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April 2014
Issue: February 1, 2011

Using Boxx's RenderPro on 'Water Soul'

Water Soul is a gloomy fairy tale, a mystery-adventure in stereoscopic 3D, produced with the support of the Berlin Media Boards and Hessian Film Fund. Because Water Soul unfolds in a richly detailed and expansive fantasy world, the filmmakers set up the spatial depth as a narrative element, and incorporated multiple camera settings and computationally-intensive elements such as fog, dust particles or air bubbles under the water.

WATER SOUL & MOVIEBRATS 


"There are many small details that make up the three-dimensional space and multiple, complex levels that we wanted to be attainable for the audience,” explains Vito LaManna, animation director at MovieBrats and director of Water Soul. “For us it was important that we find a rendering solution that enables us to work intuitively, to try things without facing long, annoying, render times." 

For the 15-minute CGI film, the producers at MovieBrats opted for the Boxx RenderPro12. "On the Boxx system we ran, we were really looking for a stopgap solution because we just did not have the space and personnel to establish a full-blown renderfarm and maintain it," notes Esther Frederich, the producer of the film. 

The “render at your desk side” phrase employed by Boxx throughout its RenderPro marketing efforts had aroused the curiosity of the filmmakers, and the fact that the RenderPro  is more power efficient than a traditional renderfarm (yet just as effective), finally decided the issue during discussions with the German distributor 3D Cyber Dream. 

KEY DATA

What surprised the experienced animator was the size of the RenderPro. At 50x9x17 cm, RenderPro12 is even more compact than a shoebox. Despite the small size, RenderPro12 features all interfaces, such as USB for mouse, keyboard, three network connections, the IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) and a VGA monitor output. And since it is practically a normal PC, which has been optimized for rendering only, the connection between RenderPro and the workstation is extremely easy. The only thing that had to be arranged was a router. The RenderPro comes pre-loaded with the most important Autodesk applications, and users can request a render manager. 

After a few minutes, the machines are ready for use and can be installed without an administrator. Boxx places great value on the fact that users can configure all the models in the RenderPro Series virtually at will and according to personal requirements. The number of possible CPU cores is used as a distinguishing feature between the base models: RenderPro4, RenderPro8, and RenderPro12. For their work on Water Soul, the MovieBrats chose two RenderPro modules equipped with dual six core Intel Xeon CPUs for a total of 24 processing cores and 192GB RAM per unit. The expandable RenderPro12 is ideal for demanding software applications. The MovieBrats team works with Autodesk 3DS Max in conjunction with Mental Ray. For the water effects in Water Soul, RealFlow was used. RenderPro works easily with all other popular renderers, 3D animation applications and programs including Adobe After Effects, and can be driven by all platforms, whether Windows, Apple, or Linux.

TEST AND CONFIGURATION

"For a first test, a scene from the teaser of Water Soul, which was presented recently at the Media Week @ IFA, was loaded,” notes LaManna. “The test sequence of only a few frames had been rendered previously without Boxx support and the render times had been enormous— three-and-a-half hours.”

The selection of Boxx RenderPro was found in the Mental Ray rendering menu distribution. Expectant, LaManna pressed the render button and then came the moment of truth. "Wow, my first impression was of the rendering buckets — so many of them, like little ants they eat their way through the preview window and save the picture in a free-speed, I have personally never experienced that before. The rendering took only 30 minutes.” 

However, it initially appears that there is one small downer that can be noticed during rendering — the volume of the unit. The statement “render at your deskside” is a promise that is kept through the machine’s compact build and easy execution, but when the two render dwarfs kick in “we were very surprised by the noise they produced,” stated Alex Weimer, a producer of the film. No wonder — 24 CPU cores require a certain capacity cooling system in order to keep the machine running smoothly. Luckily enough, there was a way to work around this sound problem. When the BIOS is set correctly, it can easily control the speed of the fan. 

The configuration of the Boxx RenderPro is generally on the Boxx View software. From the workstation, it can control all settings, including BIOS, boot (assuming the RenderPro is running in standby mode), restart, system log and a monitoring of all systems such as fan, temperature and voltage. 

"Even video remote is possible, so one does not need any extra monitors, mice and keyboards for the RenderPro modules," continues LaManna. "The amazing thing is that the RenderPro so smoothly integrates into the work processes that they are practically a power boost, and can be regarded as an upgrade of the existing workstation. It does not even log into the device and can still, on the distributed rendering setting, easily select Mental Ray. The full strength of the Boxx View software will really kick in, when operating an army of several RenderPro modules and multiple workstations. Then we have the option to work together in Boxx groups with which Boxx View can then offer a number of other useful functions.

“The two Boxx RenderPros we have proved the value of their 24 cores already. They are easy to use and you can practically put them in your pocket, so you can take it anywhere," says LaManna. "Just as we had hoped for, the work on Water Soul has become much more intuitive. We experimented more and that allows us in between to check results in rendering quality." 

The animation work on Water Soul is underway, with completion of the film is scheduled for late summer/autumn 2011.

MOBILITY

This is an interesting area of application because of the likely use of mobile RenderPro models. More and more, processor-intensive creative work is done "on set" or "on site", adding to production planning and optimization. With its connections, self-cooling, processed materials, and low weight, the RenderPro is also designed for this use.

"As a traveling photographer, I appreciate the Boxx RenderPro,” notes  Michel de Vries (http://www.micheldevries.de). “It’s great to be able to create 3D projects directly on location with customers or a production team and quickly and flexibly deliver final render quality. Boxx is light, quiet and very fast. In conjunction with a laptop, I can do my 3D job anywhere in the world, without flight case and excess baggage fees! And in the home office network, it is easily incorporated as a reliable render slave! "  

CONCLUSION

Boxx offers custom configurations, processing, and technical data in the RenderPro Series and has succeeded in producing a product that offers many applications yet has only one goal: more time for creativity in a hand-luggage size.