GPU Rendering and the Render Beast

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When the lights are off, and nobody is in, all is quiet and peaceful…. except for this – the beast machine chomping through renders like a bat out of GPU rendering hell.

The only machine of its kind, the Render Beast is the prized possession of our office. Hand built to do things no other machine could dream of doing, it is a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit – aka a graphics card) rendering Goliath.

Rendering is a time-consuming process (where the computer takes all your virtual assets and creates an image from them, usually about 25 of these images for 1 second of footage), the quicker and smoother we can make that, the faster we get things to the client, and the less we charge for it. It also allows for the artist to be more flexible, real time rendering gives you immediate feedback on your work, that subtle lighting adjustment or tweak of a shape, rather than a more traditional method in 3D of hitting a button and then waiting 10 minutes to see the effects of your work.

It all started with our decision to render with GPU rather than CPU. For those of you not in the know, GPU rendering means using graphics cards rather than CPU (the brain of a PC) and though there are arguments for both sides, we believe it is the much better option for us.

First off, it’s a lot quicker – between 3 and 15 times so. This means that a project can be turned round in much less time, and that we can cut down the budget needed for the rendering. For our clients, this means getting their video faster and cheaper – can’t say much fairer than that!

It’s also much more scalable, if we are working on pre-production of projects (where rendering doesn’t happen), we aren’t lumbered with a heat-pumping, hum-blasting, room-filling render farm sucking up every last drop of electric. It is one machine, that if needed sits dormant, waiting for its next project to destroy. Which is great for the planet too.

Finally, it provides real time feedback, meaning that we can instantly see how something will look once the scene is rendered. This means we can really hone our craft and perfect the look before we commit the time to hitting the render button.


“In V-Ray, I’m a technician, in Octane/FStorm I’m a digital photographer”

Johannes Lindqvist, a Swedish architectural visualization artist.


Collectively in the office, we were using 3 graphics cards in a single machine to render our projects, which is your usual limit. But as we grew and took on more projects, we knew this was not going to be enough for much longer. We reached out on social media and with the help of Tom Glimps we got in touch with a guy called Sebastian living in Poland, who was into this kind of thing, and with his help and ingenuity, set about building a machine with 7 graphics cards.

Now we’ve said that GPU rendering was quick, but this was something else.

Imagine we are rendering a high poly, large scale interior shot with lots of bounced light and potentially lots of noise. We were rendering it on our previous machines at about 50 mins per HD frame. Since the beast, and combining that with our current setup it renders a frame every 5 minutes.

We are all about investing in new technology, and you don’t get much newer than the very first. When we bench-marked the build it scored the highest in the world in its category. Our render beast, sitting in its dark, dark corner of the dark, dark office is an incredibly powerful asset to our studio.