Render farms are lifesavers for large projects with tight deadlines. However, without proper preparation, optimization, and management, the speed and effectiveness of render farm services can be undercut, leaving artists with longer render times and higher bills. So in this article, we’re talking about the best tips to overcome the challenges of online rendering and how to prepare your projects for efficient and speedy rendering.
Optimizing rendering is essential for cutting render times, but it is equally crucial for cutting costs and cutting clutter in production workflows. Optimized scenes are also faster to work on and easier to manage mid-production as unneeded resources are removed, and over-engineered scenes are scaled back. Because of this, the principles of scene and render optimization are essential not only for render technicians but for artists at any level of the production process.
3D Scene Optimization
Optimizing for render farms begins with the 3d scene itself. Reducing complexity and render intensive elements in your scene is one of the most important steps in preparing a scene for rendering. This stage can include cutting down on polygon counts, baking textures, and removing unused scene elements.
For example, cutting down on a scene’s overall size can significantly reduce your project’s file upload size and the VRAM needed for rendering. Apart from simply removing assets and objects that aren’t in the frame, using plugins like Forest Pack, Railcone, or Vray Scatter in your project is a great way to reduce the complexity of a scene without affecting the quality of the image.
Plugins like VRay Scatter allow artists to create duplicates of objects using instances and create variations on those instances while still sharing the same data. This means things like trees, rocks, or even buildings can be instanced across a scene, allowing for great visual complexity with a much smaller performance and memory hit.
Baking is another good way to optimize a scene for a render farm. Baking procedural textures and other static elements eliminates the need for a render farm to recreate every element for every rendered frame of an animation. Most major 3D software and render farms can bake textures or lighting to 2d images that can be remapped back onto 3d objects.
Baking is often associated with creating game-ready models but can be a great optimization tool for other kinds of rendering. The downside of baking is that baked textures cannot account for dynamic texture or lighting changes. However, for static scenes (like architectural visualizations), baking has the potential to save lots of time and resources.
Lastly, for scene optimization, splitting your project into multiple separate renders or sequences can cut down rendering costs by reducing the number of resources needed to render each image. For example, if one animation sequence only shows one area of your 3d scene, separating that sequence from the others (and removing the unseen piece of the scene) can reduce the amount of VRAM needed.
Render Engine Optimization
Optimizing your render engine’s settings is vital to preparing your project for a render farm. Setting render resolution and sampling is an obvious first step, but it is nonetheless essential. Testing and benchmarking frames at different resolutions and sampling rates can help you find the best settings combination that will look good and render quickly. How you set these settings will depend on the render engine you use, but often rendering a larger-than-needed image at a lower sample rate can yield good results.
You should also check your render farm’s specific feature set at this stage. Specific render nodes often support certain optimization or denoising features (like NVIDIA’s OptiX denoiser).
In these cases, it’s worth setting up your project to match your render farm’s needs instead of what might render fastest on your local workstation. Additionally, turning off any features of a render you aren’t using, like sub-surface scattering or caustics, can help speed things up without affecting image quality.
Specialized plugins can also help to render your project faster. For example, tools like Nview can cull objects out of frame, saving on render resources on a per-frame basis and bringing down overall render times. Or, as previously mentioned, plugins built for optimizing instanced objects or materials can help immensely.
Managing and Monitoring Render Farm Resources
Apart from the tools available in your 3d software, the tools used by your render farm are also important to consider. Whether using a self-built render farm, a studio render farm, or a cloud render farm service, how a render farm is built and managed is vital to ensuring your renders are optimized to the greatest extent.
Firstly, selecting a service that matches your project’s complexity requirements and meets your required deadlines is important. If your project is relatively simple, a cheaper, less robust render farm or server rental could suit your needs. A more robust GPU render farm might be a better fit for complex, photoreal projects.
However, if you have a flexible deadline for when your project needs to be completed, you can often get away with cheaper and slower services as long as they still provide the render resource, like VRAM, that you need.
Additionally, tools like load balancing, auto-scaling, and distributed rendering are all important to rendering images quickly and on budget. Render farms that smartly distribute resources to your projects can be faster without necessarily costing more.
A poorly optimized render farm could send a resource-light project to a high-tier render node, racking up high bills without meaningfully benefiting render speeds or the final output of your project. While a well-engineered render farm would smartly understand your project’s needs, only devoting the resources a project needs rather than sending a render to an arbitrary render node.
Whether you’re building your own farm using something like OpenCue or a cloud render service, it’s worth testing your render farm to ensure it handles your projects correctly. In many cases, render farm services will allow you to monitor projects during rendering to see how the service applies resources to your project.
These tools can help you optimize your project by seeing if your chosen render nodes and resources serve you well. Changing the render resources and render node selection to suit your project can save time and money without making any changes to your project itself.
Another consideration is whether a CPU or GPU render farm service would suit your project’s needs. Many render farms advertise their GPU render services as faster and better for rendering. But the cost of GPU render nodes is often much higher than for CPU render nodes. So it’s worth seeing if your project can fully take advantage of the perks of GPU render nodes.
If your project uses lots of ray tracing, odds are GPU render nodes will suit your needs best; however, benchmarking a single frame of your project using both GPU and CPU nodes could help you decide on the best service.
Optimizing 3D projects for online render farms is essential for efficient and quick results. Artists can significantly reduce render times, cut costs, and streamline their production workflows by using scene optimization, render engine optimization, and effective resource management.
Additionally, by selecting the right render farm service and implementing well-optimized distributed rendering, resource monitoring, and resource allocation, artists can maximize the effectiveness of the rendering with a render farm process. Ultimately, these optimization techniques can empower you to meet tight deadlines, deliver high-quality results, and enhance productivity.