To give you a quick example of why it's faster to use a render farm, imagine that you have a frame that takes 30 seconds to render on your local machine and it takes 1 minute per frame on our farm. While you may have a faster render time, we simply have more machines to throw at the job. In the time it takes your local machine to render 4 frames at 30 seconds each (2 minutes in all), our farm could have up to 50 frames or more done in the same 1 minute.
The idea behind a farm is throwing multiple machines at the same job vs. rendering out single frames quickly through one machine.
You'll want to make sure that your scene is optimized. If your scene is not optimized, it will take longer to render, and end up costing time and more money.
Tips on Lowering Your Render Times
All scenes are created differently, so there is not one magic answer. However, there are some general tips that should apply to everyone.
Always prep your scene before uploading/submitting a render. Maya has options to "Optimize the scene file" in order to remove unused or orphan nodes, etc. Clean up your meshes, delete history, etc. This is just good practice for any scene file, but messy or cluttered scenes can have an impact on render times. Try to get that scene file size as small as possible before uploading.
Cloud Rendering vs Local Rendering
When you look at the frame times on your local machine and see the frame takes 5 minutes, it might be different once you render the same frame on the farm due to "overhead" that needs to take place. When you render locally, you already have the scene file loaded and just hit "render."
On the cloud, once a server gets assigned a frame it first needs to open the 3D application, load the scene file, load plugins, load scene assets, and then render the scene, write the image, and finally close the scene and close the application. All of this is accountable render time which may drive the total time up. Normally the "overhead" is minimal and only adds a short period of time, up to about a minute. But if you have a messy file, or large scene assets such as large texture files, then this time can add up.
Having a light map (caches) is one of the best ways to lower the render time. If you are using any sort of Indirect Lighting, then generating a light map locally will allow us to read from that file and avoid having to calculate the light bounces, thus saving you time and money.
Differences in Animation frame times
If you submit an animation or test render and see your per frame render time averages around 5 min per frame, then that is what you should expect for the full animation, right? If you have dramatic camera movement or other objects entering the frame later in the animation, then you can expect those times to go up or vary depending on how far along in the animation you are--especially when it comes to reflective, refractive or caustic materials/objects, etc.
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