Updated: March 16, 2013
Twilight Render is a photorealistic 3D rendering system for Google SketchUp, or shall we say just SketchUp, created as a plugin for the latter software. It integrates seamlessly into the program, and allows you to render your model whole working natively in the SketchUp interface. Then, the rendering engine is the product of the same people who created Kerkythea, which means a very healthy dose of awesomeness.
In other words, I was intrigued, and I decided to see if Twilight is useful and worth its price tag. The free version, much like Maxwell Render, comes with a limited resolution of only 800px max. dimension, and it pastes two watermarks in the top left and bottom right corners. But perhaps, if the results are impressive enough, buying the program might not be so bad after all.
In the Twilight Zone
I'm just an average Joe, I work from nine to five ... No, not really. I work in the hi-tech industry and that means three hours of real work at any given day at best. Anyhow, installing Twilight is a breeze. Next, you pick a model and start fiddling.
Twilight dynamically allocates cores for rendering, and its overall speed is comparable to its brother product, Kerkythea. However, the real fun is when you start editing the materials. In this regard, Twilight uses the same logic as its family. You can select one of the materials from the model and then use a different texture from an existing basic set.
Overall, it worked fine, but I did not find the interface to be as intuitive as the full-blown one in Kerkythea. The problem with SketchUp plugins is that they need to be smaller than the main interface, but then you end up with lots of options tabs and hidden menus and sub-categories, and then it all feels somewhat crowded. You gain flexibility, but you do lose visibility.
Twilight Render is a solid product, but it does not gel with me. Not as smoothly and naturally as Kerkythea. That beauty was an instant click for some reason. And these kind of plugins, not so, Twilight included. Especially since the free version limits your ability to export hi-res images and the watermarks spoil your ability to impartially judge the quality of your work.
Render times were reasonable, the output is just as good as you would expect, but the touch and feel needs polish. And then, of course, there's the matter of price. You might ask yourselves what the best business model for the Twilight team is? Well, there's no simple answer, not when you build a beast like Kerkythea. But maybe sell the program bundled with extras for money? Lots of materials and globals, add more import/export options, those kinds of things.
Anyhow, Twilight Render deserves 8.5/10. It's a nice program, but not as intuitive as Kerkythea. Material management is also more difficult than in Twilight, and it's hard to judge from the freeware 800px what it can really do. Anyhow, you should definitely try it, and then decide whether you can afford the tag listed on the site, a handsome 100 bucks.
Again, if you like my 3D work, buy me a license, I'm okay with that.