Perspectives on Rendering: New Tools From Dot C and Steamboat
By Ellen Wolff
January 12, 2000 08:10 AM PST

A sign of changes to come in the field of CG rendering is the emergence of small software companies intent on providing alternatives to existing renderers. Two such companies are L.A.-based Steamboat Software, and Dot C Software in Kailua, Hawaii. Both companies are targeting the professional production community, convinced that the opportunity exists to market photo-realistic rendering tools that are competitive with available rendering software like RenderMan and Mental Ray. Dot C Software's RenderDotC product is already available, while Steamboat's Jig renderer is due out later this year.

VFXPro spoke to Dot C president Cheryl LaMont about RenderDotC, developed by company co-founder Rick LaMont. The LaMonts' goal with this renderer, which runs on Linux and Windows NT as well as Unix, is to bring down the cost of creating feature-film and television animation for the average studio. RenderDotC, which adheres to the RenderMan standard, supports capabilities like motion blur, depth of field, displacement mapping and programmable shading. A demo version of the software can be downloaded from

What made you decide to develop a product that competes with Pixar's RenderMan, which seems to have such a lock on the rendering process among professional users?
It wasn't my idea to write a renderer. It was my husband's idea, who's the programming brains behind our outfit. Rick has always been interested in the rendering side of the process. When he started writing a new renderer, I thought, "It can't be done. You can't write a renderer that's as good as RenderMan." But he showed me he could -- in just two years.

We think the need is there, now that movies have moved totally into digital and things like motion capture are being used in films like "The Matrix." That's a totally different application than what Pixar uses RenderMan for. For its purposes -- completely computer-animated features -- it's probably the best renderer. But for a broader spectrum of uses, I would say ours is the better renderer. We've listened to what animators and programmers have said RenderMan lacks. People have said they've approached Pixar about doing certain things, but if those were things that Pixar didn't need for its own films, then those people were out of luck.

Who has used your software in production thus far?
The folks at Centropolis contacted me to try it out when they were doing "Godzilla." They were using Mental Ray at the time, which is very slow for production. So we sent them a couple of copies of our software. They liked it, and were going to go with it for "Godzilla" until Sony stepped in -- it was their picture -- and said "We have extra RenderMan licenses here," so that's what they went with. Manex Visual Effects also used it on "The Matrix" for the baby scene and two other shots. They didn't buy it, but they used it.

So you're still in the position of proving your software's usefulness by providing free demo versions?
Yes. Our situation is that our demos are being used in just about every studio in Hollywood, but we haven't sold to any studios yet. The major problem is that we're not a Hollywood company, and also that we're bumping up against the so-called industry standard. It's difficult to get over this hurdle, because the executives at the major studios are nervous about anything new -- even though all the "worker bees" have been really impressed when we've brought RenderDotC into their studios and rendered scenes and showed them what it could do.

I know that the first big sale will lead to a lot more acceptance, and I hope that will happen soon, thanks to a new dea we have with Hewlett-Packard. We have ported to Hewlett-Packard Unix, which RenderMan doesn't run on. So HP is working with us to negotiate deals in the studios, and it has been presented to a few studios that are testing it. We've had discussions with a studio that I'll call "the biggest digital studio," and they are trying out HP hardware and our software. I'm heartened by that.

So HP will bundle your software with its Unix machines as an alternative to SGI?
Yes, it has a huge workstation that is much faster than SGI's. We've affiliated ourselves with HP, because even though there is a huge base of SGIs installed, the question is "How long are they going to be supported?" Silicon Graphics won't always be the industry standard. It just doesn't work that way. I used to think that some things were set in stone, but that's not true. You have to keep dancin'.

So we keep on perfecting our software and adding features. We have a ray-tracing option that will come out next, which will allow people to use only one renderer rather than have several different ones. Our Maya plug-in is also almost finished.

What other software packages does RenderDotC work with?
It works with 3D Studio Max if you use Animal Logic's interface called MaxMan. MaxMan translates files to RIB which our software uses to render. The company has been working with us to include RenderDotC in its application documentation and it works great.

Are you targeting schools and small studios to build a community of users?
Yes, we're in some universities, including New York University and Savannah (Ga.) School of Design. These people have been using us for a number of years now, and I know that when they go out into the industry, they're going to ask for us. And we have friends all over the world. In Canada, Bent Animation is using us. Digits 'N' Arts have us, and I've heard that Spin Productions is using RenderDotC for work it's doing on an Imax film.

What are your long-term expectations?
My dream is to have a tools company in which each tool is robust enough to do a variety of things on a variety of platforms. That's what we're working toward. We don't want to be bought out or absorbed. We've been offered deals to become a tiny part of a huge software corporation and we've turned them down. Of course, we'd like the money, but our ultimate goal is to have a company that will be around a long time.