“After many years as one of the world’s largest and most accomplished visual effects studios, Weta Digital began a research project that has evolved into their own full blown physically-based production renderer: Manuka. In fact, the project encompasses not just the final renderer but as part of work in the lead-up to the new Avatar films, they have also developed a pre-lighting tool called Gazebo, which is hardware based, very fast and also physically based, allowing imagery to move consistently from one renderer to another while remaining consistent and predictable to the artists at Weta.
Manuka is a huge accomplishment, given that it not only renders normal scenes beautifully and accurately, but it handles the vast (utterly vast) render complexity requirements of the company and it does so incredibly efficiently and quickly.
Weta Digital’s team recently won a Sci-Tech Oscar for their work with spherical harmonics and their PantaRay renderer which has allowed, since the time of the first Avatar, highly complex scenes to be pre-processed as part of Weta’s RenderMan pipeline. Manuka improves upon both tools. The new renderer started life as a small R&D research platform and has grown rapidly into a hard core very serious production renderer.
While the upcoming and third Hobbit film will really be Weta Digital’s first major motion picture with Manuka as the primary renderer, some shots in The Desolation of Smaug and some shots in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were also rendered with Manuka. For example, in Dawn when the apes ride into San Francisco and tell the humans to stay out of the forest in the “show of strength” scene, the vast amounts of apes – each with complex hair that would have taxed any renderer – were rendered in Manuka. For these scenes, the Dawn crew tested Manuka and found it significantly improved rendering allowing for all the complex apes to be primarily rendered in the same pass, something that could easily produce major memory problems with most other renderers.”