Thursday, 19 November 2015

Meet Escape Studios Renderfarm - SkyNet!

Very friendly, we promise!
One of the many things that makes Escape Studios a unique place to study is Skynet - our powerful renderfarm. Unlike the Skynet in the Terminator films, our render farm is very friendly, and won't be taking over the world anytime soon (hopefully).

Go to most universities and colleges in the UK and the renderfarm is usually just the PC you are working at, plus whatever else you can hijack overnight.

But here at Escape, we take processing power seriously - we want all our students to have the maximum capacity to create stunning digital artwork.  So, for the techheads among you, we asked Jack Bosworth, one of our in-house engineers, to explain how Skynet works.

What is the Escape Studios Renderfarm?
A renderfarm. Wikimedia Commons

Jack: The Renderfarm at Escape is really a render management system.  Skynet is made up of the various studio and back office workstations (called "Workers").

If a particular Worker is being used, it is offline on the farm.  Once the user has logged out, the Worker is put back on the Farm and will continue rendering.

Render jobs are split into individual frames and each frame is sent to a Worker.  If the Worker is rebooted or logged into, the frame will be sent back to the Supervisor and redistributed to the next available Worker.

How does Skynet work in practice?

Jack:  Here at Escape we operate a bit differently from a traditional studio, where employees have designated seats. We have students who constantly move around and work in different studios when they are out of class. This means that Skynet must dynamically adapt to the shift of spare and used Workstations.  On busy days we will leave the farm running overnight to blast through any remaining jobs.
Yup. We can render that

What can the Skynet accomodate?

Jack: Skynet can support almost all 3D and 2D applications, with Maya, Nuke and Houdini being our main focus. Renders include Mental Ray, Renderman and Mantra. Although support is there for Arnold and Vray too.

How are we working to make it even better?
Jack: We are currently working on enabling Distributed Simulations from Houdini on Skynet too. This means simulation caching can occur over several workstations as sims are sliced up and voxel data is shared between the Workers. Something not currently possible with Maya but is with Houdini's Pyro, Flip and RDB solvers.

Our Skynet is not like this
OK - gimme some Tecchie stats
Jack: The software we are running is Qube! by PipelineFX.  Current licensing allows us to use 40 machines at once, thats 80 Xeon CPU's, 320 Physical cores.  Full capacity would be 86 machines, 172 Xeon CPU's, 688 Physical Cores.

As 1 Frame is sent to a single Worker at one time. a 4 second animation at 24fps with a render time of 20 minutes per frame would take an estimated 60 minutes, instead of the 32 hours it would take a single Workstation. That's on 40 workstations.

Why Skynet? Isn't that a bit scary?
Skynet is pretty friendly really.  Anyway, we had a vote here at Escape Studios and Skynet was the winner, closely followed by BLT (Babbage-Lovelace-Turing).

What kind of work can Skynet do?
To see some of the high-end visual effects done by our students at Escape, watch the video below:

To see more about Skynet, read the article PipelineFX wrote this year - it can be found Here.

And to find out more about our new undergraduate courses in animation, VFX and games, launching in September 2016, follow this link.


The Escape Studios Animation Blog is a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our new BA/MA starting in September 2016, follow this link.   To apply, visit the offical page here.

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