Maya Arnold: Revolutionizing Rendering Technology

by Render Pool

May 29, 2023

The development of new rendering software and technology has helped digital designers combine lighting, textures, and solids to create realistic content for all purposes, from marketing and movies to artwork. In this sense, high-quality renderings have allowed the animated film industry to turn complex 3D models into lifelike images that create greater engagement among all audiences.

In this article, we provide an introduction to the Maya Arnold renderer, explaining its capabilities as a physically-based renderer and helping you determine if your workstation can handle its powerful texture, lighting, and shading features.

Maya Arnold’s Origins

Maya Arnold was first conceived in Spain and coded by Marcos Fajardo, who co-developed it in collaboration with Sony Pictures Imageworks. Years after its creation, the well-known company Autodesk acquired the Arnold renderer in 2016. Since then, the software tool has evolved to function with different render engines and CAD software.

Understanding Maya Arnold Rendering

Arnold is a physically-based, photo-realistic rendering tool that utilizes ray tracing techniques to produce high-quality renders for CG and VFX animation. Prior to the launch of Arnold, most render engines relied on scanline-based rendering methods to generate their images and animations. Ray tracing, on the other hand, is a mathematical algorithm (based on the Monte Carlo Path Tracing equation) that creates an image by projecting rays into a scene, reflecting them off surfaces and toward light sources to approximate the color value of pixels. Arnold utilizes computer hardware resources such as memory, multiple processor cores, and disk space to accomplish these tasks. Without Arnold, Maya was only capable of utilizing a single processor core at a time. This is why Arnold stands out as one of the fastest rendering tools available.

Arnold was designed with customization and adaptability in mind. Users have the ability to create new shaders and cameras, output new driver nodes, and redefine geometric data. Due to its capabilities, Arnold quickly became the preferred rendering option for animation and visual effects. Additionally, Arnold can function as a server for traditional scanline renders, as a generative tool for video game lightmaps, and as an interactive rendering solution.

Regarded as one of the most efficient render engines, Arnold excels at rendering complex 3D models while streamlining the pipeline and maintaining a user-friendly environment. It can analyze render passes and provide users with feedback that enables them to enhance the final outcome of the render.

CAD Software Compatible with Maya Arnold

Arnold is a cross-platform rendering library, which means it can also function outside the Autodesk environment. The software compatible with Arnold includes Maya, 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Houdini, and Katana.

System Requirements for Maya Arnold

Maya Arnold was designed with special hardware and software requirements for optimal performance. Since it utilizes both the CPU and GPU simultaneously during rendering, the render engine involves intensive work that not all standard personal computers can handle. Therefore, Autodesk has recommended the following system requirements to ensure proper functionality of Arnold with Maya.

  • Windows 10 or later, with the Visual Studio 2019 redistributable
  • Linux with at least glibc 2.17 and libstdc++ 4.8.5 (gcc 4.8.5); this is equivalent to RHEL/CentOS 7
  • macOS 10.13 or later
  • CPUs need to support the SSE4.1 instruction set
  • Arnold natively supports running under Apple M series CPUs, such as the M1 CPUs
  • GPU rendering works on Windows and Linux only and requires a NVIDIA GPU of the Ada, Ampere, Turing, Volta, Pascal, or Maxwell architecture
  • OptiX Denoiser requires a NVIDIA GPU with CUDA Compute Capability 5.0 and above

Above all, Arnold rendering requires that all CPU processors being used are capable of supporting the SSE4.1 instruction set. Users can determine if their CPU meets this requirement by referring to the technical specifications provided by the CPU manufacturer.

How Does Arnold Integrate with Autodesk Maya?

The Arnold plugin is automatically included when purchasing Autodesk Maya, and it comes as a default installation via the mtoa.mll plugin. In other words, Arnold is the default render engine in Maya. While users have the option to disable Arnold during the installation process, it’s not recommended to do so. Arnold’s physically-based design allows for the simulation of lifelike light propagation in materials, textures, lights, and shadows. Common render engines are unable to replicate this capability, as they do not operate based on Monte Carlo equations. Therefore, if a user chooses to exclude the installation of the Arnold plugin in Maya, they will not achieve the same high-quality rendering results.

Benefits of Using Maya Arnold for Rendering in Maya

Being physically-based, Maya Arnold allows animation artists to input plausible values for intensity and scale in order to set up lighting scenes. This approach leads to better modeling and consistent results. In other words, Arnold enables the creation of scenes that closely resemble actual photographic scenes. Additionally, Arnold provides high-quality tools for character creation, including unique shaders for photo-realistic hair, skin, faces, eyes, shapes, and more. Moreover, here are some of the remarkable rendering features that Maya Arnold offers.

  • Surface and material specialization
  • Interactive looks with texturable geometric lights
  • High-speed rendering
  • User-friendly interface with simple and intuitive settings
  • Advanced volumetric rendering with Maya Fluids
  • OSL support
  • Stability
  • Deep EXR
  • Rendering of curves

Revolutionize Design and Animation with Maya Arnold

Maya Arnold, along with its ray-tracing rendering technology, has revolutionized computerized design and the animated film industry by providing an innovative and efficient way to produce photo-realistic images. Although Autodesk was not the company that originally developed Arnold, the integration of this render engine into Maya’s software has resulted in a user-friendly and customizable product. The texture, lighting, and shading capabilities of Maya Arnold have positioned it as the preferred rendering option for animation and visual effects.