Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pixar and Greenbutton reveal RenderMan On Demand

In 2010 Pixar had demonstrated RenderMan running on MicroSoft's Azure platform, as reported here, however back then it was only a demo. As of Jan 19, this has become a real working service thanks to GreenButton, Pixar's RenderMan On Demand is now live and ready for all your rendering glory, for a price of course. To be fair .70 cents a core hour is really cheap, of course this is based off of third party information, mileage may vary.

So it looks like cloud services are becoming more and more common for the 3D industry, while there has been renderfarms that existed before in the sense of a traditional farm, the difference is that GreenButton is a cloud based service. The advantage of using cloud service rather than an in house farm is that there is no initial huge investment in hardware, you only pay for the use of other's hardware. The obvious reason for an in house renderfarm is that it is tailored to the studio, you have complete priority over jobs and it looks pretty impressive to the outside world. Smaller studios lack huge pockets though, so cloud rendering is far more valuable and attractive than investing that same amount of money on a few servers.

There is another method for us to render out frames without tying up our computers for hours or days on end; distributed computing. Distributed computing is also a way for Blender artists to make use of a renderfarm without having to spend a serious amount of money, in fact with this is possible for free. Much of the well known distributed computing projects like SETI@Home are based off the BOINC platform, this is a distributed server-client system that has connected millions of computers worldwide all for the name of science. Why not take advantage of the same system for rendering and that is exactly what does, it enables Blender users access to a large number of rendering nodes for free while also providing your computer as a rendering node for someone else's project.

This is a service that is based off of BURP, the technological framework for using BOINC as a distributed renderfarm, written by Janus Bager Kristensen. BURP started several years ago and works closely with yet the two are completely different entities.

The question I have is, why not start something like this for Aqsis, or Pixie? has done a very good job of marketing themselves and in all reality they do not even handle the actual rendering, that is taken care of by us BOINC users. In theory this kind of service could be started for Aqsis as well. Can Aqsis and Pixie be added to, or even have a new website devoted to this? Can open source Renderman be turned into a cloud rendering technology? I believe it can, however I am not the most talented programmer in the world, so personally I would be a horrible choice for a developer. I have been looking at the code, not to mention that there has been some talk over forums with the BURP and guys about supporting other external rendering software, it looks very possible to get Aqsis at the very least. The wall is of course the development of supporting this, as Blender changes these guys have to make changes in their own software, keep up BURP and support and then fix things when it breaks, so this does cut into time and energy into other render engines. Not to mention the server itself needs to be pretty beefy, funding for the static IP and cost of hosting this, unless someone out there is willing to donate this. Would there even be enough interest to work on such a project? This obviously needs to be a project outside of BURP and but in communication with so that if this works and tests well, then maybe it can be added to the service.

The reason for this post is primarily because I used to be one of the biggest nay sayers against community based distributed rendering, claiming that too many technical factors outweigh the benefits but in the past year I have come to realize that maybe 5 or 10 years ago this was true, now it appears that this no longer is the case. When I first heard of BURP many years ago I thought that it was a neat project but would probably not work out in the end and look at how wrong I was about that, not only has this evolved into one of the only community based distributed render farms on the planet but has allowed every single Blender artist access to it, for free. That is an amazing feat and probably one of the greatest additions to the Blender community period, hence the reason this website has their logo graphic on the sidebar, these guys are awesome!

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