Founded in 1997 by Vladimir Koylazov and Peter Mitev of Chaos Group, V-Ray has continuously grown and evolved to become the renderer of choice for many artists. Without a doubt, V-Ray is a known powerhouse in the world of architectural visualization, and with recent iterations, it has shown muscle and versatility enough to be used in television, feature films, game cinematic and more. With the full release of version 3.0 for Maya imminent, we take the Beta version out for a test drive.
Now, I’ll just come straight out and say it: I’ve never used V-Ray beforehand. Therefore, you won’t find this review a comparison between current and past versions of V-Ray. Instead, I’ll give you an honest account of how I found V-Ray as a newbie.
An initial test render, with and without Global Illumination
With this in mind, there are a few themes that I want to explore throughout my hands-on test. These themes can be summed up as:
• speed of renders
• quality of the lighting
• quality of the shaders
So let’s kick off with workflow – and I think it is safe to say that V-Ray excels hugely in this area. With the fantastic implementation of V-Ray RT (Real-Time), you can start to take advantage of V-Ray very early on in your production pipeline. Having this viewport feature enabled allows you to use lighting and rendering for a lot more purposes then simply creating the final renders.
“The overall implementation of V-Ray into Maya is very strong, with the GUI so well integrated that you can easily forgot that it is a plug-in”
You can, for example, get a very clear idea of the quality of your models as you go through the modeling phase or get a clearer idea of how the final animation will look before you send it out for rendering. You can also take advantage of the GPU to give the V-Ray RT more bang and make things a little snappier. Check out the making of Kevin Margo’s CONSTRUCT to get a clearer idea of how powerful the V-Ray-RT engine is:
Still on workflow, the overall implementation of V-Ray into Maya is very strong, with the GUI so well integrated that you can easily forget that it’s a plug-in. Setting up a linear workflow is a breeze, and gamma-correcting input images can be done in a variety of ways, such as the traditional method of using a gammaCorrect node, or by adding a V-Ray attribute directly onto the image to handle the correction.
The V-Ray attributes are great for speeding up your work and making you more efficient. They can be used for a multitude of tasks, from the previously mentioned gamma correcting images, to adding subdivision levels to your models.
The comparison between V-Ray RT actively running in the Maya viewport and the final render
Moving on to the V-Ray Frame Buffer (VFB), which I will admit, I adore. It gives a far greater level of control than I have been used to previously and simply makes the rendering process a lot more enjoyable. For example, the Color Correction tools allow me to stay in V-Ray and make simple changes to the renders that I would normally handle in NUKE or After Effects. Changes such as playing with the exposure, contrast, tweaking the colour curves, the levels and so on, allow you to work faster and smarter.
If you’re not a fan of taking your images into another package for post-work, you can also make a few extra changes, such as Bloom and Glare using the Lens Effects tools. As well as being able to render regions, another nice feature is being able to specify which buckets should be rendered first by dragging the mouse to a particular position on the render frame.
Kicking off a few initial renders in V-Ray, you’ll quickly notice that it has some oomph to it. I started by adding 2 V-Ray Sphere Lights into a scene and was pretty astounded by the quality of the render in such a short time. Yes, there was some noise to the image, but all in all, it was a darn good start.
My initial attempts to create a clay-based shader and a skin shader
Adding a V-Ray Dome Light came next, mapped with an HDRI and turning on Global Illumination. Again, I was very impressed by how quick I could light a shot, make changes, and re-render. Or better still, I could use V-Ray RT to block everything out in the viewport before hitting the main render button.
What I did find, however, was that as I increased the quality settings to get a crisper image, render times did increase pretty dramatically – no more dramatically than in other packages that I have used, though. What I found more important was the speed at which I could set up the lighting for a shot, and the speed at which I could make tweaks to the lighting. In both these cases I got results very fast, and this is where V-Ray really stood out.
V-Ray offers the user 4 different Image Sampler methods:• Fixed Rate
• Adaptive DMC
• Adaptive Subdivision
• ProgressiveI mainly played with Adaptive DMC and Fixed Rate and had a little play with Progressive.
Adaptive DMC takes a variable number of samples per pixel and looks at the difference between those pixels. This method allows you to make many custom tweaks easily, enabling you to really refine the quality of your render vs the speed.
Combine this with the DMC Sampler and you can define how much should be controlled by the DMC settings or by the light settings.
Fixed Rate does exactly that and is the simplest to set up. This method takes a fixed number of samples per pixel and will therefore take longer to render but will give more predictable results. With the previous 2 sampler methods, you will only see parts of the render that have been computed with the buckets.
Progressive on the other hand, builds up the entire image as it renders. This is similar to the method in which V-Ray RT calculates its images but with a bonus that you can create production-ready renders from this method.
Taking advantage of the Color Correction tools in the V-Ray Frame Buffer
One of the issues I’ve heard over the years from others who have used V-Ray is its ability to create noise-free and blotch-free animated sequences. Doing a test with the Adaptive DMC and Light Caching, I did find the process of preparing an animated scene (character animation, not a fly-through) a little more taxing than it needed to be and the results were still not as refined as I would have liked. Saying that though, being able to switch back to Fixed Rate and enabling Brute Force, I found I had less quarrels with the final outcome. I’m sure my inexperience has a part to play in this and with a more informed tweaking of the settings, better results would doubtless come faster.
My results of an animation test in V-Ray
Moving on to the lighting tools in V-Ray, it must be said that I was extremely pleased with the results. As the lights are designed with physical accuracy in mind, as long as the assets in your scene are built to scale, you should be able to get pretty stunning results very fast. Turn on the Global Illumination and watch as the light bounces around your scene effortlessly.
V-Ray also comes packaged with procedural sun and sky lighting models, and controlling the direction of the sun and its parameters couldn’t be easier. For calculating GI, V-Ray presents a few different methods such as: Irradiance, map, Photon map, Light Cache and my favorite but the most time-consuming method, Brute Force. Like the Sampler Method options, tweaking and testing the different methods of computing the GI will allow you to control quality over speed.
Lastly, I want to mention the V-Ray shaders. Like the V-Ray lights, the shaders are also physically plausible. Therefore, it is easier to create shaders that work under numerous lighting conditions and handle reflections and refractions more accurately. To get a good feel of what is possible, have a look at the BDRF shaders created by Sergey Shlyaev. Sergey very kindly allowed me to test out his shaders and their capabilities do seem amazing!
The VRay Mtl is its version of an all-in-one shader and can be used to create a huge variety of different surface types. The VRay Blend Mtl, as the name suggests, also allows you to very easily blend different materials together while maintaining physical correctness. If you are looking for a variety of shaders to get you going or to learn from, you can also check out these free V-Ray Maya Materials.
“V-Ray feels like a very modern, up-to-date renderer. And now with support for Open SubDiv, Alembic, PTex vector displacement and more, it’s easy to see why it is the renderer of choice”
My favorite shaders, though, have to be the Sub-Surface Scattering shaders. They are quick to set up, or if you prefer, you can use one of the preset settings to begin with. They look great and they render pretty darn fast.
All in all, I would say that V-Ray feels like a very modern, up-to-date renderer. And now with support for Open SubDiv, Alembic, PTex vector displacement and more, it’s easy to see why it is the renderer of choice for many. And luckily for those looking to switch to V-Ray, to get new users up and running, there is a huge amount of training documentation and video tutorials out there as well as forums, where it seems the passing on of knowledge and experience is rife. I like that.
A Shifted Gamma Distribution model for V-Ray created by Sergey Shlyaev
V-Ray RT on CPU and GPU
V-Ray Frame Buffer
Physically accurate lights and shaders
Sub-Surface Scattering shaders
PTex and Alembic support
V-Ray physical camera
Check out the system requirements on the Chaos Group website.
Star rating (out of 5): 4.5
Check out the full features list for V-Ray 3.0 for Maya (Beta)
Learn more about V-Ray for Maya
Take a look at the Chaos Group Youtube channel
Discover free tutorials for V-Ray from Render School
Check out the Chaos Group 2013 showreels