Some projects are, well, just more awesome than others. One recent project at Prowess fell head-on into the “definitely awesome” category. It was a testing project to compare the impact that Intel processors with more cores have on how quickly Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max can render a workload using the Arnold renderer.

What’s so awesome about that? Well, rendering is cool stuff. And Autodesk solutions are among the coolest for animation, modeling, and rendering. In fact, all of the Best Visual Effects nominees for the 2017 Oscars—Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—used Autodesk Maya. Some also used other Autodesk solutions. So, this project was a bit like having a sideline on the red carpet. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it was still fun to play with rendering projects, the software, and the nice, high-end HP workstations we used—and to see the results of our testing.

Rendering isn’t exclusive to visual effects for movies. It’s widely used by architects, game developers, and modelers who design and develop buildings, products, cars, educational tools, and more. Think of the backgrounds in Angry Birds—those are digitally rendered.

Rendering Today Is a Digital Process

3D rendering isn’t about drawing on a piece of paper. Today, it’s about digitally transforming data points that represent a character, building, object, or entire landscape or cityscape into a two-dimensional “capture” of that 3D object or scene from a given perspective. That capture image includes lighting, color, shadows, atmosphere, texture, and other effects to create a life-like two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object or scene. Thousands of those images are combined to animate a realistic 3D scenario, complete with all the intricate effects needed to make it look real.

That transformation includes massive numbers of data points that require comparably massive amounts of computational power. Each individual pixel is calculated to account for lighting, color, texture, and—when used for an animation—how each item in the scene affects the others; think of the light bouncing off of a building and how it shifts as a character rounds a corner. Rendering just one capture, not to mention animating a full-length movie, can take a long time, and it can even require multiple computers. It also requires a solid software solution that can handle all that data and all those variables. Arnold, has long been a favorite renderer of media and entertainment artists as well as architects and engineers.

Who Is Arnold Anyway?

Arnold is an odd name for a rendering software. And it’s not just any rendering software, but the rendering software of choice for computer animators and modelers, including more than 300 studios worldwide and professional and student computer animators and modelers.[1] Arnold is easy to use, and it has an advanced ray tracing renderer built for the demands of modeling, visual effects, and feature-length animation. Arnold is also the default renderer in Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max.

Autodesk Maya is widely used by the media and entertainment industry to produce movies and games. It empowers artists with its animation, visual-effects, simulation, and rendering capabilities. Arnold RenderView, which is integrated into Maya, lets artists view changes in real-time, including lighting, materials, and camera changes.

3ds Max is a modeling, animation, and rendering software. Its ability to model objects and scenes and create worlds for games, scenes for design visualization, and virtual-reality (VR) experiences makes it a favorite for architectural and engineering uses. The Arnold for 3ds Max (MAXtoA) plug-in is integrated into 3ds Max, and it gives users access to Arnold’s latest features.

Putting Rendering Performance to the Test

3D modeling and rendering requires significant processing power. Maya and 3ds Max both require multi-core processors with support for Intel Streaming SIMD Extensions 4.1 (Intel SSE4.1). And Arnold is designed to take advantage of multi-threading and to make optimal use of all available CPU threads. That means that rendering performance with Arnold in Maya and 3ds Max should benefit from Intel processors with more cores, because with more cores, a system has more threads and more processing power.

To test that hypothesis, we tested sample workloads on different HP systems equipped with Intel processors with different numbers of cores. The results supported our hypothesis: not only did Maya using Arnold render faster on more cores, so did 3ds Max and Arnold used by itself.

Bottom Line

Whether you’re a movie-studio computer artist, an architect, an engineer, a hobbyist, or a student, if you’re using Maya or 3ds Max with Arnold, our testing shows that you can render fastest—and therefore, spend more time creating visual effects—when you choose a system powered by Intel processors with more cores.

For specific system recommendations and to learn more about Maya, 3ds Max, Arnold, and Intel processors, see our full report, “A Winning Combination for 3D Rendering: Autodesk, Intel, and HP.”

If you’re looking to complete your own testing project, contact Prowess Consulting to see how we can help. Until then, keep up with our take on emerging trends and technologies by following Prowess on our blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

[1] Solid Angle. “What Is Arnold?” www.solidangle.com/arnold/.

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