Some time ago a friend turned me on to a program called Marmoset Toolbag. Marmoset is a lighting and rendering tool for displaying 3D models, but it differs from a program like Maya, as it is only in "real time". Much like a game engine environment, you bring in any asset and then throw lights and materials on the model and Marmoset allows you to view them. Where Marmoset stands out is the quality of the render, and its instantaneous results. Before tools like this, it was a lot of wash rinse and repeat (or lights, camera, render) and this could take a bit. Although Marmoset will not replace traditional rendering (right now), the applications of such a tool are many. Product visualization, Animation previsualization, portfolio demonstrations, and so on. The future of all visualization seems to be pointing to realtime environments, once the tech is there pressing render may only happen at the very end of the production cycle, and perhaps eventually not at all. Here is a snippit of one of my characters in Marmoset's realtime lighting, this was finished in just minutes after starting:
Garret Longhopper thinking, and dancing (while thinking)
Daniel Triplett, is an artist that worked in game development for over 6 years, and now teaches in the Computer Graphics Technology department (CGT) at Purdue University.