Rendering: bigger, better, faster

ThinkPlayWork Image is using HPC Wales’ supercomputing facilities to render their animations much faster than was previously possible in-house.  With remote access to both the software and hardware required in the creation of their animations, they are now able to compete with the biggest and best. Their newfound leap in capacity has seen them pitching for larger and more complex projects without the need for expensive commercial render farms.

The Creative Industries sector in Wales is one of the fastest growing of the key sectors identified by the Welsh Government as a target for Economic renewal, providing employment for more than 30,000 people in over 4,200 enterprises and generating over £1.8bn annual turnover.

Co-founders Aled Lloyd and Bob Plested have built up a wealth of experience in the broadcast design sector, working within Engineering, Architecture, Broadcast and Video Games markets.

In 2006, they set up, and to date, their work has featured on S4C, Channel 4, Five, Discovery, myTV (India), Telefonica5 (Spain), Playstation, Wii and Xbox.

Their work requires significant computing power. Aled explains:

“Firstly, you need to produce the scene (factoring in lighting, shading, textures, and so on), and then you need to process or ‘render’ that scene.

Aled Lloyd presenting at a recent HPC Wales supercomputing event

“Prior to working with HPC Wales, we could do the core of the work, the production stage, but we didn’t have the computing power to go on and do the processing (rendering) stage - the back end of it.”

With access to only two desktop computers, the duo were only able to generate limited amounts of animation. 

We had to think, how can we make this and get it rendered - if we wanted to add in lots of trees and vegetation to a scene, we just couldn’t do it.”  

Previously, on a typical project, each of the scenes took 8 hours for them to render in-house, giving them a maximum of 2 weeks to build all the scenes if they had any chance of meeting client deadlines. Furthermore, with both desktops carrying out rendering for large periods of time, they were both unable to work on anything else.

“We couldn’t show off our skills and our creativity was being limited by our rendering capabilities.  Talent rich, resource poor - we could design and build a car, but couldn’t afford to put petrol in the tank.

“HPC Wales has been a massive benefit to us,” says Aled.  “Instead of spending my time thinking about what we can’t do, I can now spend time looking at what we can do.

“On a recent project that would normally have taken 4 days to render, we had it finished in 4 hours on the HPC Wales system”

The company is now working with a client to develop an app for iPad and Android computers that promotes basic life skills to all young children, focusing on those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“We’ll be using the HPC Wales system to render all our digital characters with a much faster turnaround time. We hope to have the app finished and available on the App store and Google play by the end of the summer.

“Working with HPC Wales has been absolutely brilliant right from the start – they are very good at working out how much help you need – it’s not overbearing. I want to work on the creative stuff, not the technical stuff. The technical team sat down with me over a couple of afternoons via Skype, and got the whole thing up and running on their system, the way we wanted it to work.

“Being in mid-Wales, HPC Wales’ web based portal is perfect for us.  We can access the technology 24 hours a day, from anywhere.  If I have to go down and see a client in London I can access it, if I’m sat in a mobile home on the top of a mountain (which I have done!) I can still access it.

“My advice to anyone interested in finding out about High Performance Computing is very simple……..Get in Touch!” has also made use of HPC Wales’ range of open source and commercial software licenses:

“We use Maya, V-Ray and Mental Ray at the moment.  Mental Ray is a rendering system for all sorts of other packages as well. You do the modelling inside Maya and the rendering is done in Mental Ray.

“We can now do film level effects, full HD with no problem. We have the capacity to increase the size of a job at short notice when a client asks for more frames, for example.  We can also pass any savings on to a client!

“We’re more productive as a company as we do not have to sit down and wait for the rendering to finish. We can also fix issues with renders post production or re-render at no cost on the HPC Wales system. What’s more, using HPC technology has helped improve our credibility within our target market – we can do more: bigger, better and faster.”