I’m not sure if it’s good that I feel like I’m cheating using Yafaray, but that’s about the highest compliment I can give in this case. This image rendered in 5 passes at a tremendous resolution (2120X1192) in under an hour, and that’s accounting for 3 additional anti-aliasing passes. The material setup was negligible compared to what the same image would have cost setting up in cycles, and the render time was dramatically less than something even close. Plus, flawless caustics, absorption, and jeez, just look at it.
I have to say a bit about this image before I do a Yafaray review, though. I made a version of this image very early in my time working with Blender (so about a year and a half ago.) It was sort of on a whim, because I had found out that you could do absorption in Cycles from BlenderDiplom and wanted to try it out. [result on the right] You can see what I came up with, it’s a little grainy (ignore the white squares, they are supposed to be frosted glass) and took over 2 hours to render. It was a fun image at the time, and it taught me a lot about the capabilities of of myself as a modeller, and the flexibility of the Cycles engine. It also taught me a lot about the frustrations of render times without a GPU, and the sheer volume of passes necessary to get a clean render. I learned a lot since then, and looking at this image, I can see there is nowhere near enough light, the bounces aren’t set high enough, and (inside the model) the geometry was fairly messy. It was more fun to revisit the image now, and see how I had grown.
Anyway, one of the problems I have with Cycles is that it is so ‘material-centric.’ Everything is determined at the level of the materials, which can make sense to some artists, I suppose, but it is counter-intuitive to me. What I’m interested in, with a background in photography, is light.
I think this is the biggest advantage that Yafaray has over Cycles, it is ‘light-centric’ in its rendering process. No more fiddling with insane amounts of settings and plugging in all varieties of material nodes / input settings/ etc. The light is going to do the work for you, and you just need to make sure that everything is set up to receive that light properly, and send it on along its way. The most intimidating thing moving from Cycles to Yafaray is the list of materials. Experienced Cycles users are going to balk at the paltry options, until they really dig in to the interface. The amount of editable content on each material is the equivalent of having 5 or 6 built in nodes on the Cycles materials, so that very little of the quantity is missed in favor of customization. Basically, the artist has to ask, ‘how is the light going to interact with this object,’ then pick the material accordingly, and modify it to precision. Once you find the material to light settings (they are hidden in the object panel in this engine) you’re golden.
The rendering process is also quite a bit more intuitive, and as many who use Yafaray have found, the Photon Mapping setting does a great job of producing very detailed light effects. The documentation on Yafaray.org is very explicit in how to use every setting, and it doesn’t require much to figure out once you have your head around it. When I rendered Glass Tower Gambit, I had all the settings cranked up to 16 (ray depth, bounces, etc.) and even rendering on a crappy laptop it only took 55 minutes. I made the mistake of not reading up on anti-aliasing tests until after I had started the render, and so I probably could have shaved a little bit of time off even that.
There are some downsides to Yafaray.
- Full support for some items isn’t integrated, yet.
- There is no ‘node-editor’
- There is no option to render on GPU (which I don’t miss, but some will.)
- The engine inhales RAM, but the issue has been cornered in the code, and will soon be worked out.
In all, I’d say people cutting their teeth in Blender should stick to Internal, but then move to Yafaray when they get the interest in making much more life-like renders. The reality of Cycles is that it is overly technical, and requires much more time to set up and to render, even for experienced users with decent machines. This engine gets my hearty thumbs up.
Let me know how your experience with Yafaray goes.