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.
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.