What Is a Render Farm and How Does It Work?
What is a render farm?
What is rendering?
A render is a digital representation of a 2D or 3D model through the use of computer software. The process of generating this image is called rendering, which can be a realistic, or non-realistic representation of an object depending on its purpose. Rendering aids professionals in the design process in a wide variety of fields such as architecture, engineering, interior design, visual arts, simulations, and video games.
The main problem with delivering a high-quality rendering sequence or animation is the amount of time your computer is going to take to process the images. Every little detail in a professional rendering (geometries, textures, lighting, or shadows) adds milliseconds, seconds, minutes, or hours to the process depending on its complexity.
For example, a standard realistic animation of 10 seconds long will take about four hours to be generated on a regular computer using any commercial rendering software. It’s common for professionals in this field to establish about 30 minutes to calculate and generate a render per frame. Of course, there are programs and processors faster than others, however, all designers agree that rendering in a traditional way is time-consuming.
What is a render farm?
A render farm is a collection of high-performance computers harnessed together to render computer-generated images (CGI) and 3D frames simultaneously. This rendering method is common in professional-level animations, video games, and the television industry to optimize the rendering process.
Each computer or unit in a render farm is called a node, and each node is interconnected to the other through 3D software and specific plugins installed on each computer. Together, they process 3D projects and simultaneously calculate the 3D images and frames in a render in a matter of minutes or hours.
How does a render farm work?
As stated above, a render farm consists of a series of nodes whose sole purpose in life is to render. Nodes are controlled by render software that synchronizes and sets instructions automatically to each node to render individual or multiple frames simultaneously. Nodes are interconnected through a Local Area Network to enable computers to share information in this closed system.
Nodes are responsible for calculating frames in a 3D sequence to deliver a compounded final result. The more nodes you include in a render farm, the faster the rendering process. For example, if a sequence is calculated by fifty render nodes instead of just one local system, 10 days of rendering shrink to 5 hours.
Types of render farms
There are different types of render farms, those include self-built, collaborative, and cloud-based render farms.
Render farms are the simplest farms since they consist of a small number of computers interconnected by a user to render 3D images. They usually are built in small studios for low demanding or freelancing projects which decreases the costs of a massive render farm. Of course, by using only a few nodes at a time the rendering time is still considerably high.
Farms on the other hand are supported by a network in which each user has to make his engine available for rendering other projects. By sharing their renders, they get in exchange the chance to render their projects on everyone else’s engines.
Farms are probably the most popular render farms in the market due to their versatility, speed, and energy saving. Cloud-based farms use the internet to generate each node and use the cloud for data storage and management. In this sense, you can render a project on the cloud in several ways:
1. Cloud rendering service
In this model the render farm provides not only the data storage and computing power but also takes care of the licensing costs for your 3d rendering software on its infrastructure. With this kind of service, you pay only for the volume of rendered data with no additional fees for software setup, support, and tools provided by the farm.
2. Server Rental
in this service, you are given remote access to a powerful server, where you can work with your personal computer or studio to render efficiently.
3. IaaS (infrastructure as a service)
in this model the cloud service provides you with resources like computing power and data storage which you can upgrade according to your render needs. The software installation, configuration, and rendering setting will be your responsibility, and the service will not assist you in this matter.
Advantages of render farms
Using a render farm significantly increases (up to 400 times faster) the rendering process and helps users meet short deadlines and optimize their work.
Speeding the rendering also implies having more time to engage in other projects which means more money. Also, having a self-built farm can cost thousands of dollars, but cloud-based services are more affordable.
Rendering farm services often provide technical support for their clients in terms of software and hardware, which is critical if an issue rises during the calculation of a sequence.
Standard computers can easily overheat and shut down while processing a professional 3D sequence due to the complexity and details of each frame. Therefore, the use of render farms decreases the risk of computer malfunction and power failure during the rendering process.
Most commercial render farm software is user-friendly, making its usage easy and providing their clients to free their computers during the rendering process. Using render farms allows you to use your PC to perform other tasks while the sequence is processed.
What to check before starting rendering in a render farm?
Before using any rendering farm service or software, you need to pay close attention to certain features and aspects, making sure you’re purchasing the appropriate service for your needs. These key aspects are:
- Data storage: Usually cloud-based render farms specify the amount of cloud storage available for their users, depending on the packages they offer. This is a limitation that could generate additional fees, considering that rendering projects often consist of heavy files that would require a considerable amount of space to be generated through a server.
- Trial periods: many render farm services offer free trials for their users making sure the service suits their needs. Also, some offer credits and bonuses for being first-time buyers, which can translate to additional cloud storage or rendering speed.
- Refund policies: rendering farm services (just like any other online service) should include refund policies in their contract agreement.