Network Rendering II: Management Software

Network Rendering II: Management Software

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.

For more information about render farms or any of the products mentioned above, give me a call on 03332 409 309 or email Visit us on Facebook and Twitter (@Jigsaw24video).

Network Rendering I: What’s it all about?

Network Rendering I: What’s it all about?

Rendering a realistic image of a 3D scene is one of the most stressful things you can ask a computer to do. For complicated scenes, this can take hours or even days of processor time, leaving a computer effectively useless until the render is complete. This is simply unacceptable for most CG artists – many of them resort to leaving their machines on overnight to finish renders.

Network rendering is the process of having multiple networked machines collaborate on the same project, with the sole purpose of bringing the processing time down. These banks are often known as a render farm, where each machine will render a full frame of an animation or, in the case of a still image, a tile of that image. There are several ways to run a render farm and many of the popular 3D packages have their own management solution.

This is the first in a series of articles that will look at the options available for network rendering in order to help you make an informed decision on which one to use. I will start by looking at the hardware requirements for a render farm, along with the best workflows for creating a scene using network rendering. Future articles will look at render farm management software including those that ship with popular content creation software as well as with third party solutions.


Currently, final renders are calculated using the CPU. While the field of GPU rendering is looking very promising for the future, it has yet to achieve widespread adoption. For this article, I will focus on CPU-based rendering as this is the industry standard. As I mentioned before, complex rendering will max out any CPU on the market for a significant amount of time. As these renders take so long even a small increase in CPU speed can mean saving a few minutes or even hours for a single frame. If you think that a typical animation will have 25-30 frames for every second, then increasing the speed of your cores can save quite a bit of time; increasing the amount of cores can save even more time. Most renderers are multi-threaded so rendering scales very linearly with respect to cores – going from 1 to 2 or 2 to 4 cores will equate to around 1.5 to 2 times the render speed.

Bearing this in mind, building a render farm is all about getting as many fast cores as you can. These need to be backed up by a decent amount of RAM as each machine will need to load the entire scene and any associated assets into the memory to achieve best performance. We recommend 1 to 4GB per CPU core depending on the type of software you are using and the complexity of your scenes. There is no requirement for any kind of graphics acceleration in a render farm machine and typically these machines are managed remotely, so are not even hooked up to monitors during day- to-day use. This means that you can get away with very basic onboard graphics as you will likely only use them during initial setup and troubleshooting of the machine.

That should have the heavy lifting covered. Another thing to consider is the networking hardware. For network rendering to work properly, the scene file and all its assets need to be stored on a network location that can be accessed by all of the nodes. Depending on the number of users and level of redundancy needed, this can be anything from a simple network attached hard drive to a full-blown RAID system. Quite a lot of data flows back and forth between render farm machines – the scene file and assets will be read from the file server and control messages will be sent between the worker machines, so a fast network is advisable. We recommend gigabit for general use or even something faster (like fibre channel) if you are rendering high definition video from After Effects or similar software.

That’s it for this installment. Next time we will look at software management solutions for all of this hardware.

You can find out more about network rendering, as well as all things 3D by getting in touch with our experts on 03332 409 309 or by emailing Visit us on Facebook and Twitter (@Jigsaw24Video).

Performance Machines

Performance Machines

All artists are most successful and creative when they have access to faster, more powerful computers. They can deliver completed projects sooner, and regain creative freedom because artistic experiments don’t take up too much time.

After reading that, you might expect that we’re going to plug the latest, fastest workstation. Not so. We can help you with that if you’d like, but independent tests show that offloading your rendering delivers better performance gains than stepping up to the next level in processor technology.

One of the most processor-intensive tasks in 3D is rendering, so it stands to reason that when this number-crunching work is farmed out to other systems, your computer becomes much more responsive.

There have been many attempts to solve this problem using technology, such as shifting render processing to the GPU on a graphics card, or dedicated rendering boards containing multiple dedicated DSPs (expensive!). These have tended to suffer from a lack of universal support for workstation hardware, specific operating systems, or modelling apps. The usual compromise has been distributed rendering, by which I mean the ability of many of the major 3D editing software packages to take advantage of idle processor time on other workstations for rendering tasks – the chief benefit being low initial cost.

Outsourcing – it’s not for everybody

An alternative to workstation rendering is outsourcing. You upload your files over the Internet to an online render company (usually based abroad), pay your money, wait, and download the finished job. This may seem ideal – you have the computing power at your disposal plus reasonable rendering time, but without the hardware outlay or the need to maintain what appears to be complicated technology. However, it’s not for everybody. Here are just some of the things that you need to consider:

  • Formats – will they support your workflow, plug-ins, and file formats?
  • The upload and download process – downloading rendered files can be very demanding on your Internet link. You may need to factor-in the cost of an upgrade, especially if you’ll be doing a lot of high definition render work.
  • High cost – up to £2800 for a minute’s worth of footage is not unknown.
  • Pre-flighting and testing – is there an option to do a free test render? This would be fairly crucial in order to ensure you have all the right files and textures in place.
  • You may not be a priority – regardless of how urgent a job is to you, you may just have to wait your turn.

In-house flexibility and freedom

A dedicated render farm will give you the flexibility and the freedom to try out ideas to your heart’s content. It’s undoubtedly a long-term, strategic investment:

  • The equipment is optimised for your needs, incompatibilities are eliminated and your results are perfect.
  • You’re free to make tests, tweak your models, even cancel a job… you’re in complete control.
  • You’re at the front of the queue, every time – make your own priorities based on deadlines and respond to any emergencies as they arise.
  • There are no hidden costs! It’s simple.

Get more done and do it faster

With a dedicated render farm, artists are never left twiddling their thumbs while they wait for a render to complete, or because a shared job is consuming the processor cycles on their workstation. All your resources – people and equipment – are firing on all cylinders, all the time.

For the sake of illustration let’s take a series of frames, where each frame takes a very modest 9 minutes to render. At that rate, 1500 frames (1 minute of footage at 25 frames per second) would need 13,500 minutes of processor time, i.e. 225 hours, 9.37 days, or 28.12 working days. How much more productive could you be by giving over 200 hours to your artists for every minute of footage you render?

Using a basic 5 node, 80 core render farm with dual quad core Xeon E3340 processors, the same minute of footage will be completed in only 1 hour and eleven seconds. With that sort of turnaround you can afford to be creative. Plus, the pressure of deadlines dissolves away.

Few people will turn their nose up at the chance to save money

Since the computing hardware in render farms is designed for density, low power consumption is standard. Normally, when you have a lot of computing power in a small space, a lot of heat is generated. The best way to reduce that heat is to consume less power. So there’s a lot of clever technology in there designed to manage the use of electricity in an intelligent way.

The fully-populated 80 core render farm running at 100% duty cycle draws 414W per unit, equating to 2070W of power in total. In comparison, you’d need 20 quad core workstations to equal 80 cores, each drawing 1050W, which is 21000W in full.

But the render farm runs “headless”, whereas workstations need monitors. Assuming 22″ LCD monitors, each drawing 56W, we need to factor in another 1120W, so the workstation equivalent draws 22120W of power.

At the time of writing, business electricity rates are 11.5p per unit during the day and 6.9p at night. The formula for cost is ( [unit-cost] x [usage-in-watts] ) / 1000. The render farm costs 23.8p an hour to run. The workstation equivalent is going to cost £2.54 per hour. That’s £2.30 per hour difference – it all adds up!

As you can see, investing in rendering hardware takes a lot of thought and planning because of the costs involved. However, there will always be those added benefits that are difficult to quantify in monetary terms – enhanced reputation for the studio, the extra business you will win, the flexibility and control that you will gain and the improvement in the quality of the work you produce. All of these things contribute towards placing your studio in a prestigious position in the 3D industry.

To find out more about render farms, get in touch with the team on 03332 409 309 or email us on Visit our website Tweet us @Jigsaw24Video.

Games development in education

Games development in education

New college and university courses and talk of A-levels and GCSEs based on games development are hot topics at the moment. As games development and the integration of 3D animation in everyday life is growing exponentially, there’s no greater time to let student imaginations run wild by letting them create and develop their own video games.

Finding a teenager these days that doesn’t like playing video games is a hard feat, then trying to find one of those that hasn’t ever thought about or talked with their friends about creating their own game is near impossible. Before now, the idea of sitting down with multiple 3D modelling applications and a dummies guide to software coding, kind of took the fun out of starting to create any sort of video game.

Thankfully we now have Unity

Unity is a great all in one games development solution that has been designed to ease creation of games. Aided scripting alongside a vast array of tutorials and walkthroughs makes for a very short learning curve. Pupils can instantly get engaged in exciting, interactive classroom based projects that they have a personal interest in.

When Unity first arrived in the Jigsaw office, the excitement could be seen on the faces of our 3D team. You could slowly see the smiles appearing around the department as the realisation that everything they needed to make that childhood dream game was hours away… needless to say, not much work was done that afternoon!

One of the great things about Unity is that students can get creative and start making interactive games right away. They can build them to play online with their friends, upload to the web or to run on their Mac/Windows PC. The software allows students to work with real-world technologies without subjecting them to the pitfalls and technicalities.

There is support for model import from all 3D applications, meaning whatever your current 3D modelling software, 3D models can be imported directly, hassle free! So there’s no need for students to have to learn new tools or the school to have to invest in new 3D applications in order to create things for their games.

Unity is not restricted to games development however. Unity’s built-in Ageia PhysX physics engine provides a fun and interactive tool for teachers to demonstrate or bring to life other subject areas of the curriculum. Unity allows pupils to build, experiment and interact with endless situations limited only by the imagination of the pupils and teachers – For example what happens to a stack of boxes when a car drives into it? Let the students create the scenarios and explore the consequences using a variety of real life variables such as weight or gravity!

For more on our 3D solutions for education, call 03332 409 306 or email Visit us on Facebook or Tweet us @Jigsaw24video.

Has virtualisation matured enough to run CAD applications?

Has virtualisation matured enough to run CAD applications?

With Parallels and VMWare Fusion having been around for a while now, have they developed the power to cope with the demands of CAD applications?

People often ask me if Autodesk will release a Mac version of AutoCAD and, while evidence would suggest that they are seriously considering it, there are not yet any solid answers. There may, however, be another way: virtualisation software for the Mac has matured a lot in the last year or so and both of the major players (VMWare and Parallels) now offer 3D acceleration in their products.

We know that a virtualisation solution will never be as fast as running software natively using Boot Camp – the aim of this article is not to test that. The strength of virtualisation software lies in its capacity to let users run Windows software without re-booting their machine; both VMWare and Parallels can seamlessly integrate Windows programs with OSX, making the experience much more convenient than with Boot Camp. What I want to find out is if either of these pieces of software can run CAD programs at an acceptable level for day-to-day work.

Test Setup and Methods:

For the test we used a Mac Pro workstation with the following specification:

CPU: Dual Intel Xeon X5482 (4 Cores, 3.2 GHZ, 12MB L2 Cache)

Memory:  16GB of RAM (800 MHZ FBDIMMS)

Graphics: NVIDIA 8800 GT with 512MB GDDR3 onboard

Operating System: OS X 10.5.7 with all current updates

Hard Disk: 500GB 7200 RPM Seagate 7200.12 SATA 2

VMWare Fusion 2.0 and Parallels Desktop 4.0 were installed on a clean, fully updated copy of OSX. Windows Vista is the only 64-bit operating system supported by Boot Camp so it was my choice of guest operating system (although it is worth noting that both VMWare and Parallels fully support Windows XP 64-bit). Each guest system was given as many virtual CPU’s as the software would allow (2 for VMware and 4 for Parallels) and assigned 4GB of RAM. 3D acceleration was also turned on. All other settings for the virtual machine were left at default to simulate as close to an out-of-box experience as possible.

I wanted to see what the software could do without any tweaking as this is how I believe most users will experience it. AutoCAD was chosen as the test software as it makes good use of both the CPU and Graphics Hardware so should give a good idea of how CAD applications will perform.

Once Vista was installed on the virtual machine all current updates were applied and AutoCAD 2010 was installed. The virtual machines were set to a screen resolution of 1280×1024 and switched to full-screen mode on the Mac Pro. Parallels/VMware tools were also installed. The testing under Boot Camp was also conducted at a resolution of 1280×1024.

For the testing itself I ran a script that opened several 2D drawings and 3D models in sequence and performed operations on them. To test 3D performance, the models were rotated in wireframe, hidden, conceptual and realistic views. To test 2D performance, lines, text, and blocks were created and erased, and zoom functions were also tested. To test the disk and CPU performance calculations were carried out; 2D objects were arrayed and the drawings were saved in both .dwg and .dxf formats. All operations were timed and, based on these times, individual scores were calculated for the 3D, 2D, CPU and Disk performance.


I ran the script 5 times under each setup and averaged the results to get the final (normalised) scores shown below (taller bars = better performance).

As you can see the virtualisation software was pretty close to running AutoCAD natively under Boot Camp in everything except 3D graphics. The disk scores were actually higher in the virtual machines than under Boot Camp (I have verified this result and can only conclude that there must be some kind of caching going on in the background to account for this).

The CPU scores were all but identical, proving that both the VMWare and Parallels hypervisors can execute CPU instructions with almost no overhead. This is thanks to Intel’s VT-X (hardware support for CPU virtualisation allowing CPU instructions to be passed from the virtual machine directly to the CPU) being built into the CPUs of all Macs. The 2D graphics scores were also very close, with only two points separating VMware and Parallels. They weren’t quite as fast as Boot Camp but the 2D performance of the virtual machines was perfectly acceptable.

This brings us to the 3D performance. VMware was slightly faster than Parallels here but the win is academic (and within the margin of error) as neither could come close to the level of performance possible while running under Boot Camp. At this point I decided to repeat the tests using the OpenGL renderer built into AutoCAD as opposed to the Direct3D renderer. My reasoning behind this was that OpenGL is a public standard so may be better supported by the virtualisation software. The results I obtained were even worse than with the Direct3D renderer. Again there was little to separate VMware and Parallels but the scores were around half those obtained with the Direct3D renderer. OpenGL in AutoCAD is generally slower than Direct3D so this result needs to be taken with a pinch of salt but the conclusion we can draw is that neither OpenGL nor Direct3D is fast enough to be useful.

Final Thoughts

Based on the results of these tests I still don’t think virtualisation software is an option if you use any type of CAD application that requires 3D performance. For 2D applications such as AutoCAD LT I don’t think there would be any noticeable performance difference between running natively and running in a virtual machine provided the host machine had plenty of RAM available.

Currently, 3D acceleration is difficult in a virtual machine as it has to be emulated in software. The results of the test clearly show that this has significant overheads. The new generation of Intel CPUs contained in the early 2009 model Mac Pros support a feature called VT-D.This extends the capabilities of VT-X and allows users to dedicate an entire graphics (or other expansion) card to their virtual machine. In turn, this means there is no longer a need for the slow software emulation layer and should allow 3D applications to be run inside a virtual machine at similar speeds to running them natively. Currently, VT-D is not supported in Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. It is supported in the beta version of Parallels server. VT-D is still relatively new so I’m keeping my fingers crossed support will filter down into the desktop applications soon. Watch this space for a test as soon as it is!

For our massive range of creative software, hardware and peripherals, visit Jigsaw24. Alternatively, call 03332 409 309 (email if you’ve a question for our 3D team!

Recording and broadcasting lessons at St George’s College

Recording and broadcasting lessons at St George’s College

St George’s were looking at expanding the reach of their lectures and wanted to find a way of recording and broadcasting their lessons to students at home, as well as other schools and colleges they are partnered with. We set them up with cameras, wireless mics, and screen capture and editing software.

For the recording, we suggested a Sony HVR-V1E HDV camera with a Sennheiser wireless microphone connected to a HVR-D60 hard drive recording unit, all of which can be activated by remote control. This, working alongside a Camtasia screen capture program to record what students see on the interactive whiteboards, allowed footage of both the content and the teaching to be recorded for students to have access to after the session.

We then provided the college with some custom motion templates for their Final Cut Suite, so their recordings could be dropped into the template and exported to various mediums including the college intranet, the web and also DVD, making them easily accessible for everyone who needed to see them.

The system has worked really well and now students, teachers and the partnered colleges can access parts of the curriculum off campus. This has been a particularly useful facility for students who have missed lessons through illness or holiday, and also cuts out the need for students from partner schools and colleges to have to travel between campuses.

For more information about recording and sharing lessons, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306 or email

Google SketchUp: Conceptualisation and Pre-Visualisation at its best

Google SketchUp: Conceptualisation and Pre-Visualisation at its best

In a relatively short time, Google’s SketchUp has seen its user base go from strength to strength with new users from all sorts of backgrounds encouraged to get into 3D by SketchUp’s short learning curve and ease of use.

For those unfamiliar with Google SketchUp, I’ll provide a quick overview. Essentially, Google SketchUp is a 3D modelling programme aimed at architects, civil engineers, hobbyists, games developers and other related professionals who are looking to create quick 3D content for pre-visualisation or conceptual purposes.

The key to SketchUp’s success is its ability to let the designer literally build up or design from scratch complex three-dimensional geometries with minimal effort. Whether you’ve never used 3D before or have been an avid user of AutoCAD since the beginning of time, SketchUp’s unique intuitive interface makes for a very short learning curve. Coming from a CAD/CAM background myself I couldn’t believe the ease with which I could quickly model designs on screen. After a few hours I was producing conceptual models that would have never been worth modelling in my usual CAD software – I just wouldn’t have had the time and would have instead resulted to sketching out the ideas on paper, losing the visulisation and analytical benefits that a 3D model offers.

Now don’t get me wrong – in no way, shape, or form will SketchUp ever replace our trusted CAD or detailed modelling software. Although there are various plugins available for the export of SketchUp models to various external ray-tracing software renderers, such as Artlantis, the possibilities for detailed high-end models and photorealistic imagery are limited.

Having said that, high-end visuals are not what SketchUp was designed for and because of this it already has a firm place in the professional market as a pre-visualisation and concept design tool. The nature in which things can be quickly moved, changed or edited make it a perfect solution for over-the-shoulder type work with clients, where amendments can literally be made on the fly. Where should the house extension go? Here off the kitchen, no… Maybe off the living room? Maybe I should make it longer; perhaps I’ll add a sofa for some idea of layout… It’s really that simple with SketchUp, and it’s this simplicity that allows for a natural evolution of any design into 3D as though being drawn by hand.

Once you’ve got your concept approved and signed off by the client you can go into your dedicated 3D CAD programs and start getting into the nitty-gritty, leaving you safe in the knowledge that the majority of any major changes have already been made and seen in SketchUp.

SketchUp’s ease of use really does lend it to all sorts of situations. Five months ago I found myself moving house and had the usual dilemma of trying to work out if all of the stuff from the old living room would fit into the new one. Now call me a geek if you will, but first thing I did was boot up SketchUp, mock up my new living room (with accurate dimensions, I might add) and in a matter of seconds I was adding and resizing comparable furniture from Google’s free 3D warehouse database!

Before you knew it, my furniture was all in my new virtual living room, laid out as I wanted – leaving me ready for the move.

Now I realise that in the commercial world, this example doesn’t have much relevance, but it does highlight how practical this software is and how quickly and accurately you can create, build up, model and evaluate 3D spaces. Give it a go – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Visit Jigsaw24 to buy Google SketchUp

Call us on 03332 409 309  or email with all your 3D queries – we’re happy to help.

Creating impressive digital signage at St Paul’s High School

Creating impressive digital signage at St Paul’s High School

St Paul’s Catholic High School wanted to impress with a new digital signage system. We supplied them with all the knowledge, support and equipment they needed, installing a Scala digital signage system and various extras. Since the installation, staff at the school have been able to have great control over the information displayed around the site.

Updating the school environment

St Paul’s is a Specialist Engineering college for 11-16 year olds in Manchester. As part of the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) programme, St Paul’s is working towards updating its technology and facilities.

The staff at St Paul’s wanted to give the school’s entrance a modern feel by installing a digital signage system. The aim was to place two screens in the visitors’ entrance and one in the pupils’ entrance, with a further two screens in the main hall alongside a new projection system. All of the screens needed to be able to play the same information and be changed individually, so that both general and subject specific content could be displayed.

The projection system in the main hall had to have the capability to be used with a laptop, play DVDs, work as additional digital signage, and be controlled from the main hall and a control room above.

Designing the solution

After an onsite consultation, our digital signage experts suggested a Scala digital signage system, including a template starter pack and training on how to use the new setup. We created and branded five templates for the school, which were easy to update and add videos, images and text to by using a simple web interface.

Creating a complete branded signage system

As the installation of the digital signage system got underway, we also equipped the control room with an AV rack unit containing a DVD player, AMX Control system and a SMART-E CAT5 Matrix. This was integrated with an AMX Touch panel system (school-branded, courtesy of Jigsaw24) in both the control room and the hall.

In addition to this, a VGA wall plate was installed in the hall. This allows a laptop or PC to control the output of the projector and LCD screens from either room. DVDs could be shown on the projector and signage on the screens, or vice versa.

Creating original material

The system suggested and installed by Jigsaw24 more than fulfilled all of the school’s requirements. The digital signage template package was just a starting point and the training went a long way. Once staff were familiar with how to create, update and schedule content, they could manage the entire system themselves with very little effort. Now they create all of the content and scheduling used at St Paul’s.

For more information on our AV and digital signage solutions, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306 or email

Sound for Picture VII: Post-production plug-ins

Sound for Picture VII: Post-production plug-ins

When it comes to having the right tools for the job, there will always be varying opinion about which software plug-ins for audio post workstations get the job done most efficiently and at the best quality. In this section of the Sound for Picture series, we’ll take a look at some of the more functional and most creative options for your audio post-production suite.

Digidesign Satellite Link

For post-production environments with multiple Pro Tools|HD systems and multiple operators, Digidesign Satellite Link is an easy way to control and sync up to five Pro Tools|HD systems with near sample-accurate lock, from a single transport. These multi-master transport capabilities allow each linked system to control transport functions, while solo-link capabilities enable link systems to function as a single mixer. In order to use Satellite Link, you’ll need to own either a Sync HD or Sync I/O, but for the majority of post-production facilities, this will be a piece of equipment you already can’t live without. If you’re working with HD video, Satellite Link also supports the new Digidesign Video Satellite and Video Satellite LE options.

Digidesign Video Satellite and Video Satellite LE

As we’ve already seen earlier in this series, Video Satellite is an excellent tool for Pro Tools|HD that allows you to bring high-definition video into your audio production workflow. Video Satellite allows Pro Tools|HD operators to play Avid SD or HD video sequences from a dedicated Windows-based computer running Avid Media Composer software, in sync with their Pro Tools session. This eliminates the need to render effects, transcode video or copy files, thus greatly enhancing post-production efficiency. Using Video Satellite also enables users to tap into Avid shared media environments to stream video and, because all playback is offloaded onto a separate but synced computer, you can maintain the full audio track count and processing power of your Pro Tools|HD system.

Video Satellite’s more affordable sibling is Video Satellite LE, which similarly preserves the full processing power of your Pro Tools|HD system when editing sound for picture. Video Satellite LE is a software option for Pro Tools|HD that allows editors to play QuickTime HD/SD video or AvidSD video with the Avid Mojo SDI from a separate but synced MBox 2 Micro system. With Video Satellite LE installed on the Pro Tools LE-based computer, you can control playback in sync with your session in Pro Tools|HD.

In both of these instances, syncing is achieved over a proprietary Ethernet protocol, which achieves a faster lock than 9-pin and tighter lock than MIDI Time Code.

Digidesign MachineControl

MachineControl is an integrated option for Pro Tools that enables you to easily control external audio/video devices via standard serial 9-pin machine control protocols. This software option makes options for fast forward, rewind, jog, shuttle and other common tasks accessible through the Pro Tools graphical interface.

Additionally, MachineControl also allows you to slave Pro Tools to compatible Sony 9-pin devices, allowing your Pro Tools system to emulate a remote deck, and also offers track-arming for integral laybacks to external devices.

Digidesign DigiTranslator 2.0

Earlier in this series, we noted the importance of accurate conversion between various formats within a post environment. The DigiTranslator software provides accurate conversion and exchange of OMF, AAF and MXF audio files, video files and sequences, and translation of Avid volume data directly through the Pro Tools application.

SynchroArts VocALign Pro

When it comes to ADR, VocALign is an indispensable tool that will adjust the timing of one audio signal to match the timing of another, making the process of dialogue replacement easier and quicker than it ever has been. While the benefits of this plug-in are not limited to post-production alone, this is undoubtedly the easiest way to edit a line of replacement dialogue so that it aligns with the dialogue recorded in the original film or video. This enables the voiceover artist to concentrate on their performance rather than live syncing with perfect results, and also caters for convincing foreign language dubs.

VocALign is currently available in a few formats – VocALign PRO V4 for Pro Tools, VocALign Project (now available as an Audio Suite and Audio Unit plug-in) and VocALign Project for stand-alone use.

SynchroArts Titan 3.1

SynchroArts Titan is a stand-alone application that provides four automatic editing functions that can save a substantial amount of time when editing Pro Tools session files. The Fix Sync function automatically adjusts the position of manually or auto-conformed audio regions to sync precisely to a work track, or can be used to correct the sync of audio that has passed through signal processing devices and has been delayed by unknown amounts of latency.

The second mode of operation of this application, Flash Cutter, is split into two sections. The Cut Only Mode (Conform) function removes the need to manually re-cut and rename edits in situations when tape is used to transfer audio from any editing system to Pro Tools and an OMF transfer is not a practical option. Once audio has been transferred into the Pro Tools session as a continuous track and it’s been correctly positioned, Flash Cutter uses a standard EDL from the first editing system to automatically re-cut the tracks and rename the audio regions. The second mode of operation of Flash Cutter is Cut and Move Mode (Re-Cut), which allows user-selected tracks in a Pro Tools session to be cut into sections defined by EDL events source I/O times, which can be moved into new positions with starting points defined by each EDL events’ record (or destination) in time.

The fourth and final component of this application is Flash Conform, which can conform audio loaded into hard disk and DVD drives from audio editors or location recorders. This component supports a wide range of reel/roll and time code identification options and can conform audio with mixed sample rates and bit depth, converting the audio to a single user-selected sample rate and bit depth. The Flash Conform function can also create Pro Tools and AES31 sessions with support for an unlimited number of audio channels.

Waves 360˚ Surround Tools

The Waves 360˚ Surround Tools bundle is made of some of the best audio post-production tools for surround sound mixing currently available. The feature set available to the editor in this pack includes compression, limiting, reverb, spatial enhancement and various other useful plug-ins for the creation of surround mixes. For more information on the individual plug-ins that make up the Waves 360˚ Surround Tools bundle, please visit

Dolby Surround Tools

Dolby Surround Tools makes surround mixing extremely efficient for Pro Tools operators, supporting the Pro Tools multi-channel mixer and sample rates up to 96kHz. Due to the way that Dolby Surround Tools’ encoding and decoding process matches that of the industry-standard Dolby Models SEU4 and SDU4, D-to-A and A-to-D conversions are no longer needed. While the suite is not designed for the final mixing of matrix-encoded theatrical film soundtracks, it can be used to preview the results of the process on the discrete four-channel audio tracks (L, C, R, S) that will subsequently be combined with other elements during the final mix stage. In addition to the professional and industry-standard tools provided in this pack, clients will be able to take full marketing advantage of the Dolby Surround trademark on their productions and packaging with a royalty-free license from Dolby Laboratories.

For more info, give us a call on 03332 409 306, email or take a look at our full broadcast range.

Animation ideas for the classroom

Animation ideas for the classroom

The idea of animating dates back as far as Palaeolithic times. Archaeologists have discovered cave paintings depicting animals with numerous sets of limbs – a possible attempt to symbolise motion. Unless animals were just a bit leggier back then.

These days, animation is universally accessible and primary schools can make great use of it, helping even young pupils produce impressive animations. Don’t believe us? Take a look at some of our favourite ideas and see how you can brighten up your science lessons by animating with your pupils.

Get Talking

With the power of animation, your pupils can watch Sir Isaac Newton describe how he turned a humble fruit into a piece of scientific equipment. Software like Crazy Talk lets you give still images animated facial features and a vocal track, creating a moving, talking picture. It’s a lot of fun and pupils learn about recording and animation, as well as basic physics. It’s not just for learners; teachers can create quick animations to use in lessons too.

Quick Tip
: More adventurous pupils can research ‘Preston Blair Phonemes’ to see how mouths make different shapes for each letter.

Scrub Up
There’s no need to roll up your sleeves; ‘scrubbing’ is the term used for fast forwarding with the clickwheel on an iPod. Budding animators have started creating virtual flipbooks that function through scrubbing instead of manual flipping. All your pupils need to do is upload a series of successive images so that when they scrub through them it looks like a moving sequence. It’s simple, quick and absolutely free. Get your class building an electrical circuit, taking pictures as they go, and they can create their own science scrubs!

Quick Tip: The best resolution for an iPod screen is 220 x 176 pixels – bear that in mind when your pupils are editing their pictures, otherwise the animation may look skewed.

Don’t Forget to Planet

The best way to learn about planetary orbit is to see it at work and, unless your school has the budget for a quick sojourn into the atmosphere, animation is perfect. Pupils can work together with clay or random objects to make the planets in 2D or 3D. The stop motion technique involves taking pictures of a scene, moving parts of it slightly, taking a picture, moving it and so on. Kudlian’s I Can Animate software includes an ‘onion skinning’ feature that lets you see how much the scene has changed since the last shot, so it’s great for young learners.

Quick Tip
: Pupils should draw out a storyboard before they start, so that they know where everything needs to be placed for each shot.

Watch Them Grow
Life cycles are often explored by looking at pictures, but what if pupils could watch the whole process from start to finish? By animating the changes between still images, your class can show transformations in a fraction of the actual time. Just define the two pictures as the start and end points in a shape transformation, and create a simple ‘inbetween’ transition using key frame animation. Young animators can see how much they’ve grown and changed over the past year or two by choosing a couple of pictures, one recent and one older, and watching the difference before their very eyes.

Quick Tip: Before they start transforming themselves, get your class using key frame animation to change circles into squares or suns into moons, so that they get an idea of how the software works.

If you’d like a hand getting started with animation projects in your science lessons, give our education experts a call on 03332 409 300 or email