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CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF A BLOWN DEADLINE:


Cloud-based and commercial render services can be a handy solution when you're in a pinch and no local services are available. However, in our experience, the workflow is often plagued with technical issues that can be very time consuming to sort - especially when production files start to creep up towards 1GB or more (we're looking at you, automotive).

We've found the testing phase can take forever. Even the smallest adjustments require a whole new file to be packaged and uploaded. Plugin and compatibility issues are constantly a source of headaches. On the post-render side, file transfers for 4k and 32-bit sequences can take ages. Extremely frustrating process when you spend hours waiting for a file transfer and realize there are subtle problems not caught in testing that require a re-render.

While the cloud solution may be perfect for freelancers or hobbyists who require the service occasionally, it's far from ideal in a high turn-over environment where revisions, budgets and deadlines are tight. Back in 2015, when 3D work started rolling in at Badpixel on a regular basis, we decided the time was right to dig in and engineer our own solution.

IKEA OR BUST!


When researching the build, we had a few requirements to consider.

  • Windows-based (seamless integration with existing network)
  • Maya, C4D & Ae compatibility
  • At least 5 CPUs (40 cores)
  • Self-contained in 1 portable case
  • Highest CPU performance-to-cost possible
  • Make it Red

  • After some digging, we found an old build blog where someone had upcycled a small cabinet of drawers and installed PCs into each of the drawer units. We loved the idea so we ran down to the local Ikea, found a lovely little steel drawer unit (Helmer) and began taking measurements and drawing up our own version of what would eventually become known as "Mario".

    The spartan, space-saving (bright red) design of the 6-drawer Helmer cabinet turned out to be a great match. The drawers proved to be the perfect size to house a micro ATX motherboard, low-profile CPU cooler, RAM, PSU and HDD. All the necessary guts for a purpose-built machine designed for brute-force crunching.

    Our initial test configuration was an AMD-based board and CPU combo. While very cost-effective, we found after running a few render tests, that the AMD would process frames at roughly half the speed of our i7-based workstations. This was a bit disappointing so we went back to the drawing board and found that if we upgraded each node to an i7-based configuration, we could get twice the performance per node for only 15% additional cost.

    GUTS! GLORIOUS GUTS!



    TOOLS:



    ELBOWS DEEP:


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