I’ve been curious about using render farms to speed up my Cycles renders for animations. But I’ve never gotten a clear answer on how fast they are, how much they cost or which one to use. To find out if it was worth it or not, I tested one….this is how it went and what I learned.
For the more visual folks, check out the YouTube video about my first render farm use.
What is a Render Farm?
A render farm, or cloud rendering service, is a data center that specializes in rendering 3D graphics. They use a bunch of powerful computers to render faster than you can on your own device. There are many to choose from. This article isn’t comparing services or recommending one. It’s an overview of the steps I took to use one and a summary of how it went. (Spoiler alert: I was happy with the results)
For my experiment, I used a recent Blender animation file with 460 HD frames, volumetric fog, particle systems, you name it. This 19-second animation took 14 hours to render on my home computer in Cycles (I cover my computer specs more thoroughly in the video, but I was using an RTX 2060 Super graphics card with OpenImages Denoiser.)
I did a quick Google search for render farms and the first sponsored ad that appeared was for GarageFarm.net. DISCLAIMER: I have no affiliation with GarageFarm.net. I did not get paid anything to write this!
I created an account for GarageFarm and saw they offered a $25 credit for new accounts. Sweet! Creating the account required my basic contact info but no credit card. I did find a catch. The $25 limits you to 10 render nodes (which will be much slower) unless you add actual funds to your account. I wanted the full experience so I added funds. I used a credit card but PayPal and Google Pay were also payment options.
The first thing I looked at was the “Terms and Conditions.” I wanted to make sure the render farm didn’t somehow get rights to my animation by rendering it. They don’t.
I also reviewed the refund policy. There is a process to dispute charges if you’re unhappy with the final render. But unless it was a technical error on the part of GarageFarm, you’re probably not getting a refund. So, make sure your settings are how you want them before you submit the project file.
GarageFarm can be used with Maya, 3DS, Cinema 4D and several other 3D programs including Blender. I had to download the RenderBeamer application from the site. This is what’s used to upload the project file to GarageFarm.net and then download the rendered file(s) to your computer. From the application, you choose which software plugins to install (of course I chose Blender). I activated the plugin under “User Preferences” in Blender.
Upload & Settings
When I installed the RenderBeam app, there was an option to select “Auto Submit” which automatically uploads projects from Blender to the render farm. This sounded good so I selected it. I later regretted this because it doesn’t give you a chance to change your priority settings before you submit the project. I do NOT recommend using the “Auto Submit” function.
I also had to select a folder location on my computer to save the rendered frames after they were processed.
After activating the RenderBeamer plug-in under “User Preferences” (add-ons tab) I now had new options under my Render tab in the top bar.
The cost calculator looked interesting so I tried it but it just opened a web page where I could enter my “Octane Bench Score.” I skipped that and clicked “Beam it up Animation.” This sent my file to the RenderBeamer app and immediately started uploading to GarageFarm.net.
Because I selected “Auto Submit” the file immediately began rendering. GarageFarm.net has three render priorities: Low, Medium & High. The higher the priority level, the faster the file renders but the more it costs. The default “Auto Submit” setting is medium priority. This can be changed in the settings.
When my project began rendering, it gave me an estimated cost. I could change the priority level or pause or cancel the project at any time. The balance of credits in my account decreased as the rendering progressed (I later had to add additional funds to cover my three test renders at each priority level).
When the cloud rendering finished, I found the rendered frames labeled sequentially in the folder I set up for them. I saw no difference in quality from the render farm product and that on my home computer. So it worked! I imported the sequence into Blender’s video sequence editor and quickly rendered out the final animation. See the final animation here!
On “medium priority,” the project took only 22 minutes to render and cost $44.71 (USD). Luckily, the first $25 was the free credit.
I repeated the process on “low priority” and it took 33 minutes but only cost $24.53. Low priority was eleven minutes slower but $20 cheaper. This seemed like the way to go for most projects.
I again repeated the process at high priority. At this point, I had about $10 in my account balance. As soon as it started rendering, it estimated the project would cost about $87. But it rendered so fast that my $10 was depleted before I could cancel or add funds. I chose not to add funds because it was obvious the high priority was going to render in just a couple minutes (if even that). That was super fast but at $87 – I was good waiting a little longer to save money.
How it Went
The final render was indistinguishable in quality from my home render and was completed in a fraction of the time – even at the lowest priority level.
I would definitely consider using GarageFarm.net for future final renders, especially if it was for a paid client, to whom I could pass along the cost. The best value for most projects is probably the low priority level.
A day after I created my account, I received an e-mail from the GarageFarm.net Director of Operations. He thanked me for signing up and wanted to make sure everything went well. I replied that my only question was how to do a test render and get a better cost estimate. I quickly received a response explaining you can set the project to render on “steps.” For a test render, you’d render one out of every so many frames. For example, every 25th frame. Then you’d get an estimate of how much it costs per frame.
This unsolicited follow-up and quick response by GarageFarm.net scored them some big points in the customer service category. They also have a YouTube channel with tutorials for using their services with each of the many software programs they work with.
Having never used a render farm before, I don’t have anything to compare this with. But it was a good experience and I feel really comfortable using them again if a project calls for it.
I hope this helped if you were curious how render farms work, how much they cost and how much time they can save. On my YouTube channel, I am regularly adding short Blender tutorials and reviews like this. Please consider subscribing if you want to see more.
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Thanks and stay creative!