This content is a transcription of an article published on the CGSociety website.
To begin with, can you tell us who Ranch Computing is and what its role in the industry is?
Ranch Computing is a French company based in Paris. We provide 3D artists with powerful calculation servers. The idea is to allow all computer graphics artists, whatever their sector of activity (animation, VFX, architecture, design, games…) and the size of their structure (from the big studio to the freelancer), to approach the rendering phase in complete serenity by controlling both their deadlines and their budget.
How did the idea of providing a quality rendering solution for 3D artists come about?
When we set up the company in 2006, we offered a service that was actually quite avant-garde! There were few commercial render farms. The co-founder of the company, Frédéric Louguet, was already very involved in the world of 3D and had written several books on the subject. He had the initial idea of allowing artists to concentrate on their creation and to provide them with efficient rendering solutions. The computational requirements were not the same, but neither was the computer power. To give you an idea, we started with about fifteen Core 2 Quad/Extreme 4-core servers with 4GB of RAM, whereas now we have several hundred 32-core/64-thread Dual Xeon servers, the most powerful of which have 256GB of RAM.
Why is the choice of a rendering farm important for an artist? How does it affect the quality of his work?
The job of the computer graphics artist is to create images. Rendering is a crucial phase because it is the one that will visually reveal the beauty and complexity of the 3D scenes created by the artists. It is also a demanding phase in terms of material resources, which takes place downstream of the creation process, therefore potentially quite close to deadlines, where time can become a stress factor for the artist. Finally, in order to be optimised in terms of time and cost, the rendering phase can require technical skills in computing (on the power of servers, the capacity of a project to exploit the nodes on which it is deployed…), the level of mastery of which is very different from one person to another, and this is normal. This is why, at Ranch Computing, we take care to provide high quality technical support to reassure our customers, to better accompany them and advise them. So, in the end, managing the rendering phase well means controlling time and budget and, in fine, respecting the quality of the creative work. The latter will only be better, because an artist will inevitably be more relaxed and more efficient if he knows that the very technical phase of the rendering will be handled by specialists.
Why should an artist use an external render farm? What are the advantages over an in-house render farm?
In-house rendering induces both constraints (acquisition and renewal of computer hardware, physical storage of servers, noise, heat, server maintenance, etc.) and significant costs (electricity consumption, cooling system, acquisition of licences, etc.). It is therefore very quickly more profitable and simpler to call on specialists, especially if you work as a freelancer, in medium-sized structures or even as a student: there is no need to leave your computer running all night, crossing your fingers that in the morning, the rendering will have gone well! By using a render farm, the rendering is much faster and does not paralyse the artist’s computer, which means that he or she wins on two counts: he or she gets his or her project back more quickly and can continue working at the same time.
In the case of a company or studio, using an external renderfarm allows you to undertake large budget projects whose complexity exceeds the company’s internal material resources. Knowing that you can render thousands of images in a day instead of several weeks opens up new perspectives (no pun intended!)… and also new ambitions.
Can you explain how your service is as useful to young people starting out as it is to experienced artists?
Efficient rendering services can really simplify the life of all 3D artists, whatever their degree of mastery of their art. When you start your career, especially if you are a freelancer, there are many issues related to your activity: finding clients, maintaining your network, promoting your creations… When you have become an expert, you spend time on monitoring and continuous training in the evolution of software, and you work on more important creations which can take longer.
At Ranch Computing, we believe that artists should not have to worry about the rendering phase. We have been in the business for over 10 years and we are here to make this phase as simple and efficient as possible by providing any technical support our clients may need. This allows them to concentrate on their core business while enjoying a professional quality and speed of rendering.
To give two very concrete examples, for a client we rendered a still image (below) in 1 minute (instead of the estimated 4h37 on his computer) for a cost of 5 € and an animation in 1h25 instead of 3 days and 13 hours for 268 € (with a higher budget, this animation could even have been rendered in 30 minutes)
And to save artists even more time, we also develop and maintain scene preparation software (RANCHecker). These tools, which our clients use on their computers, allow them to compile all the elements of their project (scenes, textures, objects) in a single archive, in a format ready to be sent and rendered on the Ranch. Complicating the rendering phase is of no interest to the creative: it is precisely our role to dispense with it!
What trends do you observe and how do you respond to them?
The term “Cloud Rendering” seems to be very fashionable in recent months but the concept is not really new: it is in fact what we have been offering since the beginning in the sense that the whole process is completely dematerialised. Our clients send us their project online and retrieve it from a secure ftp server, with a unique account for each project. Physically, the servers are based in Paris in our datacenter, which is adjacent to our premises. We therefore control the entire chain by having the hardware and support teams in the same place. This is an additional security for our clients because, in the end, when we talk too much about the cloud, we sometimes don’t know where we’re sending our projects and we end up forgetting that the images are rendered on physical servers, none of which, to my knowledge, are really installed in the clouds yet…
More seriously, we see several trends emerging:
- increasingly “à la carte” services where the user can define his budget, calibrate his power, have access to more and more 3D software… To go along with this, our customers can choose the maximum power they want to allocate to their project, as well as its degree of urgency, thanks to a system of priorities linked to rates. We also offer tailor-made solutions to animation studios with specific needs and constraints. And we work closely with publishers to support more and more software. In this respect, we would like to remind you that we have developed and optimised all our renderfarm management tools in-house. This allows us to adapt to changes in standard market software, and to the needs of our customers, much more quickly than if we were dependent on commercially available management tools.
- services that attempt to reduce the environmental footprint of our business. This equation is not so simple. Many service providers claim to be ‘green’ today, but the IT assets involved are often quite small. We are looking at ways to reduce the footprint, but not the power. We should be able to tell you more in the next few months!
- the significant increase in the use of GPUs (on-board processors on graphics cards) in rendering, whereas until recently they were only marginally used at the professional level. Of course, rendering on GPUs still has many limitations, but progress is steady. We have therefore considerably increased our GPU rendering power this year, in order to provide users of these products with the computing resources they need.
Finally, there are many possibilities for rendering today. How is Ranch Computing different?
We offer very affordable prices, even though our servers are among the most powerful on the market (32 cores/64 threads/256 GB of RAM). But I would like to emphasize the quality of our customer support, which was praised by 97% of our customers when we surveyed them last May. Our experts know and use the software we support themselves and this allows them to go much further in providing help and advice, which, according to what our customers tell us, is not found elsewhere.
They also have 96% confidence in our service. We respect the work of all artists and especially their confidentiality. Unless our clients ask us to intervene on their stage to help them, we never see the projects. They are all rendered on servers based in our offices and returned on secure ftp accounts.
Furthermore, we can in no way be competitors for our own clients, as we are not a design studio ourselves and do not design scenes. Some of our competitors use their own studio’s machines to render the projects of external clients, even though they themselves have a 3D creation activity… we can wonder about the ethical aspect of this practice and the risks that it poses in terms of project confidentiality.
In short, rendering is not just a question of gigahertz, the human element remains at the centre of the project, and that’s what our clients appreciate: they know that they will have competent people listening to them, capable of providing them with concrete solutions. And the fact that we have developed a fully automated renderfarm means that we can devote a lot of time to our customers!
The computing power, the quality of our service and the trust of our customers are our 3 main strengths. Together, they make Ranch Computing the render farm with the best price/quality ratio on the market.
Julien de Souza
Co-founder and Managing Director
Credit : QuadSpinner