Last time, I discussed the hardware requirements for a render farm and drew the conclusion that CPU power is still king for dedicated render machines. I will now take a look at some of the software management solutions that are available to manage all of that hardware.
Most popular rendering packages ship with a solution for managing network rendering. This section will look at some of those options:
NET Render – Maxon’s solution for rendering Cinema4D jobs across a network is NET Render. It will distribute the rendering of animations on a frame-by-frame basis or still images using the tiled camera. It can also be used to batch render multiple jobs from multiple machines. NET Render is available as a chargeable add-on to Cinema4D or is included with the XL (three client licenses) and Studio (unlimited client licenses) bundles.
NET Render will run on OS X, on Windows clients, or even a mixture of the two. It is relatively easy to set up and, because jobs are submitted through a web interface, they can theoretically be submitted from any internet connected computer. To submit a job to NET Render, you have to open the interface and upload not only your scene file, but any associated assets such as textures or externally referenced models one by one to the NET Render server. While this ensures that all of the assets are in the right place, it can become tedious if you have many assets.
ScreamerNet – This represents NewTek’s solution for network rendering with LightWave. It is capable of distributing the rendering of an animation by having each node in your farm render complete frames. ScreamerNet ships with LightWave for no extra cost and can batch render jobs but only from a single machine. It is compatible with Windows or Mac machines.
ScreamerNet requires shared folders to be set up on your network for it to work properly, which means it cannot work in mixed environments. All render nodes should be running the same operating system as the machine that created the scene files. ScreamerNet gives a good speed advantage but it can be difficult and confusing to set up.
Aerender – Also known as the After Effects Render Engine, this is Adobe’s command line renderer for After Effects and can be used to set up an After Effects render farm. The render engine is included with every After Effects license and can be used to render multiple jobs from multiple machines. There is no queuing system; jobs are rendered on a first-come, first-served basis. Setting this up requires a watch folder to be shared out over the network and the project, and all associated assets must be copied here before rendering. This watch folder can make setting up cross-platform render farms difficult, although it is possible.
Backburner – Autodesk’s solution for network rendering supports several Autodesk products, including 3ds Max, Maya, Smoke for Mac, and Cleaner. Backburner can render multiple jobs from multiple machines and includes a facility for queuing and managing these jobs. It can even render jobs submitted from several different supported applications, provided those applications are running under the same operating system.
Backburner is supported on Windows, OS X, and Linux, but all render nodes must have the same operating system as the submitting workstations; mixed environments are not supported. Backburner is powerful, fairly easy to set up and expandable.
Mental Ray Satellite – Another Autodesk technology that allows distributed rendering. Mental Ray Satellite is designed to allow several machines to lend their CPU power to a designated workstation. Renders are started as if processing locally, and networked workstations help out with producing the final image(s) – this is then displayed and saved on the creating workstation. Mental Ray Satellite works best when there is only a single workstation creating content on each set of render nodes. It is compatible with any Autodesk software, making use of Mental Ray, and will run on Windows, OS X or Linux. Different packages ship with differing numbers of Mental Ray Satellite licenses, ranging from three to eight machines. This number can be extended by purchasing standalone Mental Ray Licenses.
Next week, I will look at third party management software and make some predictions about the future of network rendering.