DreamWorks Animation is about to make its MoonRay renderer free

Formerly a proprietary production renderer, MoonRay will be available for all creations under the Apache 2.0 license. Here’s why it’s a big deal.

In a somewhat surprising move, DreamsWorks has followed in the footsteps of the Blender organization. I say a little because DreamsWorks animation has already taken a few steps into the open source space.

If you’re not aware, Blender is a completely free 3D modeling, sculpting, and compositing program. As in zero dollars. Still. And it’s gotten so good that it rivals some of the industry standards like Maya and Adobe After Effects (although that’s a discussion for another day). David F. Sandberg even used it on Annabelle: Creation to make part of the title sequence.

Why is this a big deal

The push to open up the MoonRay renderer to all creations is a step that hasn’t been seen since Epic released Unreal Engine for the masses. Unfortunately, Epic still takes a cut even though you can use it for free. With MoonRay (as well as the Arras cloud rendering framework) released under the Apache 2.0 license, no conditions are attached. At least according to my basic understanding of the licensing framework.

So what’s so bad?

MoonRay is an MCRT renderer that was developed by incredibly talented engineers and comes with an extensive library of physics materials that have been tested on multiple productions. From the start, it was designed to focus on efficiency and scalability. It has no prior legacy code, so you won’t be bogged down with shoddy programming from when Windows 95 was the reigning king of operating systems.

Credit: Dream works

MCRT stands for Monte Carlo Ray Tracing. According to Wikipedia, it is derived from a set of experiments which are “a broad class of computational algorithms that rely on repeated random sampling to obtain numerical results”. These are used in everything from science and law to engineering and computer graphics.

In computer graphics, these algorithms render scenes by randomly tracing samples of possible light paths. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but suffice it to say that it’s one of the most physically accurate ways to redraw 3D graphics.

DreamWorks The Croods A New Era
“The Croods: A New Era”Credit: Dream works

And it will be free. This rendering engine was used not only on How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Croods: A New Era and The villainsbut also the next Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. It’s like having the chance to use Pixar’s RenderMan on whatever you cook in your basement.

The importance of open source

Making MoonRay part of the open source landscape means that any creative can dig into its code base (much like Blender) and evolve it to suit their needs. It’s not like DreamWorks is just tossing its baby into the wild. With a community of creatives ready to help it grow, MoonRay can become something bigger than it was in captivity.

With so many programs locked under the umbrella of their companies, it’s amazing to see such robust technology being made available to creatives.

What do you think of this DreamWorks move? Will you use MoonRay in your project? Let us know in the comments!

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