Render farm management software lets VFS students take charge of the school’s render farm to create International, award-winning visual effects and animation projects.
LOS ANGELES -- With more than 5,000 international student awards to its name, Vancouver Film School packs some serious production firepower. The leading Canadian film school's render farm has more users than those of many commercial visual effects companies, and processes more individual projects than most feature animation studios. Yet rather than requiring its own team of dedicated render wranglers, VFS's farm runs efficiently enough to be overseen by students less than a year into their studies. The trick is teaching the kids the same render farm management solution used in the world’s top productions studios, PipelineFX’s Qube!.
Founded in 1987 with just 12 students, Vancouver Film School has grown to become one of the leading international training bodies for the movie industry. On top of a course in film production, the school now offers 12 further one-year diploma programs, including 3D Animation and Visual Effects, claiming that in one year at VFS, students get more production hours than at any four-year school.
Although still based in Vancouver, VFS now runs eight international admissions offices, recently placing at number 2 in Animation Career Review's list of the world's top 100 animation schools. With graduates including Oscar-nominated director and VFX artist Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium), by 2014, VFS alumni earned credits on movies representing half the year's total world box office revenue.
The year before, VFS had opened its new animation and visual effects campus in Vancouver's Gastown district, also home to Industrial Light & Magic. Renovated at a cost of $4.5 million, the 106,000-square-foot facility boasts a 32-node render farm, with each worker running Qube!.
“We’ve used Qube! since day one of having a render farm,” said Craig Shiells, Vancouver Film School's Pipeline Supervisor and Lighting Instructor. “We have 96 students plus instructors accessing our render farm on a daily basis [so one of] the greatest issues we faced was sharing this resource.”
As well as having more farm users than many commercial production houses, a key challenge for VFS is that their usage pattern is far more concentrated. With rendering peaking before course deadlines, in the space of four months, a single class at VFS will average 2,500 to 3,000 jobs on the farm.
“Our needs are different from what you’d get in a studio,” pointed out Shiells, who previously worked as Technical Animation Supervisor at broadcast and feature animation studio Rainmaker Entertainment. “[Rather than a couple of movies] we have 96 projects rendering on the farm at one time.”
To ensure that everyone has access to their fair share of resources, Vancouver Film School initially limited the number of render instances that each student was allowed to use, but found that this resulted in the farm sitting idle at times. The solution came in the shape of Qube!'s powerful per-user settings, which allocate instances dynamically to each user, up to a maximum set by an administrator.
“It keeps our farm running at maximum capacity,” said Shiells. “This means that students get their renders faster, which results in higher-quality work.”
With a client base that spans Electronic Arts, Marvel Studios and Oscar-nominated VFX house Image Engine, Qube! is flexible enough to tackle any professional project. Its production-proven Python API, combined with its ability to support custom job types, make it possible for users to tailor the software to even the most complex proprietary pipelines. Yet it also works flawlessly straight out of the box.
“Qube! does what we require with the addition of custom tools,” said Craig Shiells. “A lot [of the advanced functionality], I haven't given much thought to. I haven’t needed to. Qube! just works.”
But Qube! does more than 'just work'. Its ease of use also makes it possible for students just months into their studies to manage a render farm. As well as submitting their own rendering jobs from within Maya and NUKE, the key software packages used on the course, Vancouver Film School allows its animation and visual effects students to handle most of their own day-to-day administration work.
“Each class has two representatives that are given admin privileges on the render farm,” added Shiells. “We empower them to police and manage render farm usage.”
Although farm usage varies with job type – Shiells notes that most render resources go towards modeling showreels rather than animations, as the texturing and shading is more complex – it can be managed through a simple user identification code.
“Each class is designated two priorities to use,” said Shiells. "They use their class number for test renders of up to 10 frames, and their class number plus 1,000 for full-sequence renders.”
Through its combination of power and ease of use, Qube! helps Vancouver Film School students to continue producing work of the quality on which the school's global reputation rests.
By removing the need for dedicated render wranglers or complex management systems, Qube! frees the school's staff to focus on teaching, and its students to focus on learning the craft of animation, ensuring that VFS continues to add to its tally of over 5,000 international student awards.
“Qube! is exactly what you need in an application like this,” said Shiells. “It’s easy to use and hassle-free. It does everything we need, and then some.”