By Gmoney
I'm an architect for a very small shop. We just got started working with Sketchup and Maxwell, and printed our first set of in-house-created renderings for a client last week. Up till now, we've used outside firms for the purposes of photo-real imaging of our projects - and that, rarely. Our clients, however, have started to become much more demanding lately, wanting more than napkin sketches or even Sketchup walk-throughs, so we've been forced to drag ourselves out of the 90's and adapt. I've been asked to research costs and advantages/disadvantages of the various options for getting a final rendered image into a client's hands, and I'm interested to hear folks' experiences with this. We will not be rendering out Pixar films, and I seriously doubt we'll need renderings very often, at least not yet; it's hard for me to predict how often we'll need to punch out job with Maxwell - certainly not every day, or even every week.

This has led me to think that on-line rendering services are the way to go, with at least a little umph in-house to accomplish some test-renders. The set-up we have right now is rather inadequate, even for test-renders - the I7 3770/16GB ram W7 machine I use took all weekend to get to SL 21 on a 1080x1920 still image, and we still had fireflies (OK, it was a night-shot...but, 21??)

So, I'd love some input, mainly cost and usability, of the various options:
- upgraded workstation solution (which we would use for AutoCAD in the meantime, as well as test renders)
- stick with our current workstations, use a render farm (cloud-based? On-line? Is there a difference these days? Recommendations as to which?)
- separate off-the-shelf networked render-farm, like a Boxx. (Does this thing have a use when not rendering? Hard sell if not.)

A note on the tech: we're somewhat tech-savvy, but the owners are extremely wary of the costs and pain involved in dealing with new tech; simple and cheapest out-weighs complicated and sexy by a long stretch. I wouldn't consider, for instance, DIY'ing a render-farm, and for us, that seems like overkill.

I've been in similar situations as you: small studio, limited resources, not constantly rendering.

At a previous studio, we had 5 ultra-high-end workstations that doubled as render nodes at night. This was definitely sufficient for our <500 frame animations, and large stills. It was nice having machines that could pull double-duty like that. This being said, it's hard for me to recommend with a straight face, because they were ridiculously expensive computers.

My current office uses an online render farm occasionally. Once you get used to the workflow of setting up and sending jobs to the farm, the efficiency gains are obvious. Just yesterday I had a 360-frame animation done for $50, finished in about 20 minutes. It was estimated to take ~1.5 days on my machine.

It would take a few dozen renderings done on a render farm to equal the cost of purchasing one or more machines for your office. So just consider that weighed against your office's long-term plans.
Thought I'd follow up with our experiences after going with a render-farm, for anyone in a similar situation.

We ended up going with a render service provider, as opposed to buying a render "Boxx" due mainly to cost and the fact that 95% of our time is spent doing construction drawings, not photo-real images. The process was somewhat painful for us (well, me) because there was a pretty steep learning curve. Here's what I found out the hard way, by doing it wrong the first time, in no particular order:

- render farms need a .mxs file to render from, along with any material dependencies. With Sketchup, the standalone version of Maxwell doesn't provide this, you need the Suite. That's fine, we needed the Suite for a lot of other reasons (mainly image size).
- don't use Sketchup materials except simple colors, it's too difficult to extract the texture images (which aren't wonderful anyway, admittedly), which brings me to...
- all materials with image texture dependencies need to point to those files within the Maxwell Scene Manager, you can't leave it as a sketchup dependent texture or the .mxs won't find it
- all of the textures must have only alphanumeric names. I had textures with "." in the names, and the renderfarm threw an error
- hidden geometry will render! The "don't render hidden layers" in the Scene Manager isn't the same thing, apparently.
- there's no way to know exactly how much the render you need will cost, at least with the farm we chose. You set the maximum you think you need, but if you miss the mark, and you get a grainy ugly image, you're back to square one. One render was great after about $20, the others cost upwards of $80, which was expected, I just didn't know starting out exactly how much, so I lowballed it, and wasted our money and time. And if you say: do a test render! Well, see, that's why you use a render farm: our computers just can't hack it, and don't even get to 16 SL overnight. The renderer kicked out a 4200x2000 px image with 25 SL in about an hour.
- you can't leave different jobs with the same materials on the renderer's website, it'll kick back an error.

Regarding the render-farm: we ended up with RebusFarm, and I have no complaints about the service, despite how it might appear from my ramblings. They delivered fast and, from what I can tell, competitively cost-wise, and the whole thing was pretty transparent for me, being new to the process. When I had trouble, they responded almost immediately - a human, no less!

In conclusion: don't take the above as a rant or complaint about Maxwell, Sketchup, or Rebus, more as "warning!" to someone doing this for the first time. I'm sure under less of a time crunch, I would have been able to find documentation for all of these little hurdles and things would have gone more smoothly. And the trials we went through may be specific to the render-farm we chose, other folks might have different trials and experiences.
We invite you all to try our Render Farm.

We're a Maxwell Render specialized render farm, it's the only render engine we support!

We're a human supervised render farm...there's someone on our side (human!) to help you out if you need.

To give you all an idea of the costs & for simplicity of comparison:

One image that takes 72 hours (3 days) to render on a i7 4790K is rendered in Fast Render Farm in about one hour and a half with a cost of only 43 credits.

1 credit = 1€ but prices can be much lower if you buy credits in bulk.

You can use our estimate costs tool to have an idea of the cost of your image/animation: ... ulatecosts

If you have any question feel free to ask:
Texture/finish lost in render.


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