Let me guess: you have tried using the cost calculator on the farm, got a cost estimate, felt good about it, went on to render your stuff, then got charged for a final cost that was much more than the estimate. Let’s call a spade a spade: you felt...duped.
If this has been your experience, we are sorry. By no means did the farm intend for you to be misled--as you will learn as you read on, there are many things that factor into the cost of rendering (and into rendering itself!) that may lead to this kind of mismatch between estimated cost and final cost.
In order to prevent this from happening to you again or to anyone else who may have had a similar experience or is just about to render with GarageFarm for the first time, we shall give you tips on how to lessen this discrepancy, increase your knowledge of how render farms work, and give you more confidence for your future renders.
There’ll be no sacred cows nor elephants in the room. In this article, we’ll be as real as we can be. No question is too hard, no stone unturned. Let’s go.
Before committing to a final render on the cloud render farm, make sure that there are no issues with your 3D animation or image renders. Any rendering issue can cause your total render time to lengthen unnecessarily, if at all. The most common issues are a result of unoptimized scenes, and can cause render processes to go on infinitely, or even crash. On a render farm, that would be a total waste of money.
Hanging buckets are a typical symptom of underlying scene issues. Hanging buckets can be caused by a whole range of things, from broken objects reflecting improperly on other objects to 3D settings that are overly high. We won’t go into detail here about how to solve these annoying hanging buckets (we have another article dedicated to these pesky things) but the way to avoid hanging buckets is to do a test render of your image or animation at 1/10th resolution on your own machine. The rule of thumb is: if rendering this smaller version takes more than 15 minutes, your image has technical issues that you need to address first. Otherwise, your money will be wasted if you try to render a problematic image on a render farm.
Less severe than hanging buckets (but still costly) are issues involving plugins, shaders or textures that are unsupported by the render farm. This issue is common for assets that are downloaded from the internet. The way to check if your project has these is to do a test render on the farm itself. Again, you can render a smaller resolution version of your image or get a few sample frames from your animation. Using this technique can also reveal to you whether your version of the software is not compatible with the version on the render farm.
As you’ve read above, testing is a key skill when it comes to saving money on render farms. Whether you are rendering stills or animation, there are different techniques that you can use that will help you avoid wasting money on render farms.
For animation, there’s step testing and flicker/noise testing. Step testing is a way of rendering a representative sample of frames from your complete animation. This involves rendering, say, every 5th frame of your animation. It’s like getting a slice at different parts of a giant pizza to have an idea of the goodness of the whole pizza. On the other hand, flicker/noise testing is kind of the reverse of step testing. Here, you take 5 to 20 consecutive frames from your animation and render it on the farm. Rendering a sample of consecutive frames allows you to see how the farm’s nodes handle how light bounces in the animation. Different nodes calculate the bouncing of light a little differently, leading to different noise patterns. Changes in these patterns can result in flickering. Rendering consecutive frames should reveal to you if there are unwanted animated artifacts like flickering.
For stills, the trick is to render a smaller version of your final image, as mentioned in the previous tip. Once you have the render time for this smaller image, you can then work out the total render time for the final image.
If you want to learn more about testing, we have a separate article that talks about how pricing works in a render farm. This article puts testing in a more complete context.
This tip is only for those who are rendering an animation. Frames per execution is an advanced setting that you can set when rendering an animation, and it can help your render be more efficient and therefore save you money.
Frames Per Execution (FPE) is a technical term sometimes referred to as “Frames Per Task” that simply means the number of frames that you want the farm’s nodes to handle at the same time. If you think of the nodes as superheroes, then the value of the FPE is the number of villains the heroes will attack. If you set FPE to 1, that means that each hero (node) will tackle one villain (frame) at a time. If you set FPE to a higher number, say 4, that means that the heroes (nodes) will team up and tackle 4 villains (frames) at a time.
So if for example you have a project that has 50 frames and you allocated 50 nodes of the farm to render these frames, these are the FPE scenarios:
How does this save you money? Well, if you have a project that takes a long time to load but is quite quick to render, it’s rather time-consuming (inefficient and money-wasting) to have all the nodes load the same project and render it. This happens when FPE is set at 1. When this is the case, it might be smarter to set a higher FPE so that the project is rendered on fewer nodes. This way, not all the nodes need to open the heavy file and therefore drive up the cost dramatically.
Conversely, if your project takes a shorter time to load but renders slower, it’s best to keep the FPE at the default 1 and have as many nodes rendering simultaneously as possible.
First things first, a simplified definition of cost calculators: cost calculators can tell you the estimated cost of rendering your project based on your computer’s average render time per frame.
Now, there are 3 things that the cost calculator at any render farm can not tell you:
For Item #1: this was discussed in Tip #1. If there are any sort of problems in your project that may cause the extending of render time, cost calculators cannot possibly account for that. If you read our article on how render farm pricing works (link in Tip #2), you will know that cost calculators only account for what processor you’re using, your project’s average render time per frame on your computer, and your project’s total number of frames. Cost calculators can’t detect whether your project has hanging buckets, unsupported shaders and textures, or software version incompatibility.
For Item #2: loading time. This is time used in loading a scene file into the software on a render node. There is no way for cost calculators to account for this because different projects vary wildly in file sizes and complexity.
For Item #3: queue time. This is time spent “in line.” Render farms have a queueing system for projects, assigning them to nodes depending on the projects’ priority level. While you have some control in this (you can choose to pay a higher fee for a higher priority in the queue), the exact queue time cannot be accounted for by the cost calculator.
While this section may not sound much like tips on saving money when using a render farm, we hope it clarifies some misunderstanding regarding the discrepancy between estimated cost and final cost. This section is more about lessening “bill shock.”
And while it is common for the final cost to be higher than the estimated cost, the reverse can sometimes be the case. When it comes to estimates for still images, final costs are usually lower than estimated costs because some factors are affected by the resolution of the image and some are not. If you want to understand this better, read Part 2 of our article on how to use online render farms.
GarageFarm is rather known for its 24/7 Support Team. When you run into some issues, sometimes the best way is to call or message for help rather than to try and figure it out yourself. We have real people on the other end of the chat, so you’ll get real answers to your questions. If you think that reaching out to Support is a hassle, you might end up with a bigger hassle if you try to wing it when encountering some issues or when you’re not sure on how to set up your render. If you just take the time to get in touch with our support team, it might save you more time in the end. And of course you know that saved time is saved money.
We hope that with these pro tips, we have given you more confidence in using render farms more efficiently. This is the part of the 3d production pipeline where it is less about 3d skills and more about management, foresight, and understanding how online render farms work. If you want to have a better handle on the fundamentals of render farms, check out our other articles: what is a render farm and how it works and how to use online render farms.