If you’ve browsed my portfolio you see that I do a fair amount of 3D rendering, mostly for work but the tools are so superior these days that I have begun working on a few personal projects that let me stretch my modeling skills. The killer is always the time it takes to render and the final quality. To that end I just added Maxwell Render as my rendering engine. I found that it had a fairly steep learning curve and there is a lot more to learn before I could say that I’ve mastered it. There are some truly exceptional artists out there using it and are extremely proficient. You can explore it at http://www.maxwellrender.com
I use SolidThinking as my modeling tool primarily because I’m Mac-based and there aren’t too many NURBS based modeling platforms for the Mac. ST has its problems for sure, but it’s far more economical than say, Maya. Though, I think I will probably end up there eventually (save my pennies). I actually learned modeling back in the old days using Power Animator, on an SGI, moved up to Maya when it was Maya 1.0. Never was able to keep up with the upgrades.
Anyway, it seems like you could research rendering programs forever. I was looking to increase render speed when I started my search and I looked at Bunkspeed before settling on Maxwell primarily because of Maxwell’s materials editor. Really great stuff. Now, however, I am hearing a lot about VRAY. I’d like to hear what others are using and some of the pros and cons.