Pixar Animation Studios announced that the next version of RenderMan, their award winning render engine, will be free for non-commercial use. The non-commercial license will provide full functionality without any restrictions, watermarks, or time limits. And the next version is due out sometime soon (fourth quarter of this year, according to their website).
The render engine works with Maya, but currently does not work with LightWave. Some third-party developers are creating plugins for LightWave that will add RenderMan integration. I expect that once the RenderMan non-commercial licenses are available, there will be more developers working to make this happen (the non-commercial license allows for developing commercial tools and plugins).
In their FAQ page for the non-commercial licenses, they explain why they have chosen to give away these licenses. One of the reasons is exciting to see from such a leading studio:
“It is Pixar’s experience that limitations on software access have become an impediment to the development of the production industry, and that universal access and a set of common standards and practices can only stimulate further growth.”
Hopefully this type of open access for educational and personal use becomes more common, which I believe is good both for aspiring artists and the companies selling high-end software packages.
I am going to sign up for advance registration of the license, even if it might be a while before I get a chance to use it.