We all have an idea of what a farm is. It’s a place for mass producing something--be it crops, meat, even internet trolls.
But a rendering farm? Hmm, that one can be a little vague for some of us. So before we answer what a render farm is, let’s first tackle what rendering is.
Rendering is that necessary time-consuming headache that one has to deal with at the end of the main pipeline if they want their hard work to actually manifest itself as a digital image (or sequence of images). The problem with rendering is every little thing that is going to be visible in some form within the finalized image or render sequence – be it geometry, textures, lighting or shadows – adds precious milliseconds, seconds, minutes, or hours to the rendering of even a single frame, depending on its complexity.
Reducing the headache rendering brings is where render farms come in; they are absolutely invaluable in the 3D animation industry, especially when trying to produce computer-generated imagery that looks like it could exist within our world, on a deadline.
A render farm is a huge collection of machines harnessed together to do one thing--render your 3D frames. By tapping into the power of render farms, your 3D projects can meet deadlines that are set the next day, the next week, or the next month, not the next generation. What usually takes days if you try to render on your own machine can now be completed in just hours.
How do render farms perform this sorcery? No magic is involved, my friend. Just nodes. Node is another word for a computer that is part of a host of computers whose sole purpose in life is to render. These nodes are controlled by a render management software--think of this program as the render overlord that tells all the nodes what to do. Each individual node can be instructed to render an individual frame, allowing multiple frames to be rendered at the same time.
You’ll appreciate this better with an example: imagine if you have a 10-second animation running at 30 frames per second. And let’s assume that a frame takes 1 hour to render. This will take you 300 hours to render if you do it on your own computer. That’s almost 2 weeks! But if you send your project to a render farm, 100 nodes can render your whole project in just 3 hours. Plus, in those 3 hours that you’re waiting for the render to be completed, you can use your own computer to continue working or perhaps to take a break and complete a few quests in Cyberpunk 2077.
If you’re a creator with a single computer to work with, rendering can eat up hours or days of your time, no matter how carefully you optimize your scene or watch your polycount; time that could have been spent refining other aspects of your work. Sending long-winded test renders or entire sequences off to a render farm frees up a large chunk of that time.
It’s a sad experience to design a character or environment that you’re sure is going to be blooming awesome, only to realise later on that you simply do not have the time nor processing power to make the final render look as good as it deserves to. Using a render farm gives you more time to work on or improve upon any of the stages of the pipeline you and/or your client feel necessary.
The process of multi-bounce lighting brings your scene closer and closer to how light acts within the real world. Because lighting requires a large number of complex calculations to simulate the interaction of photons with objects of varying textures, translucency, and scale, this is very energy-intensive on a single computer, whereas render farms bring power, speed, and sheer scale to the table. Much like good and bad CGI, well-done lighting will likely go unnoticed by the average viewer, but bad use of lighting will quickly be noticeable to the human eye, and risks wrenching the viewer from the all-important suspension of disbelief.
It’s best to plan from the very beginning if you’re going to need a render farm, or whether you have enough time to spare to dedicate to rendering, this way you can budget around it. If you are producing the work for a client, make them aware of this and work it into your payment plan, and if they’re not willing or able to up the compensation then if you feel it necessary see if you can gain more time. If neither of these things is possible you will have to take a more tactical approach toward the project, from the number of concept iterations, the level of detail within the scene including polycount and texture complexity, to the overall lighting quality and required amount of illumination.
What’s that? You can build your own render farm? Hey, that’s amazing! By all means, set it up and render away. However, it’d be douchey of us if we didn’t point out that powerful computers require time-consuming and costly maintenance. You might find yourself all tied up in maintaining your expensive machines instead of using that time to design.
And this is where render farms give you another advantage--you never have to worry about the maintenance of multiple computers.
As you now know, render farms are not free, and for good reason! You can imagine the electricity bill we rack up thanks to the 2,000,000 CUDA cores and 20,000 CPU cores we have running 24/7 for your render satisfaction. Having said that we do provide you with the ability to perform test renders with us before jumping in at the deep end. You can even estimate the full price of your render(s) based upon your computer specs, average render time-per-frame, and the level of priority you need your project rendered with. Depending on the size of your project you may even be lucky enough to render the whole thing for free, thanks to our $25 free render credits on registration.
In the spirit of goodwill, we’ll render your entire project for free if it’s for a secular charity. It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re based for you to take advantage of our cloud-based render farm either, and we’re always on hand to aid you if you’re experiencing difficulty. Paying for the use of a render farm is paying for time, and time is a precious commodity, especially for businesses with set-in-stone deadlines, and students studying 3D animation and CGI who are working toward their own strict university deadlines; myself included, prior to my graduation in mid-2016. In fact, the independent review that helped lead to me writing posts for GarageFarm.NET can be found here.
“Paying for the use of a render farm is paying for time, and time is a precious commodity”
If you’re still uncertain, to help you decide here’s our showreel of footage from some of the awesome projects rendered with us in 2020. Enjoy!
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