different types of software, some of which were then integrated into RenderMan. The industry-leading Pixar Maschner Hair is responsible for the amazingly detailed hair shading in RenderMan. Each individual lock or ball of fur takes on a whole new level and aids in making character hair look better than ever.

RenderMan also offers a great number of ways to control environmental shading and effects, such as fire, clouds, dust, smoke, and more.

Where to Get Pixar’s RenderMan?

For anyone interested in animation, the program is free to use and receives regular updates since 2015. However, if you represent a company or a film studio, prepare to pay for the software, as Pixar has a paid version up for sale. For both of those, all you have to do is visit their website.

Top-Notch Animation for Everyone

Pixar RenderMan has truly changed the animated film industry. It offers unprecedented flexibility, versatility, and the most powerful tools out there. It’s really not at all surprising that it is used and regarded as a fantastic piece of software. Will you be giving it a try?

About the Author: Ben Flynn

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