Pixar RenderMan

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Official RenderMan logo
Official RenderMan logo
Stable release
23.0 / December 3, 2019; 11 months ago (2019-12-03)
Operating systemLinux, macOS, Windows
TypeRendering system
LicenseProprietary commercial software

Pixar RenderMan (formerly PhotoRealistic RenderMan)[1] is proprietary photorealistic 3D rendering software produced by Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar uses RenderMan to render their in-house 3D animated movie productions and it is also available as a commercial product licensed to third parties. In 2015, a free non-commercial version of RenderMan became available.[2]


To speed up rendering, Pixar engineers did experiments with parallel rendering computers using Transputer chips called Pixar Image Computer. One engineer named Jeff Mock built a small version with a 2,5 × 5 inches/ 6,4 × 13 cm circuit board containing one Transputer that he could put in his pocket. During that time the Sony Walkman was very popular and Jeff Mock called his portable board Renderman.[3]


RenderMan defines cameras, geometry, materials, and lights using the RenderMan Interface Specification. This specification facilitates communication between 3D modeling and animation applications and the render engine that generates high quality images. Renderman uses the Reyes Rendering Architecture. The Renderman standard was first presented at 1993 SIGGRAPH, developed with input from 19 companies, with 6 or 7 big partners; with Pat Hanrahan taking a leading role. Ed Catmull said no software product met the Renderman Standard in 1993. Renderman met it after about two years.[4]

Additionally RenderMan supports Open Shading Language to define textural patterns.[5]

When Pixar started development, Steve Jobs described the original goal for RenderMan in 1991:

"Our goal is to make Renderman and Iceman the system software of the 90s," Mr. Jobs said, likening these programs to PostScript, the software developed by Adobe Systems Inc. for high-quality typography.

Historically, RenderMan used the Reyes algorithm to render images with added support for advanced effects such as ray tracing and global illumination. Support for Reyes rendering and the RenderMan Shading Language were removed from RenderMan in 2016.[7]

RenderMan currently uses Monte Carlo path tracing to generate images.[8]


RenderMan has been used to create digital visual effects for Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Toy Story, Jurassic Park, Avatar, Titanic, the Star Wars prequels, and The Lord of the Rings. RenderMan has received two Academy Scientific and Technical Awards. The first was in 1993 honoring Pat Hanrahan, Anthony A. Apodaca, Loren Carpenter, Rob Cook, Ed Catmull, Darwyn Peachey, and Tom Porter.[9] The second was as part of the 73rd Scientific and Technical Academy Awards ceremony presentation on March 3, 2001, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Board of Governors honored Ed Catmull, Loren Carpenter and Rob Cook with an Academy Award of Merit "for significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar’s RenderMan".[citation needed] It is the first software product awarded an Oscar.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ponting, Bob (February 27, 1989). "Renderman Imaging Gets Vendor Support". InfoWorld. InfoWorld Media Group. pp. 19, 21.
  2. ^ "Free Non-Commercial RenderMan FAQ". RenderMan home. Pixar. Retrieved December 16, 2014. 1. When will Non-Commercial RenderMan be released? We are now targeting early 2015 for final release. [...]
  3. ^ "Pixar's RenderMan turns 25". Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  4. ^ "Pixar's RenderMan turns 25". Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  5. ^ "Pixar unveils RenderMan 21 | CG Channel". www.cgchannel.com. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  6. ^ New York Times, April 2, 1991, Hard Times For Innovator In Graphics.
  7. ^ "Pixar ships RenderMan 21 | CG Channel". www.cgchannel.com. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  8. ^ "RenderMan: under the (new) varnish". May 14, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  9. ^ "Academy Awards - 1992 | Winners & Nominees". awardsandwinners.com. For development of "RenderMan" software providing the means to digitally create scenes or elements that may be composited with other footage. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  10. ^ And the Oscar goes to..., IEEE Spectrum, 2 April 2001.

External links[edit]