GPU rental and other services: How the digital world can help you with a deadline

The year 2020 has been momentous if anything. In the world of 3d, we’ve seen some developments underway that promise faster workflows, more accessible software, and new ways of interacting with digital media in three-dimensional space. We’re also challenged more than ever to work flexibly and produce quality content within shorter time frames, possibly outside the physical proximity of our teammates and collaborators.

Now more than ever would be a good time to take advantage of the many resources online- from GPU Server rentals, industry level open-source software, render farms, and more- to help us land more jobs, or get our digital content ready as soon as possible.

As 3d artists and designers in the CG industry, we may soon find ourselves amidst growing competition, and in more project-oriented work than a stable monthly income. Investments in hardware may be less feasible for some time, and we may need to land more projects to get by. For some, now might be the time to focus some energy on original content. In any case, we are looking at a new decade of uncertainty, but we face it armed with all the resources our digital world has to offer.

Third-party services

GPU server rental

Xesktop

Xesktop is a remote GPU server rental solution that provides access to high powered GPU rental servers for $6/ hour. This can come in handy for offloading heavy computational tasks from a personal workstation, and as an alternative for GPU rendering when a render farm isn’t justified. Users may choose between servers equipped with 10 GTX 1080 Ti Cards with 11GB vRAM or 8 Tesla V100 cards with 16GB vRAM. Xesktop also offers 24/7 support and a free hour for trial and set-up.

A workstation set up is stored as a virtual image so that users can return to their existing projects at any time.

Render Farm

GarageFarm.NET

GarageFarm.NET is a render farm that offers competitive pricing and 24/7 Live Support for its users, as well as a proprietary scene preparation plugin for popular 3d software and Render Engines. They have also recently announced new support for GPU rendering on their farm. The difference between GPU rental and using a render farm is that with the former, a user has direct access to a GPU workstation and can work on projects there. The latter is meant strictly for rendering. With GarageFarm.NET, new users get $25 worth of starting credits, and often give coupons and promotions that can double the starting amount. They are also open to subsidizing a considerable amount of rendering in exchange for participation in case studies and project showcases as well as other content contributions.

For large scale projects, they give huge discounts for large top-ups. Refer to their pricing page for more information.

Software

3d dccs can be expensive, and upgrading to the latest release, or maintaining subscription might have to be postponed in light of recent events. Fortunately, viable open-source or freeware alternatives are available as partial or total more sustainable alternatives for tools crucial to our pipelines.

Blender

Blender is an open-source 3D creation suite. It has grown to be a formidable tool for every part of a 3d production pipeline: modeling, rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, compositing, motion tracking, and video editing. Despite being a bit of an underdog in its earlier years, Blender is now recognized as a viable 3d package for industry-level use. Not only is it used by notable studios, but it has also garnered the interest and support by way of a financial grant from many industry-leading companies such as Ubisoft, Epic Games, and Nvidia.

Quixel Mixer

Quixel Mixer (previously known as Megascans Studio) is a tool that blends scanned surfaces together to create tileable texture-sets for Film and Games. The recent 2020 updates provide features akin to Substance Painter’s fill layer system, where more control is afforded users by way of paintable masks and mesh maps. Mixer is also available for free, without restriction.

Unreal Engine

Unreal engine is a 3d creation tool and game engine centered on game development and real-time rendering. The software is also made available for free by Epic games, under very liberal terms of use. Many industries turn towards the advantages of real-time rendering in terms of speed and immediate visual feedback during production and Unreal’s continued development in realtime rendering promises closer levels of realism to traditional rendering with every release.

Since UE requires some serious GPU power and no straightforward way of distributing the render process across a network, GPU rental services can come in handy for those without dedicated GPUs looking to render animated sequences from directly within the engine.

Photopea / Krita / Gimp

Image manipulation software is integral to 3d creation as an auxiliary means of texture map creation and editing, and postprocessing. Luckily, there are a few capable tools available under open-source licenses or similar.

Photopea

Photopea is a browser-based software patterned tightly after Photoshop’s interface and toolsets. The only disadvantage being a lack of hotkey support, Photopea is a great alternative to Photoshop and offers little to no learning curve for transitioning Photoshop users.

Krita

Krita is an open-source digital painting and texture creation program from the Krita Foundation. While its user base leans heavily toward concept art and 2d painting, its texture tools allow an intuitive way to create and test tileable patterns. Krita also has a thriving community where many useful brush sets and other tools are contributed by users for free or at very affordable prices.

Gimp

GIMP is an image editor used for image manipulation, drawing, and processing tasks associated with Photoshop, and is available for free under the open source license. While it’s selection tools may not be as refined, Gimp is certainly a capable tool for mask generation and texture map editing.

Assets

Models, textures, volumes, and hdri maps are crucial to most projects but can be costly. Unfortunately without pre-existing assets, projects can take twice as long or more to finish, which could mean the inability to meet deadlines. Fortunately, there are several places these assets can be found at low cost or even for free.

Textures.Com

Textures.com is one of the oldest and most extensive repositories for tileable textures for 3d, as well as mattes and recently, 3d assets. While the platform is subscription-based, a free account grants 15 credits every month that may be used for many of the assets available.

3d model haven

Texture haven

Hdri haven

These three platforms are repositories for models, textures, and hdri maps respectively, and are donation based. The sites are run by open source advocates, Greg Zaal, Rob Tuytel, and Cameron Casey. All the assets are available to download for free with a CC-0 license, which means they can be used for any purpose without the need for accreditation. The sites are sustained by the community through support on Patreon, and grants from companies like Epic Games.

3DBee.IT

For Interior Architectural visualization, 3DBee.IT offers a growing library of high-quality 3d models, materials, and optimized scans for furnishing, appliances, ornamentation, and food. While the service is subscription-based, affordable credit packs are available for on-demand purchases, and many of their assets are available for as little as $5 or free.

Summary

While these resources are just as useful under normal circumstances, the huge advantages of leveraging services and platforms such as these are the time saved in content production and the flexibility in allocating budgets towards what is most profitable in any given situation.

With the state of many industries unpredictable in times like these, it’s a comfort to know that many alternatives exist, and are a google search away.

5 Situations in 3D Production Where GPU Power is a Must-Have

By Danny Rollings | @drollingscaa

It would be wrong to cover the power of GPU without explaining just what it is. Initially, the meaning of this acronym can be a bit of a mystery, conjuring up images of complicated machinery, unless of course your knowledge set is that way inclined. GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit, as opposed to CPU, or Central Processing Unit (more on that later). If I said the words graphics card this would provide an abundance of clarity to any dedicated PC gamer – of which I’m not, PC “master race” be damned. No, I was unfortunately led to believe Mac was far superior for 3d animation, and near shed a tear when a friend said they’re gonna get Borderlands 3 on PC. Technically a graphics card is not the GPU, but rather may include one or more GPUs as part of it; although visualising those semi-futuristic looking rectangular things with the dual (or even triple!) fans gives you a good idea of what we’re getting at.

Composite image of the AMD Radeon VII, “Engineered for Enthusiasts”
(source: AMD)

While it’s true an individual CPU core of a computer or games console is good at performing a large variety of tasks sequentially very fast (making me a nice cup of tea is sadly not one of them – yet) and a single core of a GPU is slower and simpler than those of a CPU, this is made up for by the sheer volume of GPU cores and their ability to work in parallel. For example a top-notch 18-core Intel i9-7980XECPU will set you back at least £1,785 (US$1,843), meanwhile the 4352-core self-described “ultimate gaming GPU”, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti costs £1,099 ($1,199); ⅓ cheaper for over 241× the cores. This quantitative approach becomes all the more valuable when you consider the technological limits of individual core improvement, you can only do so much.

1. Simulations

Simulation of two spiraling supermassive black holes about to merge.
(NASA Goddard, 2018)

With the word simulation soon comes the idea that we are living in one; we have The Matrix (1999) to thank for that. We’re not talking that kind of simulation, but the at-times-beautiful visualisations hiding mathematical processes that range from relatively simple to the mind bogglingly complex. The most famed simulations replicate interactions of celestial objects such as stars, galaxies, or black holes. They allow us to speed up the colossal timescales of the universe and view sections of it how they once were or what they’re going to become via supercomputers. Of course, you don’t need a supercomputer to perform a simulation of your own, after all most 3d software comes with the ability built-in to some degree.

Let the Avatar: The Last Airbender binge-watch begin!

By messing around with the properties and interactions of a bunch of floating balls or dots you can simulate all four of the classical elements and beyond. If you want to create as high quality a simulation as reasonably possible, you’re gonna need a lot of power and some damn good software. This is where plugins such as Phoenix FD for Maya & 3ds Max (£40 per month) or Trapcode Form for After Effects ($199) come in.

A variety of Phoenix FD 3.0 for Maya quick presets (Chaos Group, 2017)

If you want your simulation to look not only great but render as fast as possible, you’re gonna need GPU power. Don’t just take my word for it; a 2017 paper by members of the NASA Ames Research Center, NIO & the USRA states “The GPU-based implementation provides a significant advantage, and scales much better than the purely CPU-based implementation. With a small number of samples…the CPU-only approach is preferred. For larger numbers of samples, the GPU approach provides an order of magnitude improvement.” Think of the GPU as an army of master swordsmen, whereas the CPU is a trained assassin capable of dispatching foes one by one with a variety of weapons.

Source: GPU Accelerated Prognostics, pg. 5 (colourised)

2. Real-time rendering for previsualisation

Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (2001) animation pipeline (source: YouTube)
Animatic Storyboard > Previz > Animation > Render

With the power devouring waiting game that rendering usually is, real time rendering may sound like nothing more than a pipedream. But it’s actually something that many of us see regularly and take entirely for granted. Real-time rendering is central to today’s videogame industry, and it relies heavily on the GPU power. The visual splendor of today’s games demand it. Everything from the ever-changing XYZ position of your character, to the lighting, textures, and various other simulations such as fire and gravity need to be re-rendered simultaneously time and time again within fractions of a second. As to real-time previz, you may be surprised to know it has been around since at least 2006, when it was first developed by ILM.

When motion capture and real-time previz come together apemazing things can happen.
(War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) bts footage. Source: YouTube)

Now here’s where realtime pre-viz comes in. Because of the nature of animation production how closely the previz resembles the final product depends on time constraints, budget and team size. While movie studios can afford to create action packed & easily interpretable previz, the same can’t necessarily be said for a potentially struggling freelance 3d artist.

Being able to see a higher quality version of your previz in the viewport of one window, while you’re making adjustments in the other is a game changer for not only productivity, but clarity too. After all, the better your previz, the more chance you have of an interested party getting on board with your project.

3. Traditional rendering

The benefits of GPU rendering are similar to some of the benefits of using a render farm. First and perhaps foremost it saves time. After all, handling complicated graphics processing is the name of the GPU game. As Workstation Specialist helpfully points out, GPUs are designed “to render on specific render software packages available in the market today such as, NVIDIA’s IRay, Chaos Group’s VRay RT, Otoy’s OctaneRender; and Maxwell Render” which is comforting to know if you’re considering buying a new graphics card for rendering purposes.

For those hungry for useless knowledge, pictured are 2004’s DOOM 3 and 2015’s Battlefield Hardline.
(Source: 1 2)

So while your computer’s CPU is straining to keep your web browser from collapsing under the weight of far too many tabs (guilty as charged), your GPU doesn’t give a damn and renders those frames at comparatively lightning speed; however if you want to do a binge-watch of a series or videos while you wait, you’re better off using another device. You could also try the very interesting option that is hybrid rendering. If this isn’t possible, or you are looking to be as cost effective as possible, you may want to consider using a render farm instead, which, as paradoxical as it may sound, is a far more cost-effective solution to cashing out on a brand spanking new graphics card or CPU.

4. Manipulating heavy scenes

Particle simulations partly fit into this category, but this depends on what you’re going for; this could be a simple spilling glass of milk, or say, the usual colossal tsunami destroying Hollywood’s favourite (or least favourite??) city. As 3d designers we have become so incredibly sensitive to viewport lag. To avoid our chosen software crashing we waste time carefully watching our polygon counts and “fake” as much of the complex geometry as possible via texture maps, spending hours upon hours dutifully plugging them in and hoping for the best, just so our computer doesn’t melt. Just imagine sculpting something incredible in Mudbox and being able to render it as is, with GPU power that dream can be a reality.

Many a meme have lived and died over the years, but one thing has remained the same…

5. Texture painting

For this one we’ll be focusing on the award-winning Substance Painter by Allegorithmic (no affiliation); who were acquired by Adobe earlier this year. This software streamlines the massive undertaking that is texturing, rendering and effects application via a physically-based rendering (PBR) workflow. Just what is all this exactly? Well, SpeedTutor has got you covered.

With SP’s high importance to the likes of AAA game developers, it’s clear why many in 3D production would want to get in on it. Painting textures directly onto your model is a far cry from the dull and repetitive process that is UV unwrapping. It’s a process that is a beautiful emulation of reality, the pride and joy of any digital Banksy. This is all the more tempting by its 4 license tiers. The Indie license alone covers any revenue below $100K (~£77.3K) for as little as $19.90/mth or $239/yr (~£15.40/mth, ~£185/yr), and let’s not forget the discounted Education license. If you’d like to see if your computer can survive, you can download a 30 day free trial. Unfortunately it will be of no surprise to hear that SP is extremely GPU intensive. Not being able to run this arguably beautiful software can be absolutely heartbreaking for any freelancer, from newbies to veterans; but don’t worry, we’ve got your back.


By now there should be little doubt in your mind of the immense benefits of GPU powered 3d production. But don’t worry if you can’t afford to invest in a whole new graphics card, or you’re in the minority of Mac users seemingly forever stuck with a far past its prime GPU—such as my defunct 2013 NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M—and can’t afford an eGPU, GarageFarm.NET have created an alternative that is both cheap and powerful, a GPU-server rental service that goes by the name of Xesktop, at your disposal for GPU 3d rendering, processing Big Data, or any task that can benefit from parallel processing.