The University of Glamorgan were looking for a solution to improve render times on their animation courses. We helped them set up a render farm that would allow quick, collaborative rendering and reduce their workstation downtime. We also provided them with all the animation and rendering software they would need to give their students experience using industry-standard applications.
Before coming to us, the university were using localised computers (i.e. not networked to each other) when rendering animation students’ projects. Each render had to be done on these individual workstations and so, while one machine was busy rendering, it was out of action, and any further design work would have to wait until the process was complete. On top of that, Glamorgan were also using external hard drives for backup, as there was no central server to store files on. This made collaboration difficult and working from home virtually impossible.
Glamorgan needed a solution that could render jobs from an entire class at once, and free up workstations so that students could make the most of their time on campus. They were also looking for a truly collaborative environment that would let their students work together on joint projects, sharing files across a network.
Finding a render management solution
Peter Hodges, head of animation at Glamorgan, gave Jigsaw24 a call and arranged a consultation with our 3D specialist, Ben Kitching, and together they looked at options for the university. They decided that Qube! (a render farm management system) would be the best solution for cutting downtime and allowing collaborative working. Qube! is able to handle thousands of student projects at one time, and its multi-threaded Supervisor tool would make management of the system easy. It would also provide support for a wealth of modelling and animation software and came with a number of application pipelines, including Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya.
The university had also invested in a set of render nodes (computer clusters that form the render farm). These were sent to Jigsaw24 HQ for a system preflight, which involved our engineers making a carbon copy of the disk that could be deployed across all of the other render nodes. We then went onsite to check the farm was running as it should by submitting a number of test jobs.
Software and training
Ben suggested an exhaustive arsenal of exceptional modelling and animation software to complement Glamorgan’s new outfit. These included professional 3D tools such as Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya, Maxon’s CINEMA 4D and LightWave, and plug-in rendering tools like V-Ray and iray. Softimage, Boujou, ZBrush, SketchUp Pro, Brazil and Renderman were also included, so students could add greater detail and effects to characters and scenes. We even supplied Adobe Production Premium, Apple Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio for integrating animation into broadcast workflows.
As part of the installation, we went to the university to configure all the software and, while there were a few initial teething problems in arranging licences for the university, Ben soon ironed them out. He then provided training for the staff at a time that was convenient for them, as well as adding onsite and remote support to the package so we would always be on hand to solve any problems with the system.
Efficient, collaborative rendering
The whole solution has allowed for greater collaboration between VFX and animation students. With the help of Qube!, their new render farm can now be managed more easily and run more efficiently – the Integrated Charting feature lets staff create reports on frame times and CPU usage right on the GUI. Qube! has allowed Glamorgan to push through jobs faster, and to save all their work on a single, central server without being tied down to rendering times.
The students’ experience of working on the new farm will set them in good stead for getting a job once they graduate. The Autodesk software we provided is something everyone starting out in animation will benefit from experience using. And a few of the more specific apps, such as Brazil, will really make the students’ CVs stand out to potential employers, as they will have a wider knowledge of different animation techniques.
Glamorgan have even thought about the commercial advantages of their render farm, and aim to get the system turning a profit to put back into the university. Their new setup is powerful enough for outside companies to hire for rendering, even while being used by students. As a Citrix Silver Partner, Jigsaw24 have been looking at virtualisation technology options at Glamorgan to give companies secure, collaborative access to the render farm, while also allowing their students to work from home and have access to their applications, shared storage and render farm.
For more information speeding up render times, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306 or email sales@Jigsaw24.com.