No! Clarisse Is Not Another Rendering Engine!

There are two things I’ve always found interesting regarding how the mainstream (and I include myself in), generally tackles innovation. First of all, we tend to describe new things based on what we know best and on the other hand, we tend to minimize innovation because we either fail to recognize it or we unconsciously dislike the fact that it can potentially change our daily life.

For example, a smartphone could be described as a simple mobile phone with a built-in camera displaying an incredibly small and laughable battery life… If you think about it, many may agree with this simple but incomplete description. However, if you’ve already used a smartphone, and I guess everybody has in 2016, you certainly know that they are much more than that, even if their battery life is terrible 🙂

Well, you may wonder where I’m heading to or why I’m stating the obvious here, but in fact, you can’t imagine how incredibly difficult it is to describe and define something as new as Clarisse.

Yes, for some people, Clarisse is a compositing software that targets the same market as The Foundry Nuke or Adobe After Effects. Odd, right? Not really when you look at the Clarisse feature set which does provide some (very) basic compositing features… For others, Clarisse is instead another rendering engine which can be directly compared to VRay, Arnold or PrMan for example. After all, Clarisse is used to render stuffs and so do the other renderers. From these guys perspective, Clarisse can’t be considered as a serious rendering engine because it doesn’t provide the same tight integration to Maya or Max, that VRay or Arnold both provide… Finally, others define Clarisse as a 3D generalist application in which you can animate and layout. These guys are clearly identifiable as they are the first ones to ask for a VRay or Arnold to Clarisse plugin.

One thing is pretty obvious, so far we didn’t succeed in explaining  what Clarisse is all about. Of course, this task is a difficult one and even more difficult because we’ve introduced a new breed of software in the CG software landscape.

Let me put things in context here (no pun intended on!). Clarisse was born from the frustration of former senior lighters/lighting TDs (Seb and I, aka the two founders). Believe me, it wasn’t for fun, for glory or for the love of a super high level technological challenge… Not at all! Here’s a fun fact: we did not intend to become software developers! The irony being that we’ve both interrupted our computer science studies to get a job as CG artists! We loved creating pixels more than writing lines of code. Anyway, it took us about 5 years working as CG artists until our frustration led us back to software development in order to try to improve our daily workflow. Then it took us almost 10 years to decide to stop pushing pixels and work exclusively on the development of a brand new application

One of the main reasons why we stopped is because we were tired of waiting. It’s pretty simple: to put things in perspective, at that time, we had the feeling that we were spending most of our days waiting. Yes, we were waiting for the application to start, waiting for a scene to load, waiting for the display to become responsive after a selection, waiting for modifications to be taken into account, waiting for our renders to start and waiting for our renders to end! The other main reason was that we truly believed we could design The Tool we, and by extension, others lighting artists, would like to use in production. A tool on which we could focus on our work: look dev, lighting, rendering, layering and pre-comping .  A tool that would, in its heart, hide complexity to artists and let them spend the major part of their day being truly creative…

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One of our design session discussing about scene management

Clarisse was born on a whiteboard on which we started the design of a new workflow. Instead of following the traditional paradigms and design behind today’s applications (understand the Generalist 3D DCC application + external rendering engine) our idea was to do things very differently. I’m going to tell you something that will surprise you for sure! Did you know that the application of choice we used as a reference during this design phase was Adobe Photoshop?

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First running proto of Clarisse back in 2009

Yep, that’s right! To design a 3D oriented application, our main inspiration came from a 2D one. You may find this awkward, but, when you think about it, we wanted to design an application with an image-centric workflow. After all, lighting, environment/matte artists work on images. Isn’t it the real purpose of this job?

So yes, Clarisse is innovative (we made it this way) and innovation is always very difficult to explain. It has to be experienced to be understood. Today, 3 years after we publicly released Clarisse iFX 1.0, we do have a demo introducing Clarisse which works actually pretty fine. I mean that, most of the time, the audience is positively surprised by what Clarisse does. And even better, it seems to exceed their expectations.

Interestingly, they usually define Clarisse as either the dream matte/environment artist application or as a look dev and lighting pipeline working out of a box. Although, this introduction works well, we can’t demo Clarisse to everyone. 3 years later, we still spend a lot of time trying to explain what Clarisse is all about and yes, we spend a lot of time saying: No! Clarisse isn’t another rendering engine!

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