I've been using Octane for over a year now and I'm still using it almost exclusively in production. I thought it would be a good idea to refresh this page with the experience gained over that time. In the past year I've upgraded my old Mac Pro twice, seen the office become full of GTX Titans stuffed into Macs and PC rigs, and rendered a fair few projects (there are more unpublished than published at the moment). My favourite by far being Birds with Zeitguised...
The engine and its plugin is not without issues, but the tangible progression is some of the fastest I've seen. Since the beginning of the year, displacement and incredible 3D motion blur have been added, plus a lot of workflow improvements. In fact, as I type there is still an update that I'm yet to install that introduces a node-based material editor for Octane materials inside of C4D!
THE HONEYMOON IS OVER
As with most new and exciting developments, the first few months are spent doing things that you want to do, not things that you have to do. Moving from tiny throwaway test scenes to self initiated art projects and then eventually to fully fledged client work. The gap between these three things is vast, and recently I and my colleagues have started to hit a few walls here and there.
As I suspected, there are a few current limitations with the material system meaning you have to compromise a little regarding physical setups: there is no layer/coat system comparable to Vray's specular layers (or R16's new reflectance channel), so varying glossy surfaces and volumes have to be mixed rather than stacked. The C4D shader integration is limited to things that can be 'baked' on the fly to image maps (so mainly noise and gradients). There is a great random colour shader, but still no MoGraph support.
The big one regarding real projects is render times. "But Octane is incredibly fast!" I hear you cry. Don't get me wrong, it definitely is. It speeds up the way we work to a degree I can't even estimate. Within days we are now sending clients almost final quality renders (theoretically) allowing creative conversations to develop quickly and meaningfully (in reality it seems to confuse them as to why final HD renders take so long because the tests look fine to them).
Bear in mind that my colleagues and I have always worked in a 'Brute Force' manner. Both figuratively in terms of workflow, and technically in terms of Vray rendering. Compositing for the most part consists of colour correction and adding polish, not rebuilding 3D scenes from passes. Until Vray(for C4D) got it's big update recently there was basically no usable multi-pass system there, so we used a 'point and shoot' philosophy. Make everything look great in 3D, render it boldly and tweak it a little bit. It's no exaggeration when I say our Brute-Force Vray beauty passes usually weighed in between 30-60 minutes on a powerful machine. But who wants to deal with GI flicker? At least grain is unobtrusive and under the right circumstances can even be visually pleasing. This way of working means the lack of compositing tools in Octane don't hit me very hard, but for a lot of people it will be a big problem, it's usually in the first three questions I get asked.
So now on crazy 4xGTX-MegaTitanSevenEightySaurusRex machines, HD frames are taking between 2 and 10 minutes for most shots (it really depends on the type of materials) to get to an acceptably low level of noise, which compared to days gone by is a dream come true. The thing is those old 45 minute frames could be put on a render farm, Octane frames can't... unless you have friends with a particularly weird collection of hardware. 10 minute frames on a single machine still adds up to a lot of hours.
Otoy has a cloud render service available, and it looks great, but it does not seem particularly simple to set up for someone like me. I really look forward to seeing how this develops and trying it out when there is time to spend on tinkering.
My main personal machine is a 2008 Mac Pro. Until recently I had 2xGTX 660s plugged directly into the logic board using mini PCI to 6-Pin PCI-E cables.
I cannot recommend this.
Last summer I was intrigued and excited by Octane, but buying expensive hardware just to try a demo was out of the question so I bought one of the lower end Nvidia cards. I liked it, so I bought another so I could render twice as fast, and because I knew that the first worked.
In general the system was really stable, Mavericks recognised the cards just fine and the Cuda performance was great. Then months down the line as I started rendering heavier scenes, filling up the VRAM more, driving the cards harder.... then my Mac would panic and restart. This caused me to share my Mac's panic.
I'm not a tech guy, hardware generally frightens and confuses me, but I knew that these two cards were taking more than my machine could give it (I can't really find a straight answer regarding what is safe to plug straight into the Mac). So recently I changed my setup to have one fast card driving Octane powered by an external PSU, leaving one of the lower end cards running the system and removing the other. This seems faster and safer all round.
I now use a GTX 780 6GB, powered by a Corsair CX600M. The power unit sits on top of my Mac Pro and the cables just run through an empty PCI slot. The only hack needed is to jump the PSU with a paper clip so it will turn on. This gives the card more than enough power, and this specific PSU comes with the correct cables for the powerful cards that need 6+8-Pin cables. You can cheat and use a lower wattage supply if you're clever enough to know how to string different cables together.
Just to reiterate, if you're a Mac user looking for a new machine, there is not really a current configuration you can buy that is sensible. Thunderbolt GPU expander cases are out there, but really do not make any sense. You can play Frankenstein with an old Mac Pro, build a Hackintosh, or grit your teeth and learn to love Windows (I recently bought a Surface Pro 3... I'm trying).
If you think this post was a bit negative, then read the earlier posts. All the gushing and positivity still applies, Octane has changed the way I work and the toolset continues to grow. It's speed during production is great, lighting and building materials in real time is a dream, but it's important to talk about the realities of the new technology. I haven't rendered a Vray project since February after 4 years of using it exclusively, but that's probably not going to happen for everyone.
So after a year, Octane is showing its flaws in a production scenario as you might expect, but for me the positives heavily outweigh those negatives.