What are render farms and render stations – what are they for?

Over the past few years, the demand of users for visual content has been increasing. This is not only graphics for games or films, but also a variety of architectural, design projects, animation for business ideas and much more. Moreover, visualization is constantly becoming more complex and the rendering process requires a considerable amount of resources. This is where a render farm or render station comes in.

What is rendering
Rendering is a process that cannot be ignored by those who work with 2D or 3D graphics, animation. In translation from English rendering means “visualization”. During rendering, the 3D scene is transformed into a static image (render) or into a sequence of frames. Let’s put it more simply: a sketch of an image created in a special program turns directly into the image itself with its colors, shadows, lighting, etc. And even simpler and more banal is the process of obtaining an image using a special computer program.


How rendering works and what is needed for it
Rendering is a rather laborious and complex process, during which a lot of mathematical calculations take place. The calculation and definition of shadows, textures, reflections and much more.

Developers of special programs for 3D modeling and rendering made sure that users do not bother themselves with numerous miscalculations and work with the settings they are used to.

Intuitive rendering process

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Naturally, rendering requires one or more computers, programs for 3D modeling and visualization (with appropriate plugins), programs for working with graphics. Most often, render engines are already built into graphics programs, for example, such as 3ds Max, Maya. In addition, there are independent professional rendering systems, for example, V-ray, Mental ray, Corona Renderer. Such programs are often referred to as renderers .

If we talk about the importance of the “filling” of the computer for rendering, then here we will find a division for CPU Rendering and GPU Rendering. The first option, when rendering, uses the resources of the processor and RAM, and in the case of the GPU, the main task of rendering falls on the video card (graphics processor). Which one will be given preference depends on the rendering system used.

Farm pricing will vary based on CPU or GPU rendering

The rendering time will depend on a variety of factors. This includes scene complexity, transparency or reflective properties of materials, textures, shadows and illumination, high-poly models, and hardware processing power. There is also a dependence on which method the rendering system uses.

How long can rendering take? Depending on all of the above, from a few seconds to several hours or even days.

Let’s take a simple calculator on a render farm and try to calculate the cost and approximate time by choosing the approximate settings. The results are visible on three screenshots, with the rendering time on the home computer and on the farm highlighted.

What is a render farm
A render farm is a set of computers connected into a single computer network. Such networks or systems are commonly referred to as nodes . Depending on the farm, the number of such nodes can be up to several thousand.

There are usually two types of farm: private (private) and cloud (commercial). The first is created for the needs of any company engaged in, for example, the release of films. Or, when an individual designer, freelancer has several computers with the appropriate software, and he uses them for rendering.

Schematic difference between a render farm and a render station

Cloud farms offer services to all interested users. These farms are armed with dozens of servers, the necessary equipment, and service personnel. In fact, these are complex professional systems with the most powerful, modern resources for the rendering procedure.

Professional farms are quite expensive. The price includes not only the price of equipment, software, but also its maintenance, cooling, etc.

What is a render station
If a farm consists of several computers combined into nodes, then a render station (graphics station) is a separate machine designed to work with graphics, video, and design. Such stations are based on various platforms and are equipped with powerful hardware, which is most often created specifically for working with graphics. An example is the professional (and affordable for the average user) graphics card Nvidia Quadro.

A conditional diagram illustrating the loading of files and their distribution among nodes on a render farm

How commercial render farms work
Scenes loaded on farms can be calculated on several tens and hundreds of render nodes, which minimizes the rendering time. Thanks to this, several days of rendering can be reduced to several hours. To explain even more simply how farms work, let’s compare them with video editing.

Imagine that you have a lot of memorable video frames that you would like to combine into a single film with musical inserts and, if possible, special effects. To do this, you need a computer, software and editing skills. If you do not have any of this, then you naturally give your videos to a professional who will make a film for you for a certain amount. The same can be said for rendering.

Some farms offer specialized applications that can be installed on a PC

The work of rendering firms is based on almost the same scenario. The user goes through the registration process, replenishes the account (many farms offer to try it for free) and starts the process. To do this, you need to upload 3D scenes to the farm, set the desired settings and start the process.

An important point is downloading a program or plug-in from the website, which is embedded in the program used by the user (for example, 3ds Max). Its task is to check all the scenes and export them to the farm, keeping the user-defined settings. It is worth noting that all farms support the most commonly used programs, applications and plugins.

Render on a farm or at home?
This question must be answered by the user himself, who makes static images, animation, special effects and much more. To render at home, you need a powerful computer in which the processor (architecture, number of cores, cache) and the amount of RAM will play the main role. It can be said that the more powerful the assembly is, the better for the process.

The home farm also uses several computers, connecting them to a local network. Also, a lot depends on the amount of work. With large volumes and complex projects, the user may not have enough one or more machines and in any case will have to assemble his own farm or turn to a commercial farm for help. Compared to this, render farms have several significant advantages.

1. Simplicity and support. It is quite easy to use the farms, besides, on each of them the user can contact the support service.

2. Saving money and time. In the first case, the user who needs rendering will pay only for the process on the farm and will be spared the need to purchase hardware for their own farm and maintain it. And of course, saving time, which is so necessary when, for example, a freelancer has a lot of orders. Do not forget that at home in the last hours and minutes the electricity may turn off and all hours of work will be lost.

Features of rendering on a render farm
Let us dwell on some of the features that it is desirable to know and remember for all visitors to the farms.

Online calculator.

It is available on every farm and with its help the user will be able to calculate and estimate the time and cost of rendering. However, all this is approximate and conditional, since there is still no clear and real method for estimating the rendering time.

Software compatibility

Before starting work, it is necessary to determine the compatibility of the software on which the project was made and the software available on the farm. Although, it has already been indicated above that many farms have all the latest software versions, plugins and download their plugins for the user to check the project. Despite this, you need to be careful, since in some situations the farm money spent may not be returned.

Approximate prices for CPU and GPU rendering

Data storage

Farms store projects and all data, but after a certain period of time they can be deleted. After what interval exactly, you need to find out on the farm itself.

Terms of use

Before starting work on a particular farm, it is necessary to familiarize yourself in detail with the rules for using the farm. Find out how she provides loans, whether it is possible to return the money, etc. To resolve all controversial or incomprehensible issues on each of the farms, a support service should work in 24/7 mode.