What Animation Software Does Pixar Use to Create Fantastic Characters?

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Pixar Animation Studio uses RenderMan software.

Disney Animation Studio uses commercial software such as Maya, Lightwave, and Modo for animation.

Pixar doesn’t work with third-party 3D animation software tools out there. But rather, the studio works with Renderman, its own version of the programming interface for rendering.

RenderMan is professionally used to create high quality images and animations. Its production studios and headquarters are located at the Pixar Campus in Emeryville near San Francisco, California.

RenderMan price: Is RenderMan Free?

Pixar currently offers RenderMan free to personal use (non-commercial usage) but it costs $495 for individual licenses.

How to use Blender

Pixar Animation Studios is a company based in American; specializing in the Production of movies in three-dimensional computer graphics. The company gained notoriety thanks to Toy Story, the first feature film of this type, released in the United States in 1995.

To date, the animation studio has won nineteen film Oscars, four Golden Globes and three Grammy Awards, and many other awards.

Pixar was created in 1979 under the name of Graphics Group, a service of Lucasfilm Computer Division (Lucasfilm Computer Division) before being purchased by Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs, in 1985.

The company tried to diversify its activities with the production of a computer, the Pixar Image Computer. But it is in the field of animation that the company has been profitable with feature films co-produced with Walt Disney Pictures from 1995.

The company was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2006 and the studio has become a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios.

Of the sixteen Pixar films released after the Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 2002, ten were nominated for the award and nine of them, The World of Nemo, The Incredible, Ratatouille, WALL-E, up there, Toy Story 3, Rebel, Vice Versa, and Coco have won.

Analysis of productions

Pixar’s credo is that technology must serve a good story. John Lasseter said: “It’s not technology that’s entertaining the public. That’s what you do with it. And at Pixar, we are above all attached to history.”

Recurring themes and elements

According to an interview with John Lasseter by Tavis Smiley, Pixar films follow the theme of personal development. With the help of friends or family, a character ventures into the real world, and learns to appreciate his friends and family. Basically, according to John Lasseter, “you have to focus on the development of the main character and how he evolves.”

Pixar’s productions have many recurring elements. Among them is the company Dinoco, gas station in Toy Story and sponsor of Strip Weathers in Cars. The number A113 is recurrent to the point of appearing in all feature films of Pixar.

It would be taken from the class number of CalArts, a school where John Lasseter and Brad Bird worked. The Pizza Planet pizza chain appears in all Pixar feature films except the Incredible (2004), in the form of the pizza delivery truck, the first film being Toy Story (1995).

Many connections and references are also found between the movies.

You can even make animated films yourself using Renderman, the same software Pixar uses which the company provides for free to everyone who can learn how to use it.

With films like “Above”, “Ratatouille” and “Finding Nemo”, the Pixar film studio has made a name for itself and created a distinctive style. Decisively responsible for this style is the animation software Renderman.For 20 years, the software, with which the visual effects in blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings were created, is available for sale. Now Pixar has announced that it will provide Renderman with the upcoming version 19 for free for non-commercial purposes.

Goal: To increase interest in 3D animation

So far, a license cost, according to the IT magazine “Golem” is just under $500. The release of the new free version is planned for mid-August, parallel to this year’s computer conference Siggraph in Vancouver, reports the magazine.

The film studio offers its software for its own account for free because it wants to increase the interest in 3D animation — not only with film students, but also with cinema fans who want to try out for themselves how an animated film is created.

In a statement on the company’s homepage, Pixar explains her intention more precisely:

The free and the purchased version should not differ according to Pixar in any way. Digital watermarks or timeouts will be waived.

Pixar provides the software for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Those interested can here register for the non-commercial version already.

How to use RenderMan from Pixar

RenderMan is both a software and an API developed by Pixar for distributed rendering networks of complex three-dimensional images, which is used in rendering farms with many client computers. These client computers do not require 3D graphics cards, although they can benefit from these if they are present.


The rendering of scenes and raytracing animations that contain:
  • Reflection / optical refraction .
  • photometric lights .
  • hair.
  • skin.
  • lens effects.
It can take a long time to process them to a normal computer, depending on the complexity, and the size of the individual images.

For animations, the number of frames per second and the total time period of the animation sequence can also greatly extend the total rendering time.

The render process can be accelerated by individual subdivision of the images in general, for example, fragments of 10 x 10 pixels and distribute the calculation of each fragment through a large collection of other client computers in the network.

For very complex images and very large farm servers, the individual pixels can be distributed to be processed by each client.

Companies and universities can use office or lab computers to do intense nighttime renderings when computers are inactive. It can also be done continuously as a low priority background process in office and laboratory equipment.

RenderMan Interface Specification (RISpec) 

It is a standard between modeling and rendering programs capable of producing photorealistic quality images. A program that implements the RenderMan rendering interface differs from a previous implementation of graphics standards that:
  • You must simulate a real camera and its many attributes, in addition to just the position and direction of the view.
  • You must accept curved geometric primitives so that you can not only accurately visualize the basic geometry.
  • It must be able to simulate the optical properties of different materials and light sources.
It was designed so that the information needed to specify a photographic image can be passed to different rendering programs in a compact and efficient way.
The interface itself was designed to handle different hardware devices, software implementations and representation algorithms. The version of the current specification is 3.2.1.

RenderMan Shading Language (RSL) 

It is a powerful shading language that allows users to write custom programs called shaders to completely define the surfaces and their interaction with light sources.
These shaders are divided into:

1. Surface shaders 

Handles the calculation of color and opacity of the surface of the primitives. Evaluates the texture , reflections, refraction, and lighting model (Lambert, Blinn, etc) of a material.
They work in conjunction with the light shaders to determine the amount of light incident on the surface to “light up” the object.
They also work with volume shaders to determine how much volumetric color and opacity is added to the color and the final opacity of the shading of the surface. 4

2. Scrolling shaders

Move the surface points in render time and recalculate new normal surfaces. These also handle bump mapping with just recalculating the normal without moving the point of the surface.

Volume shaders

Create volumetric effects such as atmospheric haze, smoke, atmospheric shadows, etc., they can be used in three ways: as shaders environment, interior shaders, or external shaders.
A room shader renders the effects of volume between the camera and the points of the visible surface (along the rays of the camera).

The interior shaders are evaluated inside the partially transparent objects while the external shaders are evaluated when the rays are reflected/refracted between objects and give the atmospheric attenuation.

Light shaders 

They are responsible for shadow calculations either by accessing pre-calculated shadow maps or by calculating shadows directly by raytracing.
They can be called during the execution of surface shaders and atmosphere volume shaders to determine the intensity and lighting color of the current shading point.

PhotoRealistic RenderMan (PRMan) 

It is a high performance integrated rendering engine used to tackle complicated 3D scenes.

It offers impressive results and is currently considered a hybrid engine that mixes the latest advances in ray tracing, with the traditional areas that have been the strong points. 7 It is used by some educational institutions to test new concepts in CGI. 8


There are multiple rendering engines that are based on the RISpec, both commercial as the Renderman Pro Server itself, or 3Dlight, as well as open source Pixie RenderMan.
At the end of the day, it’s how well you use the software to create professional animations. So there’s definitely a learning curve!