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After a year, Pixar sets Renderman software free (as in beer)

Rendering engine used for Hollywood films available for non-commercial use.

by Lee Hutchinson - Mar 24, 2015 2:47 pm UTC

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59 Enlarge / Do you want to build a snowman? Or render volumetrically? This beam diffused sub-surface scattering is just a sampling of the magic of 3D! You used to have to pay us, but now you don't because Renderman is freeeeee! Do you want to build a snowman (it doesn't have to be a snowman)? Download me! Disney

Last year Pixar announced that it would be releasing a "free" (that is, available without cost) version of Renderman, the in-house rendering engine that produces the visuals in all of Pixar’s animated films and many other Hollywood blockbusters. Though the actual release process ran into some delays, it has finally happened: Renderman is now free for non-commercial usage on Windows, OS X, and Linux.

FOSS advocates will take note that the software is free-as-in-beer, not free-as-in-speech—that is, while Renderman can be downloaded and used non-commercially without paying anything, it has not been open-sourced (and we bring the distinction up because that’s what more than half the story’s discussion thread on Slashdot has focused on).

To download Renderman, Pixar requires you to register for a forum account and provide a valid e-mail address. Once that’s done, you are given an installation package which in turn downloads the actual Renderman components appropriate for your operating system and 3D package.

And that’s an important caveat: would-be auteurs looking to make the next Toy Story can’t just grab Renderman and get their CGI on, because Renderman is only a rendering engine. In order to actually do anything with it, you need a 3D modeling and rendering application or application suite, like Autodesk Maya, which can cost thousands of dollars. The most popular free 3D application, Blender, doesn’t yet work with Renderman.

Pixar has also setup a FAQ page with additional details on specifics of the Renderman noncommercial release. It appears that the company is keeping to a very strict definition of "noncommercial," since one answer on the page explicitly states that nonprofit entities which "generate revenue through entrance or member fees, service charges, subscriptions etc" (like churches or charities) are considered commercial users and are ineligible for the noncommercial free release.

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Lee Hutchinson / Lee is the Senior Reviews Editor at Ars and is responsible for the product news and reviews section. He also knows stuff about enterprise storage, security, and manned space flight. Lee is based in Houston, TX.

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