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Rhino 4

SoftwareReviewRhino 1 400
"Rhinoceros" and logo are copyrights of Robert McNeel and Associates.
Unless otherwise stated, all other images by Nigel Gough Illustrations.

Rhino 4.0
NURBS modelling for Windows by Robert McNeel & Associates

Review by Nigel Gough



  • Nom. Price Range - $1,695 - $2,590 USD
  • (Dependant upon additional plug-ins. Be sure to shop around for the best price).


  • Versatile Performer – Perfect for most design presentation applications, particularly conceptual and design development stage presentations
  • Excellent modelling interface.
  • Fast Rendering Times – with a selection of rendering plugins.
  • Rock solid performance - with very few system crashes.
  • Good image quality and adaptability - particularly using Flamingo 2 makes Rhino 4.0 an ideal rendering option for multiple image presentation situations.
  • Wide range of additional rendering plug-ins – including Maxwell, V- Ray, Brazil ,and Fryrender to satisfy high end rendering demands. On a personal note it would be great if it also integrated with Vue X- Stream.
  • Plays well with others - with a variety of import and export options.
  • Slight improvement on Google Earth export to include texture mapping would be good.
  • Great technical support and news group.
  • Strong commitment to product development - , with end user involvement via ongoing beta releases.
  • Another Rhino user wanted me to add from an architecture standpoint. If it can possibly be built, rhino will get it there. Great designing tool. You can even use Rhino direct through to final fabrication in the case of product design.


  • Struggles a little on its texture mapping - in comparison to other competitors within the same price bracket, most specifically Form Z..
  • It would be nice if material information, eg texture maps were transferable between various plug-ins without the need to remake complex materials if your switch renderer. (Eg. Flamingo to Brazil.)
  • Current texture map modifications need to update more effectively on screen.
  • Only basic animation capability, - via the Bongo plugin in comparison to Cinema 4D.


Rhino 4.0 -

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Is Rhino 4 the greatest 3D software on the planet today?

Well maybe that might be overstating it.
But as a long time user I think it is well worth a critical look by anyone considering new options in 3D software.

Hopefully this article will spur others to review their own software for the benefit of others in the association.

During the last AAAI conference in Palm Cove we were presented with a comparative review of a whole range of software packages, including Rhino. Two points were made abundantly clear during the presentation. Firstly there is no perfect piece of software, each program has its own strengths and weaknesses and consequently its own niche position within the marketplace.

Secondly artists make good artwork. The tools, including software, only play a supporting role. While having the right tools is important, excellent work comes from a whole range of artistic approaches, as well as “tools of trade”; from coloured pencil, to Sketch-Up to Maya, and everything in between.

That being said where does Rhino fit into the network of 3D software?

I may be a little biased but at the same time I can make some informed observations that may help to answer this question.

SoftwareReviewRhino 4 400

At its heart Rhino 4 is an

an excellent modelling program.

 It has been well regarded by the Industrial design community for many years, and is well structured for modelling both geometric and curve based forms. As such it translates well to building most architectural designs.

Oddly enough the architectural sector has been a little slow to pick up on this software, as indicated by CG architects last software survey with only 7.6 % respondents using Rhino. This can make it difficult to find skilled staff. However this is often the case with all manner of 3D software, leave aside trying to find staff with traditional rendering skills.

It may seem a small thing but the interface design, makes it easy to see and model complex forms. Seemingly simple things like the

Photoshop style layering system,

and a range of other functions allow for a streamlined work flow once you become familiar with the program.

Feedback seems to suggest that Rhino may not be as intuitive as Sketch-up, with a basic learning curve of approximately 12 months. However its more comprehensive tool set, makes for a complete and versatile 3D package.

From a modelling viewpoint my only criticism would be that some of the more specialist commands are “hidden“ in the system. I often had tools pointed out to me in the user group that I never realized existed. Little gems that you tend to discover with time.

Also it would be good if tool commands could be customized to the menu bars for easier access of individual users. No doubt someone will tell me at some point that this is already available. But like everyone I’m learning a little bit more everyday.

Secondly, and a great attribute I would suggest, is that McNeel really stand behind their product with superlative technical support and a great news group. If you need to solve a problem, fast assistance is only an email away, generally with a turn around of a few hours. By way of comparison I have waited six weeks for other software providers to get around to answering questions. Equally feedback that is passed back through the newsgroup is constantly being used to update the product, enhancing the user connection to software development.

Also of an increasing importance when in dealing with consultants and clients, is Rhino
“plays well with others”with a wide range of import and export options. Though it’s still on my wish list for it to be able to export directly to the Google Earth warehouse with texture maps in place. Currently it only appears to support basic colours and transparency.

Similarly the program also remains
stable with large files sizes. I am regularly running files into the 170 – 180 MG range without major hassles on a 2 Quad 2.4 GHz system.

Recent criticisms by 3D World Magazine regarding its rendering performance specifically its use with texture maps has been countered by the suite of high end rendering plug-ins. Rhino directly supports Maxwell, Vray, Fryrender, and recently introduced Brazil.

These plug-ins facilitate high end rendering options (including GI, HDRI’s, Ambient Occlusion, Caustic’s, Displacement materials etc.) to satisfy the most demanding photo realistic rendering requirements. That being said this is still the area that Rhino has the most significant competition from other software.

I am currently also using Cinema 4D which in some respects is better designed to handle complex material rendering, lighting and animation, however my current impression suggests that using Brazil within Rhino is rapidly proving to be a better alternative as it eliminates the need to transfer files between programs, despite the current slight increase in rendering times in Brazil and a few texture viewing hassles.

Similarly you can use the Bongo plug-in within Rhino for basic animation work, but it is not a direct competitor to Cinema 4D or similar software.

Rhino’s default rendering option as well as the Flamingo 2 plug-in should definitely not be dismissed, as they very effectively
fill the gap between basic conceptual images and the photorealistic renders. Flamingo 2’s speed of rendering in conjunction with its material and lighting functionality make it perfect for multiple image design submissions, and most marketing applications. A little touching up in Photoshop and you can get some very effective results, particularly for external views where ray traced lighting can carry the day.

Based on previously conducted comparative rendering tests, between numerous association members using a variety of programs prior to the last conference
Rhino/Flamingo had an excellent rendering speed at 1 minute 12 seconds for a simple standardized building model - external view. The only faster programs were Sketch–up (@ 7 seconds for conceptual images only) and Artlantis (@ 39 seconds.)

Of interest 3D Studio (@ 2 Minutes 33 Seconds) and Maxwell (@ 2 Hours) reinforce the need to carefully select your image quality to balance production times against the client’s quality expectations.

As for pricing the standard bundle Rhino with the Flamingo, Penguin and Bongo Plugins costs about $1,695.00 USD. Adding in either of the Brazil, Vray or Maxwell plugins adds an additional $650.00 to $895.00 USD. (Nom. $2,590 USD.)
Based on comparative figures from the AAAI conference this maintains Rhino’s full suite
competitively priced as a mid range software package slightly cheaper than both Form Z and Cinema4D, and about half the price of 3D Studio.

For myself as an illustrator who likes to experiment with various approaches, and currently balance work evenly between digital ,traditional, and hybrid rendering approaches Rhino 4.0 as proven to be a very useful addition to my “toolbox”.