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Category Archives: Tutorials

Tutorials on 3D rendering, written by the RenderStreet team

Upload your projects to our farm directly from Dropbox / Google Drive / OneDrive

Update 06 February 2017: Microsoft OneDrive has been added to the list of supported cloud services.

We are aware that many artists and teams are using online storage accounts for their projects. It’s an easy way to work together on the same files and it also has the advantage of being able to access the project from any location.

At the same time, we are aware of the fact that internet connections are not always the fastest thing on the planet. And if your project is already online, it would be a nice shortcut to have it downloaded to our render farm directly from there. So we added support for Dropbox and Google Drive, right in our interface. 

How much does rendering at home cost?

Rendering at home or on the office workstation is how most of us start in our careers. It’s the obvious solution for an easy start and it continues to represent a viable option for every artist during their evolution. And because of these very reasons, most people don’t ever consider the costs associated with it.

Best notebooks for 3D rendering 2015 fall update – Skylake and Geforce 980 Notebook

At the beginning of this year, I was recommending some of the best laptops for 3D rendering on the market. We’re now close to the end of the year, and in the meantime the hardware has been upgraded with new performance parts. Let’s see what they are, and which notebooks come with the new hardware at this moment.

Intel Skylake CPUs. The 6th generation Core CPU line from Intel has been released and it’s already available in some notebooks from major manufacturers. The CPU that will most likely replace the most popular part in performance notebooks (i7-4720HQ) is the i7-6700HQ. It offers roughly the same performance, but the 14nm process brings a better power profile so it will add a bit to the battery life. Expect to see the 6700HQ as a mainstream CPU in gaming/performance notebooks released starting with this fall.

CES 2015 Intel booth

Intel booth at CES 2015 —Source: Flickr.com

Render farm vs. small office/home rendering

Professional or hobbyist, every 3D artist hates waiting for the renders to finish. This causes a continuous quest for finding the best solution to render faster and cheaper, which in turn generates countless pages of discussions in the forums, benchmark comparisons, and of course ‘versus’ debates.

I have answered questions on this subject quite a number of times – some of them general, some of them about specific hardware and some of them about our service. My past series of articles offered a bit of background info and some ideas about what to look at when comparing rendering solutions in general. Now, I’ll try to show a more specific use case: rendering at home or in a small office, versus using a professional farm (like RenderStreet).

Guest post: Soup-to-Nuts Cover Art with Free Software

There are no limits to what you can achieve in Blender. In this next post, you will learn how to design a book cover in 7 guided steps with the author of Blender for Dummies. 

Designers, you now have the tools to kick (some more) ass using free software. Show us your first Blender cover in the comments!

Book front cover

Definitely True, by M. J. Guns

Say you’re approached with a request to produce the artwork and design for the cover of a book. The book’s author says, “I want an image of a pair of disembodied pants running around… and on fire.” That same author, for some reason, also requests that you not not pour gasoline on an actual pair of pants (or the person wearing them) and set it ablaze for a photo shoot. Something about the sanctity of human life or somesuch.

Best notebooks for 3D rendering. Part 2: Recommended configurations

In the first part of this series I talk about the technical considerations for buying a new laptop for 3D work / rendering. I also tracked down the two NVidia mobile cards from the latest generation that are in the performance area. If you want to see how GeForce GTX 970M and 980M tested out in Cycles, you can see the figures here—their rendering performance is quite impressive.

Next, I’m going to make a few recommendations for specific notebook models, which I consider suited for particular usage patterns. Let’s get started.

The road warrior. If you are spending a lot of time on the road and need a light but powerful notebook, this one’s for you.

High-end configuration 15″: Clevo P650SG/P651SG (Sager NP8652)

Sager Notebook official image

Sager NP8652 official image and source

Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M and GTX 980M performance in Blender

In the first article from the notebook review series I am recommending two NVidia cards: the GTX 970M and GTX 980M. They are the top two performers from NVidia at this moment, and they are most likely to successfully keep up the pace a few years from now.

When doing my research, I tried to find some benchmarks to show Blender’s rendering performance. I wasn’t able to find any data, so I turned to the online community for help. I knew that in the notebook community there are users with vast knowledge on the subject, and with access to the newest hardware. I found the reviews made by HTWingNut from the notebookreview forum very thorough and informative over the time, so I approached him with my request.

GeForce GTX 970M and 980M rendering performance in Blender Cycles. Figures courtesy of HTWingNut.

GeForce GTX 970M and 980M rendering performance in Blender Cycles. Figures courtesy of HTWingNut.

Best notebooks for 3D rendering. Part 1: Technical considerations

For me, choosing the right notebook is always more difficult than building (or buying) a desktop. The customization options are often restrictive, and similar configurations from different manufacturers can be priced very differently. Plus, the prices are always higher than a similarly spec’ed desktop and the upgrade possibilities are in some cases almost nonexistent. All this means that a lot of research is needed before taking out the wallet, and a lot of people might find this difficult.

Because lately I’ve heard the question ‘what laptop should I buy for Blender?’ a lot, I decided to look a bit into the matter. Read on to hear my take on this.

Note: This applies to all rendering engines that work with NVidia GPUs. Also, I won’t be talking about Macs here, as they don’t have any configuration with a decent NVidia GPU at this point.

NVIDIA_GeForce_GTX_980M_3Qtr

NVidia GTX 980m official image and source.

How does an online render farm work?

Blender Monkey

Using an online render farm should be an easy task. In this article I’m going to explain how to get by the basic tasks and answer some of the most frequently asked questions:

  • How do I send a project to a farm?
  • How do I get the rendered files?
  • Is my data secured?
  • What kind of performance boost can a farm provide?

How do I send a project to a farm?

There are several ways to send your project to a farm:

  • Upload it through a website. That’s the simplest way, it works like any online file upload – like sharing your pictures to Facebook. You click a button in a web page, select your project file or your archive, and click OK. Next, there is another button in the page for sending the file to the farm. Not all farms allow for archives to be uploaded so, if you need to upload a single file, you may need to process it to include all dependencies (external libraries, textures, etc)
  • Upload it through FTP. For this you will need to connect to the FTP server provided by the farm, using an FTP client (FileZilla is a good free FTP client). You will find the FTP server address and port in the documentation provided by each farm. You will also need to see what kinds of files are accepted for uploading and how to structure your projects in folders. This should be mentioned in each farm’s documentation.

Render farms costs & pricing

In my view, pricing is one of the important aspects of rendering in a farm (others being the ability to actually deliver the project, the level of support and how easy it is to use them). So let’s see how render farm pricing works.

What is a GHz-hour? What about a core-hour?

You have probably seen some online render farms that are showing a price per GHz-hour or per core-hour for their rendering time. It’s a system that can be confusing for a first-time user. They usually do this because they have servers from several generations of hardware. And with the hardware performance being uneven, they are trying to find a common denominator to build a pricing strategy. The result: these two units — GHz and core-hour — which unfortunately require some effort and attention from users to get the price right.

Underwater coin

Render farm comparison – pro’s and con’s

There are several types of render farms, each of them with their strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to discuss the most accessible ones in a bit of detail.

Render Farm Pro’s and Con’s 

Whether you build your own machines for rendering, or you rent computing time from an online render farm, there are costs involved. I will try summarizing the Pro’s and Con’s for each type in the table below:

Farm type

Pro’s

Con’s

Distributed or collaborative
  • It’s free
  • Your machine must be available for somebody else’s projects
  • You project is distributed to the computers in the network – your data may become available to others
  • Long waiting queues
  • Inconsistent results – the rendering speed depends on the number of computers in the network
DIY
  • One-time cost for hardware
  • 100% customized for your needs 
  • A few thousand dollars investment is needed beforehand, the exact amount depends on your needs
  • The initial setup requires some tech skills (purchasing the right machines, maybe assemble them, then do the software setup)
  • The machines may have an impact on your work environment. They require some space, generate noise and heat, and will require periodic maintenance – cleaning, at the very least
  • In the event that something breaks, you need to do your own debugging

Rented computers in the cloud

  • You get access to significant hardware resources
  • You pay a lower hourly cost, compared to an online farm
  • It’s a paid solution – you pay for all the resources you use
  • Significant tech skills are necessary in order to make it work
  • You need a good understanding of the cloud concept in order to get optimal results
  • The time investment can be significant

Online render farm

  • You get immediate access to vast hardware resources – hundreds of thousands of dollars worth
  • It’s fast
  • It can handle every spike in your load
  • You receive an invoice for the service, which you can pass to your client
  • It’s a paid solution – you pay for the processing time
  • There is a learning curve for using each farm (although it’s very fast for the modern ones)

And now let’s discuss each bullet point from the table in detail:

Start using a render farm

After finding out What is a render farm, this second hands on article will tackle all you need to know to start using one: who is it for, how do you actually work with render farms, where can you find them and what are the costs.

Who uses a farm?

The main users are probably the movie studios (think Hollywood). When rendering a movie would take 16,000 (that’s sixteen thousand) years on a typical home computer and one’s life expectancy is far less than that, in-house rendering is no longer a reasonable choice. After all, they need to deliver those breathtaking special effects to us, right?

As the 3D technology got more accessible and more affordable, different categories of people have started using 3D render farms: production agencies, post-production studios, architects, industrial designers, 3D artists. The majority of users are professionals that make a living out of it, but there is an increasing number of students and hobbyists that are turning to 3D. And this is especially valid for Blender, due to its open nature.

Render farm in abstract

What is a render farm?

In the past year I had lots of interactions with Blender artists – regardless of whether they are already our customers or not. It’s something I enjoy doing on a personal level, and it is also something that helps us fine-tune our farm to better suit your needs.

During these talks I was sometimes asked about what a render farm is, what it does and how could it help in delivering a project. That’s why I decided to start a mini-series of articles, in which I will try to answer some of these questions.

This first part focuses on the basic questions: the what’s and how’s of render farming.

What is a render farm?

I am turning to Wikipedia for a formal definition of a render farm: “A render farm is high performance computer system, e.g. a computer cluster, built to render computer-generated imagery (CGI), typically for film and television visual effects.”

From the end-user perspective, a render farm is a service that puts a lot of computing power at his disposal, with the purpose of helping him deliver his projects faster.

render farm

Optimize your render time. Episode 7 – Render settings (2)

One place we should definitely not skip when trying to improve our render time is the Performance panel in Render tab.

Rendering to tiles makes better use of the processor power. In the newest Blender version, the numbers in the tiles section means their size in pixels, but understanding which size works best is a bit baffling. Tests showed that GPUs work best with 256 x 256 tiles while CPU makes best use of the 64 x 64 tile size (regardless of whether we are talking about BI or Cycles on CPU).

Optimize your render time. Episode 6 – Render settings

Right before pressing the render button, selecting the right resolution for our image can be a puzzling decision, as size most directly relates to render time. However, it is not a linear relation. An increase of 200% in the resolution panel actually means four times the pixel number. Depending on the specifics of the scene, this can lead to an increase in render time from two to five times or even more.

Optimize your render time. Episode 5 – Cycles Materials

shadertestsToday we’ll take a look at Cycles materials.

Putting this week’s post together was a bit of a challenge because while I have worked a bit with Cycles, I still haven’t acquired the kind of experience you get after going through many projects. I started on the assumption that Cycles materials do influence a lot the rendering time but was baffled by how to optimize Cycles materials. There are no settings in the materials panel that would take a bit from the realism and speed up the render like in BI, so I thought that one way to use materials effectively in Cycles was to compare the different shaders, and learn to wisely pick the best ones for a specific scene. I made a kind of benchmark test with all the shaders and posted it on Blender Artists hoping to get opinions from you and other Cycles fans.

Optimize your render time. Episode 3 – Lighting, part two

This is the second installment about the light settings.

In the Light Paths panel of the render tab, right beside the No Caustics check box there are other settings that can cut a bit from the realism of the lighting scheme in favor of a faster render. Setting the max bounces to a lower value like 4 might not be so noticeable for some scenes, and depending on the shaders used, you can adjust separately the bounces for diffuse, transmission or glossy light paths.

Optimize your render time. Episode 2 – Lighting, part one

Today we’ll look at lighting related settings. Since it’s a larger subject, we’ll have only the first part this week.

It is one of the 3d realm laws that rendering times will usually go up as our lighting scheme becomes more realistic and subtle and diffuse. We’ll take a look at a couple of settings that increase render quality in subtle ways and render time in a big way.

Optimize your render time. Episode 1 – Geometry

All of us at RenderStreet are very aware that render times are a big factor in choosing a render farm. After all, it all scenes would render in seconds, you would render them on your own machine every time and would have no need for a render farm. So we’re kicking off a series of articles dedicated to optimizing your render times.

Today we’ll take a look at geometry related factors that can make the render time go overboard. These are not dependent on the render engine.