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Interactive rendering: illuminating a more artist-friendly future with Katana

Katana innovates to make artists’ lives easier

For digital artists working hard in the trenches to deliver amazing CG and VFX work on tight production schedules, efficiency and productivity can skyrocket when the vital tools that empower artists to excel are able to keep pace with the speed of their creative flow. Untethered from technical limitations that throw unwanted friction into VFX pipelines, artists can achieve so much more in far less time. Having the room to iterate and adapt more freely also goes a long way towards making the creative process more enjoyable.

With tech speed bumps being such a potential productivity killer, the industry-wide push towards improving interactive rendering technologies is an essential step in carving out a better future for artistic teams of all sizes. Fortunately, the tools and techniques that artists rely on continue to improve, unlocking new impressive gains in lighting and lookdev workflows. Katana is at the forefront of what’s capable in interactive path-traced rendering on massively complex projects, bringing power and scalability to vfx and animation production that makes a world of difference in the day-to-day lives of creative teams. The scalability and quality of rendering software is finally reaching the critical threshold where artists don’t have to think twice about whether their tools are up to the task at hand and the final hurdle is rendering speed and workflow.

Team working with Katana

Pushing towards a more seamless interactive rendering future

Continual iteration is an essential aspect of any VFX workflow, and the vast potential of interactive rendering is in its ability to let artists and lookdev teams make important changes to a scene and see the results right away without having to wait agonizing minutes for their work to re-render. Freeing up artists to make more creative decision to refine a scene and capture the look they’re after more intuitively speeds up the entire creative process.

Interactive rendering technology has been around for years, but it has always had a lot of caveats. You could change certain aspects of a scene, for example, but not others. This is gradually shifting across the board, as rendering software developers continue to pursue ways to deliver a more seamless experience, with the ultimate goal of achieving the potential for interactively rendering everything, all the time. That may not be as far off as you’d expect, as Katana already has the power to push a limitless number of elements out for interactive rendering as part of its live-rendering workflows and the power of current plugins are catching up quickly.

Currently in Katana, an artist can start a "live render," pick the objects they want the rendering engine to update, and then every change that’s made to those elements - whether it’s moving a light, updating a material, or a shifting a model, etc. - will be sent to the rendering plug-in. From there, it’s up to the rendering plugin to make updates to the picture. While all of the major rendering vendors are working towards refining their plugins to achieve the holy grail of limitless interactive rendering, one is already capable of hitting that mark with Katana.

"The 3Delight team have created the best interactive rendering experience that we've seen so far, and we’re excited that it's going to be shipped with Katana," says Jordan Thistlewood, senior product manager at Foundry. "What we've seen is this incredible level of interactivity inside of Katana. Now all of a sudden you can work with a plug-in like 3Delight and practically nothing is off limits. You can have all the changes an artist would want to make all happen in a ‘live-rendering’ session, and that’s game-changing both from a business perspective and an artist perspective."

Paired with Katana’s other unique and powerful capabilities, this goes a long way towards giving artists exactly what they need to thrive on any size production - even on the tightest deadlines.

Man working on Katana lighting

Going deeper with Katana

Tapping into the potential of updating your CG renders interactively can have a tremendous positive impact on the creative process, but imagine what being able to work on a whole sequence of numerous shots at the same time could also do to improve productivity. Katana makes this possible, using its "graph state variable" feature, which allows artists to flip between multiple shots within the same session and see them updated interactively.

"The ability to think in a broader sense wholistically dealing with an entire sequence of shots at a time and making choices based on the impact across multiple uses contributes a lot to improved quality and shot production efficiency," says Jordan, who adds some clients regularly work on 20 shots or more in one Katana file, and one has even pushed that number up to 120 in a single Katana project file.

"You can imagine if someone has the ability to then work with Katana’s interactive live-rendering over that number of shots, the effectiveness that artist can have and the corresponding impact on what quality they can deliver in that amount of time is pretty huge."

What this means at the studio level is teams can turn around work much faster than before, they can substantially increase the quality of their work, or they find a middle ground where they’re doing a bit of both. For artists, it makes the creative process much more enjoyable - when you’re tackling a lot of work and don’t have to worry about battling the computer - and lets them focus on the creative lighting side they enjoy the most.

"For everybody that has worked in lighting & rendering, you accept there are technical processes you have to do, sometimes grudgingly, but you're there because you're trying to make an awesome picture," he says. "I love the fact that we're trying to build tools that help people create better pictures, and get them home to see their family and friends at a normal hour."