What is special about PovRay?


Over the years POVray has started to annoy me. I don’t know what the fuss is about (I tried it and quickly lost interest). Can someone please explain why PovRay is so special other than the fact it is slow and very old (and hence has like a billion extensions and a lot of support). PovRay images seem easy to spot for various reasons… mainly because as far as I can see, everything renders like plastic. Maybe there is something I am missing or is it just a strange sentimental thing over an old program?

Forgive me for my ignorance.


  1. its not slow
  2. its amazing how such good results come out of such and old package
  3. all renderers have their quarks though i havent experienced the plastic of pv ray as it was more likely seen in blender and early 3d studio renderers
  4. if you are a math geek (which im not) you can also make some AMAZING things as also recently appeared in blender with all the new plugins emerging

im sure there was a time in which blender looked like a garbage heap but it was a huge brick to build on. im certain pov would amaze us all if still in dev


I must admit that there was a section on POVRay.org…the “short code” competition where there were SOME very nice abstract pictures produced with very short (and clever) bits of code. Its slowness may also be a misconception on my part. But I honestly have yet to see a POVRay image that really impresses me (in terms of the quality of the output not the complexity of the geometry) and I have done my best to trawl the internet for nice POVRay images.

Thanks for your reply.


I´m not a great fan of POV Ray, but I see some strength on it. As far as I know, there´s an esy solution to put in a cluster. And here are some renders that once maxed me (taken from www.povray.org):
Bigger version >>

Bigger version >>

Zebras >>


I thought those two pictures would come up. :-? . I have seen them before and yes…the first time I saw it, I too was impressed. But looking at them more closely, I find that the pictures are only good because of the detail present (to the artist’s credit) NOT because of PovRay. Looking closely at the traffic light, I can’t help feeling it looks like plastic. Looking at each car individually, they look like plastic toys.

The other picture also has tremendous detail but the leaves (especially the tree leaves) makes me feel that they too are plastic (due to the monotone shading on them). The image also looks slightly grainy.

I do like the Zebras picture, however, but for me this isn’t a typical PovRay image.

The pictures are good but something about how PovRay renders makes me uneasy. I am not looking for flaws but the overall impact of the images isn’t convincing on second glance. Images from other renderers don’t bother me half as much. CG to me is about generating a convincing illusion of reality (or unreality) as it might be.

I find it hard to explain exactly what is wrong with rendering of what are clearly excellent pieces of work. PovRay images to me LOOK like they are rendered on old software which of course is true.

I know PovRay has a lot of good features but if it generates unconvincing images, I don’t feel it is successful at its task.

All of this is of course only my opinion.


Actually, I think that’s true for most 3D art out there, in the sense that even professional software (say 3dsmax or Maya) won’t produce good results if the user isn’t talented enough.

I don’t see what makes you say that. I, for one, disagree. The material on that light could very well be painted metal or worn rubber covering.

Actually, the problem with those leaves isn’t the monotone shading. Since each leaf is about 5 or 6 pixels wide, the texture would have to be disproportionately large to be visible. What bothers me is the perfect flatness of the leaves and their unrealistically regular orientation. The grain is a an antialiasing issue and possibly even intentional.

That’s a bit vague. Maybe you could provide links to images, blender or otherwise, that fulfill your expectations and contrast them with POV-Ray images that don’t?

I don’t really think age is an issue, since most of the techniques used in the average 3D image have been around for decades, if I’m not mistaken. For instance, the default material in blender uses Lambertian diffuse shading and Cook-Torrence specular reflection, both of which have been around a while.

Before posting in this thread I took a look at the Internet Ray Tracing Competition archive, and here are a links to a few images I feel are good arguments in favor of POV-Ray.


It’s strange, I have the same feeling about POVray - i saw many of the pictures from the POVray galleries and others and they are very good.

But when I first saw the Yafray renders, I was amazed (even the old noisy ones!).

When I see POVray pics, my first reaction is “CG” (with a couple of very rare exceptions). This is something I don’t get with Yafray.

I can’t pin down why though: like Koba, it’s more of an instinctive reaction for me. Once I start actually analysing, there doesn’t seem to be anything I can point to and say “X makes this pic look unrealistic”.

:smiley: :smiley: Thanks leon!

At least I am not completely alone here! I doubted that when I was trying to point out the faults with those images I would hit the mark. I didn’t. I didn’t want to mention yafray (as fans of PovRay would probably point out a load of reasons why they think yafray is inferior) but again I have the same feelings as leon. I discovered PovRay first many years ago before discovering yafray. When I saw the yafray pictures I was amazed and decided that they gave a much better illusion of reality. Maybe its because yafray is a GI renderer (but even without GI and just the skylight yafray seems better). PovRay images feel CG in some strange way and not the way a yafray image may be recognisable as CG (due to lack of imprefections on surfaces etc). Feeling CG and recognising something as CG aren’t the same thing in my mind.

I know my case is hard to argue as I have no concrete points to make. Maybe if you try to look at PoV images with a fresh eye you will see what I mean.


Koba, I do see what you mean. I just wouldn´t render POVRay as useless. That´s all. Blender AO, YafRay, toxic… those would relly give much more life like results.

I don’t think PovRay is useless.

Here are what (in my view) its strong points:

  1. It is great for people learning about renderers due to its scene description format. It weens people of GUI’s which is essential if they are to go onto bigger and better things such as RenderMan.

  2. It is old so loads of small applications support it. If you want to render something very specialised or scientific (such as chemical molecules), PovRay is probably the way to go.

All I was wondering about was why people think it is so good in terms of CG. I am happy that this my unease with PovRay images isn’t some strange occurance only relevant to me. This has helped clean up my confusion. All I am wondering now is why people use PovRay for CG art when there are currently superior (and fee) rendering systems available?


I think people mainly use it for a similar reason to the one you mentioned above:

  1. It is old so loads of small applications support it.

Because it’s so old, many people know how to use it very well by now: a year or two back there weren’t really any alternatives (at least, well known ones). And there’s a fair learning curve for people who want to change from POV to something else.

I can’t imagine anyone starting with CG would look at POV now, although I could be wrong!

That doesn’t mean it’s useless, just a lot less useful than it used to be, when the alternatives we have now didn’t exist.

The first mistake you, and probably a lot of people, made was considering POV-Ray as a “Renderer”. It is not!
POV-Ray is, like Blender, a complete 3D package that can do anything from simple to über complexe things.
The real problem is that a big part of the 3D community keeps treating it with a mix of fear, jalousy, defiance and ignorance just as they do with Renderman.
POV-Ray is VERY powerful but that came with a price: the number of true POV masters is very low and the learning curve to achieve a minimum knowledge has to be the steepest in 3D history, provided that reading a manual is, no matter what you do, a daunting task for many :smiley:

All I was wondering about was why people think it is so good in terms of CG.

One word: POWER!
Anything can be done in POV and if POV can’t do it, one of its avatars the infamous unofficial versions, will jump in the fight and can guarantee you atmospheric effects, mechanic simulation, Subsurface Scattering, AO, several methodes of computing GI, UVmapping, animation, particules, smoothing at render time (the new thing), micro normal for more realistic reflection, procedural texture weaponry that allows you to do anything in term of layering and if that doesn’t suffice, put textures over media (a POV object used to create atmospheric effects and… subsurface scattering!) or find an unofficial version that use a subset of the renderman standard! Did I mention the include system that allows to insert a lot of the latest advanced research discoveries and observations in various highend scientifique domains (realistic lighting, metal finish, refraction indices, film exposure, etc) and slap them onto textures, lights, rendering settings, mathematical objects, etc.
Anything that appears in an image can be entirelly controlled, tweaked or savagely mangled by functions, parameters, includes or even textures!
Those are only a very small glimpse in what POV is really capable of doing. As stated at the beginning of this post, if you compare POV-Ray and Yafray you are already wrong because they are absolutely not the same thing: Fire up Yafray and try to do something with it alone and you’ll directly understand what I’m saying here :smiley:
But you were right on one thing: POV-Ray is heavy equipment as its fullest and is not designed for the faint hearted!

I think deep down inside you realise that POV was to complexe for you and you took something else which is the right thing to do.
One last thing: current POV version is less than a year old and a complete rewrite of the code from ground up is coming.
Having an opinion on a software that works in our branch is very good, having an opinion on a software you don’t seem to fully grasp the concept, modus operendi, developpement state and features is … strange! :smiley:

Wow, I didn´t know POV Ray was THIS open! Glad to know.


To say I chose not to use povray because it is too complicated for me is a bit of a sweeping assumption isn’t it? Complexity is often more of a hindrance than a virtue.

I was talking about actual PovRay images NOT the techniques used to make the images. I don’t dispute that PovRay’s scene description format is powerful but then again if you want power in CG, then use a fully RenderMan compliant renderer. RenderMan is a standard unlike PovRay and so more versatile and useful.

I said already that there are a lot of technical scientific applications that use PovRay. This misses the point I am making. Projects generally finish as still renders, animations or in some kind of game engine. This requires PovRay to be used as a renderer.

I do admit it has been a long time since I tried PovRay (must have been about 15 years old at the time) but subsurface scattering, volumetric caustics whatever feature you can mention doesn’t impress me unless a convincing effect is achieved. There is more to CG than just the technicality behind it.

I am not part of the “industry”; being a hobbyist I have no natural prejudice against free software. I have no reason to dislike PovRay apart from when I tried it out in the past and the art people make with it. I am certainly not going to dislike it because it?s free (I use Blender after all). I maintain I can spot PovRay images even though I can’t articulate why.

If I liked the look of PovRay images, with all the features it has, I would be the first to defend it. I will pick up a PovRay manual, no matter how complicated and endeavour to master the program once I am convinced I can produce results to my satisfaction.


I reckon having exaggerated the bit about you being afraid of POV complexity :slight_smile:
Concerning being able to spot POV images amongst others, I am not so sure of that: there is a big part of POV production that is, like Blender or other free or costly 3D packages, inivsible to us: the professionals who use it!
I know a lot of people who work in architecture visualisation who use POV and their productions rivals those of 3DSViz, CInema 4D and others.
What you could say however is that there is an idiosyncratic feel to raytracing that is noticable in POV images but also in all other raytracers if you take out the mastery of the user.
All raytracers exhibit the same “POV style” by default and it takes time and knowledge to orientate each one into the right direction.
As an exemple a lot of people use Blender’s new features on simple compositions (a cube, abstract art, etc.). Nonetheless presented with a challenge, the F1 one, very few use them. I’ve been following the WIP section and AO, raytracing, controlled particules and the rest don’t appear in many images.
Looking at that, an outside observer would say that he or she can recognise Blender renderer’s style but that wouldn’t be the truth because of all the potential that is unused.
I personnally use Blender to create video intros for companies DVDs, presentations or big corporate meetings but you won’t see those anywhere on the web and I suspect I’mnot the only one and POV, Blender and any other free tool suffer from that lack of visibilty of the excellent work done with them.

if you want power in CG, then use a fully RenderMan compliant renderer. RenderMan is a standard unlike PovRay and so more versatile and useful.

But if you do so you’ll have picture that’ll be unmistakebly recognizable as “renderman material” :smiley: (blue haze of AO calculation that forces to always correct colors in Shake or Nuke for compositing)
As you see it’s a vicious circle that can only be broken by talent and vision and a little help of some visibility :D.

whatever feature you can mention doesn’t impress me unless a convincing effect is achieved. There is more to CG than just the technicality behind it.

Features are just tools design to ease the work. The CGI world is like any artistic domain: there are those who make tools and those who use them or wait for someone who’s going to use them :smiley:
Even if CG is part of art in general and as such is basically a materialisation of the vision of the artist, technicality cannot be evacuated!
Famous artists were renoun for their visions but also for their technical mastery that allows them to focus on their goals instead of focusing on their tools.
CG IS technicality! If it wasn’t anybody could fire up a computer and produce big things. Well that’s not the case!
Worse: professionals can be totally lost!
The fact that switching from a 3D super-package to low-grade Blender seems impossible for many indicates that technicality is involve at a very high level in CG! It’s also the reason why a lot of people are stuck with “the reflective sphere on checkered floor” in lot’s of 3D packages.

I am not part of the “industry”

Well the title of the thread say otherwise :smiley: You’re are capable of recognising POV pictures which prove that you have insights in the CGI technicality, which makes you “part of the industry” :smiley:
I was using that expression beacause wether we like it or not, compared to a vaste majority of CG consumers, we can infer a lot on technics used to create images where others only sees images at best.

I maintain I can spot PovRay images even though I can’t articulate why.

Well I can articulate it for you: raytracing idiosycrasy! Habits people who raytrace have taken a long time ago and that are hard to kill. :smiley: One last quick example: Until 2or 3 years ago POV images were clean. I mean anything in the composition was spotless. The equivalent of fractal noise is in POV since the beginning but very few artists used it. The explosion of radiosity suddenly brought it back and people stopped making spotless pictures. You can hope that the next step will consist in making images less “POV” or better more “personnal”. :stuck_out_tongue:

Wow, I didn´t know POV Ray was THIS open! Glad to know.

Well, Arangel, sometimes people say that it is too open to keep track of it development :smiley: !
After each big release forks spread really fast and the big problem is that, contrary to Blender, maths behind some forks are totally inadaptable in POV official :o
Other are so complexe that people often don’t fully grasp the usefullness of patches or unofficial versions before a long time.
I think that news.povray.org must have the highest rate of accessing the Siggraph repository.
Add to that the fact that POV exists on a lot of plateforms and you can easily see the decision mayhem when time comes to make an official version :smiley:
Everything is not perfect nonetheless. The forking policy is only a manifestation of communication problems with the POV team and more specifically the POV support team.
There are many useful unofficial versions that are abandonned by their creators which create a big problem for the support :frowning:
That constant increase in power leads to an increase in maths that in turn leads to fear and suffering and… you know the rest :smiley:

Ok I can accept that.

I may be able to recognise PovRay images because the people have consistently made images in the same way in the past. The noise added by the Monte Carlo method used in yafray, for example, greatly improves realism in my opinion. The PoVRay fractal scenery looks, well, fractal. PoVRay materials are too clean in what I have seen. This may not PovRay itself but how people have used PovRay in the past. I would like to know what it can do NOW.

To convince me, I still need to see some images (and not the ones linked to already) that are recent and rival the quality of Cinema 4D, for instance. If you could show me such renders I may be swayed.

Your point about people being able to spot Blender images isn’t really true as the PoVRay “Hall of Fame” is the equivalent of the Blender3d.org gallery. I do realise the PovRay “Hall of fame” hasn’t been updated in a while and so may not reflect the quality of recent PoV work.

I never said CG isn’t technical: I was saying how that the technicality that people working with CG understand has to translate into the final image (with the goal of increasing realism).


heh not to burst your bubble but like all works not everyone strives for realism :slight_smile: no replies need here people…