Overview of Mental Ray

Mental ray is a rendering software which combines physically accurate light simulation, with full programmability for use in feature animation, motion pictures, visual effects, CAD, digital content creation and more.

The software was first developed by the Berlin based company Mental Images and was first commercially released in 1989. In 2007, Mental Images was purchased by NVIDIA who own the company today.
Mental ray is available as a standalone product and is also integrated into a number of 3D creation applications including Autodesk Maya. The most current version of is 3.10. (NVIDIA, about)

Here is a summary of the most impressive features –

ray tracing for automatic, accurate simulation of reflections, refractions, shadows, and complex illumination
• Indirect lighting solutions such physical sun and sky and image based lighting
• physically correct simulation of global illumination
photon mapping, simulating all possible light paths
final gathering for efficient and easy to use computation of one or more diffuse indirect light bounces
• computation of reflected or refracted light caustics using dedicated photon maps
• an advanced anti-aliasing system
• full motion blur – including reflections, refractions, light sources, shadows, global illumination, and caustics
depth of field via lens shaders
multipass rendering for compositing of layers including motion and depth output
• Programmable shaders including subsurface scattering and metallic car paint
• advanced ray traced shadows with transparency, colour and variable softness
• support for more than 30 texture image formats
• hierarchical subdivision surfaces support
• precise sub-pixel displacement mapping
multi-threading parallelism for multi-processor machines and network rendering
memory caching for very complex scenes
(NVIDIA, features)
Mental ray enjoys its most passionate support amongst the visual effects community with several user groups committed to supporting its usage, including the ‘Los Angeles mental ray user group’ or LAMRUG who’s mission statement is to “maximize the resources and quality of support in the community, in order to nurture skilled, technically savvy and committed new artists.” (Gawboy 2012)

References
Barton Gawboy 2012, LAMRUG, about us, accessed 01 April 2013 <http://www.lamrug.org/about.html&gt;
NVIDIA ARC, about mental ray, NVIDIA, accessed 01 April 2013, <http://www.nvidia-arc.com/products/mental-ray/about-mental-ray.html&gt;
NVIDIA ARC, mental ray features, accessed 01 April 2013, <http://www.nvidia-arc.com/products/mental-ray/about-mental-ray/features.html&gt;

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