7 steps to render success

There are too many theories and rumours and there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer for how much 3D rendering really costs. Here, YellowDog’s Jack attempts to clear up some of the confusion. He explores how to calculate the cost of outsourcing 3D renders to a farm or to the cloud.

I joined YellowDog in 2015, having been at the sharp end of long render times myself whilst working at a virtual/augmented reality company. Despite knowing the problems that rendering caused for schedule planning and delivery, I had no sense of the true cost or science of rendering.  In my first few months at YellowDog, working alongside founder, Gareth, the confusions around outsourced rendering faced by studios became much clearer.

Sadly, there isn’t, and never will be, a simple answer to the question: ‘how much does rendering cost?’. Yet, it remains something that many within media and entertainment are asking.

So, here’s 7 steps to consider to arrive at a cost estimation or to get a fixed and reliable quotation for your next 3D production.

Scenario: Costing up part of an animation series

A common question we are often asked at YellowDog is this: “How much will an 11 minute episode cost to render online?”

This question contains virtually no relevant detail – so what steps should you take to get a render cost for your production?

Step 1 | Know how many frames

How many frames are in 11 minutes? Animated at 25 frames per second (FPS), that’s 16,500 frames. At 30 FPS, that’s 19,800.

It sounds basic, but a simple frame rate increase affects how much production time or money is required to meet delivery deadline and this can and has been overlooked by even the most experienced among us.

Know how many frames you need to render – and don’t forget to account for re-renders if that is a common feature of your pipeline. Knowing the quantity of frames you want to render is the minimum piece of information you need before starting to estimate cost.

As an example, we work with one studio that commonly renders all frames and then budgets for a 25% retake percentage pending client changes.

Step 2 | Know your average render time per frame

Let’s say that there are no re-renders and that the 16,500 frames take an average of 30 minutes to render with one character stood in a room with not much else in the scene. That’s 495,000 minutes of rendering. If those frames get bulked out with more complex assets: multiple characters, reflective surfaces, thick carpet etc, then average render times increase. Assuming a modest 60 minutes per frame for all of this detail, the episode will now take just under 1,000,000 hours of rendering. The cost of rendering will double compared to when you started out with your basic scene.

Know your average render time per frame and assess the complexity of your frames based on the client brief – are the scenes simple, regular, or complex?

Step 3 | Have a controlled environment to test render times

Once you know how long an average frame takes to render and you’re satisfied with that based on your own experience, dedicate one machine for test purposes and run test renders. Understand the specification of that machine. For CPU renders, a widely accepted and respected benchmark tool for rendering is Cinebench developed by Maxon.

So now you know frame numbers, frame render duration, and the performance of the machine that you’re rendering on.
This is the kind of information that you’ll need to get the most basic of cost estimates. 
But don’t just settle at that: take some time to consider these frequently forgotten extras.    

Step 4 | Balance render time vs. the final look

Before calculating the final rendering cost of your shots, (whether you’re an artist, producer, or supervisor) assess if you’re getting the right balance between render time and aesthetic look. Complex frames don’t always make quality scenes – sometimes it can be the opposite as most of us know.

Earlier this year, we calculated the cost of a fully rendered shot where a glass ornament was placed on a table in the scene. That single glass asset  couldn’t be optimised for rendering very well and it increased the render time of a typical frame by 250%. As the ornament was in almost half of the frames in the scene, it doubled the time and therefore price of the scene render.

Can you take unnecessary details out of your scene?

Step 5 | Understand data transfer impact

Consider the impact of transfer and storage of assets.  For an animated series or VFX shots, it isn’t unusual to have multiple GB or even TB of assets required for rendering. To render with a farm or with the cloud, assets will need to be uploaded. Ask yourself how long it will take to upload and download data and if all that data transfer and storage is going to eat into our budget. If slow upload and download times on quick renders are a factor in your episode, does this affect your ability to hit your deadline: are you susceptible to client penalties or irreparable reputation damage?

Plan and transfer assets ahead of time wherever possible and talk to your render farm or cloud provider to understand upload and download expectations.

People holding phones transferring data via the cloud


Step 6 | Try before you buy 

Type ‘render farm’ into Google and you’ll find all manner of low prices, free trials, and calculators to estimate a render price.  The low prices don’t always return high quality as they are often based on an economy of scale. They are worth considering if you think that your production is a good fit for the service but can sometimes struggle to accommodate multiple demanding projects at once.

Just remember the rule of ‘Busy farms = low prices = competition for limited nodes and power.’

If you’re after greater scale and power than render farms, try cloud which is used by many of the world’s top studios. Cloud can be great but be aware of the preemptible factor that some get surprised by – either in terms of performance or price. There can also be a complex set up depending on your licensing and provider so take this into account ahead of time if you have limited people or budget resource.

Step 7 | Call in the help when you need to

Take the price and deadline estimations with a pinch of salt but take comfort from the fact that if you’ve followed the steps above you already have a better idea than most – no matter where you choose to send your render.

If you’re unsure about render farms and a bit mystified by configuring cloud for rendering at scale, find out why everyone is talking about YellowDog.

Uniquely placed with a vision of ‘Limitless Compute’, YellowDog provides fixed render quotes. It is exempt from capacity pressures, tailors easy-to-understand packages for studios with deadline guarantees, and has no hidden storage or data transfer costs. It delivers dedicated render nodes to customers irrespective of the quantity of other projects running concurrently because of its high performance compute, cloud partners, and platform architecture.

Message the dedicated render team to to activate a free trial or enquire about a more comprehensive render platform evaluation.

YellowDog Case Studies

Message the render team


kz3dart says:

90% of outsourced rendering systems do not support rendering to 32bit image formats (one 1080p frame = 5MB*.jpg or 150MB*.exr ). Yes one frame of animation can take 150MB because you render many passes not only the final look but also components for re-lighting and FX like Velocity, Shadow, Normal,Direct light, Indirect Light etc. Best solution is buy 5 cheap AMD based PC and render in house then render on some outsourced rendering systems and re render every time you need to change something that you could change if you only have 32bit multi-layer output.

Draven says:

You could do a lot of rendering for the cost of a single AMD PC, much less five. When those machines are powered down they do you no good, and when they are powered on bu not rendering, they are costing you money. That, and a good cloud rendering service can render your entire animation in an hour that your five machines would still be chewing on for a day or even multiple days.

Unfortunately, YellowDog doesn’t support any of the renderers I’d need.

kz3dart says:


Jack says:

Thanks for the comments guys!
YellowDog might not like me for saying it, but i think that for the vast majority of people out there that already have kit in house, rendering locally on a farm and bursting up to the cloud is probably the best balance,
then again, I interviewed a studio just this week (guest blog coming soon) that don’t just do 3D and becasue they’d rather invest in new cameras and new people to scale their relatively young studio, rendering in the cloud 100% makes total sense.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ in this business IMO. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *