I’ve posted about this before, but if you havent tried Unity3D you need to.
I dont render projects anymore. Rendering individual frames takes forever and Ive been looking for a way around it for a while. Ive discovered that I can use Unitys material editor and lighting to get really close to pre-rendered quality for animations. For a while now I’ve been modeling and animating in Blender and then exporting the files as an FBX to Unity. Once I have things inside Unity I add materials an lighting and play the animation. Once everything is set I screen capture the playback and edit those files a video editor (iMovie or similar).
This really cuts down on production time but not without a few hiccups. Its hard to get the exact same sequence twice because you are manually hitting the capture key. But the headache is worth the trouble to save on the render time.
Check out Unity3D