As someone who was in a similar position a few years ago here are my thoughts...
As much as I LOVE Illustrator, you can achieve the same kind of look and feel in Photoshop and it is easier more flexible. I used to only work in Illustrator, but I gradually got to the point where Illustrator could no longer do what I wanted. Here is one of my last pieces I did in Illustrator.
It took for ever to finish this! The piece made me rethink my entire illustration process and switch to Photoshop. Now if I want a vector look I just draw my shapes and use the transparent pixel lock.
Also, here is a video of an Illustrator who used a process similar to mine.
To answer your questions.. It is possible to render in AI, but I do not think it is easy nor is it worth the hassle.
I hope all my rambling helps.