Archiform 3D

Dealing with a 3D studio’s biggest bottleneck – Processing

By Steve Bell

The field of 3D in itself is a complex one – so much so that much of it now has fragmented into sub-fields. If you are to be an all-round 3D artist and animator then you need to be part artist, programmer, mathematician, physicist, computer technician, business person and circus juggler.

But there is one complication that everyone involved in the 3D field has to deal with and it is the ire of most clientele – Render Processing. Every image and every second of video needs to be processed out and that often equates to delays and/or expense. Clients that are not familiar with the process get uptight at something that makes no sense to them and 3D artists lose sleep over an upset client and/or the profits that may be lost to services that specialise in providing the processing power needed to complete a job. Just like “a watched kettle never boils” it seems that the most urgent rendering never finishes processing.

For the 3D artist that only does simple renderings it is not so bad. One high-resolution image, provided it is not too complex or full of niggly items like trees, may only take a few hours to process and then a few more hours of Photoshop. These types of services rarely do animation at all and prefer a flat “cut-out” trees pasted in Photoshop than a detailed landscape of leaf-by-leaf 3D trees that are often more complex in just one plant than the whole building or scene that they decorate.

For the artist or studio that aspires to a pure 3D scene, multiple renderings and animation there are no shortcuts. Intensive human work needs to be put in first and then intensive computer processing, not just of one highly detailed image put of thousands. Animation is a series of images played back quickly and today’s standards mean each image is high-definition and there are between 24 and 48 for every second of video. If one image takes an hour to process then one minute of 3D animated video will take between 60 and 120 days on one computer.

After all the effort that goes into creating a 3D project can you imagine many people being happy about waiting that long again to get finished artwork and video? Can you imagine the angst of an artist who has already expended all his effort and must now wait for a computer to deliver? What if he has only one computer and must use it for other jobs during the day? What about the fact that most good corporate or property presentations are between two and three minutes long, which blows out the processing time again? And then there are inevitably changes, which normally means repossessing out some, if not all of it again.

Computer time and power costs money

As you would expect, 3D studios buy spare machines for processing images and now there are large services located around the world that specialise in nothing but processing out work for those in need.

To add some spare machines is not too costly, as while they need state of the art CPUs they don’t require expensive monitors, a desk to sit them on or anything fancy. Those systems can process out renderings and animation drafts while the artist keeps working. Out of business hours the artist’s own machine can help too but still there are weeks or months of processing to do if the job is a complex animation. There is no chance of a few PCs in an office processing out the likes of “Avatar” in less than 20 years.

Render services, or “farms”, are here now to handle the big stuff. They are high-tech, expansive and carefully maintained. They can cut a years processing down to a day – possibly even less. But as you may expect, they don’t come cheap, in fact a studio may have a quarter of the overall fee set aside just for processing expenses. If you have your budgets together then that is fine, but what happens when something goes wrong and you need to reprocess? I can also promise you that half the time the client will want to make a change in direction and NOT expect to pay for it.

The need for render bureaus on projects can sink a 3D studio quickly and I can, from past experience, testify to watching any profit I had left in a project be consumed by these behemoths. It is horrific to watch your credit card balance reduce every couple of days and devastating when you discover that your own people may have left something out and it needs to be done again.

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