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NAB: Autodesk acquires the Arnold Renderer and its development team

Autodesk announces its acquisition of Solid Angle, the makers of the Arnold Renderer, at NAB 2016 this week. This is the first major advanced renderer Autodesk owns in-house but the company has already committed to an “open renderer policy” and even third-party products will be robustly supported and that may become a new business segment for the company.


The Arnold renderer has risen quickly within the 3D market and is an advanced Monte Carlo ray tracer built for feature length animation and visual effects. It is technically a global illumination renderer. Sony Pictures was its original co-developer and the software is its main renderer.

“We’re constantly looking out for promising technologies that help artists boost creativity and productivity,” shared Chris Bradshaw, senior vice president, Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “Efficient rendering is increasingly critical for 3D content creation and acquiring Solid Angle will allow us to help customers better tackle this computationally intensive part of the creative process. Together, we can improve rendering workflows within our products as well as accelerate the development of new rendering solutions that tap into the full potential of the cloud, helping all studios scale production.”

Arnold is Everywhere

According to the company’s website, the Arnold renderer is used at over 500 studios globally including big names like ILM, Framestore, MPC, The Mill, and Digic Pictures. If you saw the motion picture Gravity, you saw the Arnold renderer in action. In fact, you learn more about its developer, Solid Angle and its work on the blockbuster film here in a Q&A.

Other blockbuster films of late that Arnold was utilized on include Ex-Machina and The Martian.

01 - A still from the motion picture Gravity, which featured major use of the renderer Arnold. (image source and copyright: Framestore, all rights reserved.)

01 – A still from the motion picture Gravity, which featured major use of the renderer Arnold. (image source and copyright: Framestore, all rights reserved.)

Arnold is both a standalone renderer and a plugin for leading rendering tools. As a standalone renderer, Arnold is developed for both Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. Plugins include Maya, Softimage, Houdini, Cinema 4D and Katana.

Terms of the Deal and Support for Competitors

While the news broke at NAB 2016’s start, the terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Solid Angle founder and chief software architect Marcos Fajardo will join Autodesk along with the rest of the company’s staff but remain highly independent as a unit.

“Autodesk shares our passion for numerical methods and computational performance and our desire to simplify the rendering pipeline, so artists can create top quality visuals more easily,” said Solid Angle Founder Marcos Fajardo. “With Autodesk, we’ll be able to accelerate development as well as scale our marketing, sales and support operations for Arnold to better meet the needs of our growing user base. Working side-by-side, we can solve production challenges in rendering and beyond.”

As part of the deal, Solid Angle’s team will continue to drive the evolution of Arnold working in collaboration with its user community. Importantly for those using non-Autodesk 3D products, Arnold will continue—in both its standalone version and its plugins—be made available to third-party applications like Houdini, Katana, and Cinema 4D, across Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. Both Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya will also continue to support other third-party renderers.

Autodesk Puts Customers First

“As with other acquisitions, we are committed to supporting third party applications with Arnold,” explains Bradshaw. “Our goal is to improve customers’ collaboration, creativity, productivity and efficiency across their entire pipeline, regardless of the tools they use.”

Arnold pricing and packaging is unchanged and Autodesk will continue to offer perpetual licenses of Arnold. Customers should continue to purchase Arnold through their usual Solid Angle channels.

To learn more you can read the press release here and the CG Channel article here.

Architosh Analysis

While the official press release did not mention the following note, CG Channel has was informed by Autodesk that not only will it continue to maintain Arnold for third-party (non-Autodesk) competitive software platforms but that it “intends to grow that business.” The company further stated that Autodesk is trying to make sure products remain as open as possible. Autodesk Industry Manager, Maurice Patel stated to CG Channel, “We’re trying to be as open as we can with technologies that cross multiple product segments and not disrupt workflows.”

Autodesk will continue to support competing renderers, particularly its support for Pixar’s RenderMan and the ever popular V-Ray. The company’s two main 3D packages (3ds Max and Maya) will reportedly continue to ship with Nvidia’s mental ray and Iray renderers as part of the so called “open rendering policy” the company implemented in Maya 2016.

Solid Angle will continue to act like a wholly owned separate company, much like Shotgun, which Autodesk acquired a few years back. As the first major in-house renderer (Mental Ray is a licensing deal) Autodesk will likely drive this rendering engine to its 3ds Max software where it currently has no place. It would also be exciting if this rendering engine found its way to Autodesk’s AEC product division products where Mental Ray has been located. Since Arnold is ready for the cloud today, Autodesk may be wishing to drive Arnold to its cloud-based 360 platform and utilize it as an advanced in-house cloud renderer.

Arnold is a CPU-based renderer but is faster than most other CPU-based rendering solutions with a great balance of  speed and robust features. Yesterday we noted a blog post over at Greyscalegorilla that compares the virtues of Cinema 4D’s physical renderer, against Arnold, against Octane Renderer. This author has seen that blog and it will help shed some additional light about why Arnold is special.

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