Just this week Evermotion released a FREE Beta of their unbiased render engine NOX available for download HERE. The NOX gallery shows some pretty impressive renders so it peaked my interest and I thought I would give it a try. Also being a Maxwell user I am always interested to see how others handle unbiased rendering, materials, postwork etc. This post is more about first impressions than a real in depth comparison. I do a bit of that but honestly NOX is a bit too fresh out of the oven to go too deep.
NOX is an unbiased engine in the same vein as Maxwell, iRay, Indigo, Fryrender, Octane etc. As an unbiased engine this essentially means light propagates infinitely throughout a 3D scene without “biased” tricks like light caching etc. resulting in what should be a more physically accurate render. No “Fake” lights, only geometry based emitters and the sky/daylight system built into NOX. Materials are based on a blended layer system similar to that of Maxwell. At the moment there is a Plug-in for 3DS Max which is what I have used to play with NOX. There is also a script for Blender for scene export to NOX.
Upon opening NOX you will see a number of tabs with various settings and scene information though I will be focusing on things that stand out to me as new or different compared to say, Maxwell Render. First thing that caught my eye was the POST and FINAL tabs shown below.
There are some really great things in these tabs!! First off the ability to render without DOF then quickly add DOF in post! (though this is in the Final tab) Bloom, Glare, and chromatic aberration too! Pretty cool! In the Post tab there are some goodies. A Curve editor! Saves me a color correction trip to Photoshop! The expected exposure controls, but what’s this GI compensate? Oh, direct and indirect are split into controllable layers, nice! Hot Pixels, what’s that do? Helps reduce the dreaded “Fireflys” many unbiased engines exhibit, that’s what. Also there is the Blend tab not pictured here since it’s boring to look at. Basically it’s like Maxwell’s multi-light feature but implemented in a more vague way and no, you can’t animate it like in Maxwell. Still pretty nice to have it there, I just wish the value on the sliders meant something. In Maxwell the sliders represent actual Lumen or Watt values, here they are just relative sliders starting at 100%. Anyway let’s render something!
Earlier in the day I had finished modeling this Thomas Mosher Vita Lounge Chair so I did a quick 3 light “Studio” setup and added a few materials. here’s a screen shot of the basic setup.
After 20 minutes (I like 20 minutes because it’s about as long as I am willing to wait for anything) and a fresh cup of Coffee I come back to my render. Here is the result.
Ok, so not bad. A bit noisy IMHO for 20 min. But, not bad…. wait what’s with the watermark!! Yes, the thing that bothers most here is the fact this “Free” Beta has a watermark.
So from this point on we will call it a “Trial”. I know there have been rumors about Evermotion creating NOX as a free engine but I think the fact the Beta is watermarked shoots a few holes in that theory. [UPDATE!] Evermotion’s own Adam Guzowski has confirmed NOX is and will remain FREE. Regarding the watermark, this is to be removed in future builds! [UPDATE!] So that aside lets look at the results. Well, with more time it would clean up certainly but I am underwhelmed regarding performance. It is a Beta after all but the unbiased path is pretty well traveled at this point so lets hope they can speed things up. The DOF looks a bit extreme but I did use a wide open aperture, so I’ll go with it.
Here’s where we’re at with 3.5 hours. The light dispersion has evened out and started to lessen the dark shadow issue as compared to Maxwell and iRay. In fact it’s a very different image as the light propagates around the scene more fully. The DOF is even more pronounced though. I’ll have to setup a better same – same comparison when I get a chance.
Now to Compare
Here is 20 minute renders out of Maxwell and iRay (CPU mode) for comparison. Emitters/lights were placed and sized the same only the engine and materials changed. Well, and the camera as NOX has it’s own. Which I might add seems to simulate the reverse of the 1.6 crop factor on DSLR cameras without full sized sensors. Strange, not sure why. So to get the same FOV as my 24 mm max Camera I need to go with 36mms with the NOX cam. So is this implying the default max cam is cropped? Don’t know, interesting though. Anyway here’s how the others did.
Maxwell Render (20 minutes)
iRay (20 minutes)
Well Maxwell and iRay cleanup nice, that’s for sure. Though iRay clearly is using some sort of color mapping different from NOX and Maxwell. For the record these are all straight out of the engines with now post work. Granted for the NOX render I did maximize the contrast using the curve editor, so that’s some post I suppose. I find it interesting that neither the iRay or Maxwell renders appear to have visible DOF. The NOX render clearly has a shallow DOF (stroke chin) hmm… Back to the noise, it’s just a first test with an early Beta so I think some slack is in order, that said I was an early adopter of Maxwell and used their Beta in dark days before release 1.0 and Maxwell cleaned up better as I recall. Some work to be done there. I wonder what the render times were on some of their gallery shots? Now the big obvious difference in these shots, Light emission/shadows! I’ll admit I didn’t plan ahead and use a luminance value common to all three engines but they are proportionally set to the same values. NOX seems a bit light on bounces somehow. I even turned up the GI compensate a bit to help. The position and dispersion of the shadows is correct though. More testing to be done.
Conclusion – for the moment
There is a lot going in NOX that I really like! There are some refreshing, new approaches to things, mostly in the post processing area. Maxwell should take notice as I think these kinds of features could really be of value. As for the intended future of NOX it’s a bit hard to say. I don’t think of Evermotion as a software company. Also I have seen them as very committed to Vray as a rendering platform so I am confused by the desire to develop an unbiased engine. In any case it’s a start with some really great ideas, with a lot of work and perhaps a more clear long-term path NOX could become another tool in the tool box. I don’t see it threatening the long standing unbiased engines as they have exercised most of their demons already. I’ll be watching and testing. In fact I just opened Max and I received a notice there is already an updated version available for download!