Before it became the most admired brand in showbiz, even before “Toy Story,” Pixar’s first commercial triumph was a software app: Renderman. In the years since, Renderman has remained one of the company’s crown jewels and a staple of visual effects and animation production.
But in a departure for Pixar, the animation studio announced Tuesday at the Siggraph conference in Anaheim that it will work closely with software developer The Foundry during development and testing of future versions of Pixar’s RenderMan, and the two companies will collaborate on development of Katana, The Foundry’s digital lighting software. The agreement marks Pixar’s first-ever formal collaboration with another company on future development of RenderMan.
The “strategic collaboration” will also see the two apps bundled for retail sale. Each copy of Katana sold will come with a license for RenderMan. Under the pact, the companies are developing and testing the two software apps together, to ensure they work seamlessly. Pixar used Katana and RenderMan together on the short “The Blue Umbrella,” released with “Monsters University.” The collaboration not only improved the way the two apps work together, but helped The Foundry add new features to Katana.
Katana was originally developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and is now developed and distributed by The Foundry. Starting immediately, Katana buyers will get a full RenderMan license, along with a base set of shaders and free Katana batch render licenses. All in, the bundle represents a $6,600 savings over the value of the apps and licenses when sold separately.
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“The opportunity to collaborate with the mighty Pixar is an awesome collaboration to have,” The Foundry’s chief scientist Simon Robinson told Variety.
Katana requires rendering software in order to turn its data into images. Visual effects and animation studios that use Katana typically pair it with either RenderMan or another renderer. However future Katana and RenderMan will now be developed and tested together. Chris Ford, RenderMan business director for Pixar, said that while the focus for RenderMan will continue to be animation and visual effects for the highest levels of the features business, “as the market expands, smaller studios want to have confidence that they have a solution that is developed and tested together.”
Ford said future versions of Renderman will adjust to ever-increasing resolutions and definitions, such as 4K, and on pushing the boundaries of photo-realistic lighting.
However enthusiastic Pixar is about the collaboration, don’t look for Pixar to turn over RenderMan to The Foundry or any other third-party developer, said Ford. “(RenderMan) is inextricably part of the soul of the studio,” said Ford. “It enables us to develop a solution that is tested and stressed by the visual effects community. And if Pixar didn’t have that ability to stay in touch with the latest developments, it’s hard to see how we could stay ahead of the game.”