GPU rendering – Is it worth it?

As you probably know, GPU rendering harnesses the power of a graphics processing unit for rendering purposes instead of relying on CPU (a computer processor). Using GPU for rendering is quickly growing in popularity across the world for a variety of use cases, from animation and VFX projects through to architecture and interior design applications, but is GPU rendering worth it?

When you rely on a GPU for rendering, the most important element of the GPU is the amount of memory available. The more memory a GPU has, the more powerful and efficient it can be. A lot of people don’t realise that memory is even more important than the overall speed of a GPU in determining the speed of a render, but a fast GPU with less memory will often lead to renders frustratingly crashing.
In an article on, Panos Zompolas, the founder and CTO of Redshift Rendering Technologies, said: “An individual artist can install four high-end GPUs onto a single computer and rival the performance of several tens of high-end CPU-based render farm machines. And you get all of this with lower electricity costs and a fraction of the occupied physical space compared to what an equivalent CPU render farm would require.”

He’s right of course. According to some industry tests, it is more than 15 times faster to render on a single GPU than a CPU processor, but speed isn’t everything and while using GPU has been touted as a rendering solution for the future, the industry is currently waiting for software vendors to make more GPU enables rendering platforms.

It is true that GPUs paired with technology developed by Redshift can render images significantly faster compared to CPU renderers, and it sometimes follows that faster rendering does mean lower hardware costs, especially considering that a single GPU can equal the rendering performance of five-to-twenty high-end CPUs on average.

However, many businesses already have on-premises render farms which they have invested in and therefore a hybrid model which incorporates: GPU rendering, existing CPU infrastructure and cloud rendering services (which are scalable on-demand), is better positioned to save a business money in the long term, while still enabling it to take full advantage of the efficiency and control which GPU rendering offers.

Real estate matters less than ever with cloud rendering and virtual offices

The animation side of the business at Jellyfish Pictures has grown rapidly in the past three years. It is the speed of change that provides more challenges than the size itself. The VFX side of the business exists at an office near Oxford Circus where up to 50 artists are working. Then, the animation side of Jellyfish, which employs in the region of 150 people is spread across Brixton and two offices located in Oval which are new and pioneering ‘virtual office’ technology.

Jellyfish Pictures has worked tirelessly to make the entire company work via one virtualised central network – this means whichever location you’re in, you have access to the same drives and same network at the same speed. Therefore, the virtual office model means some businesses like Jellyfish can set up a studio pretty much anywhere at any size, if enough bandwidth is provided by network suppliers.

Jellyfish Pictures’ Oval location is a prime example of a successful ‘virtual office’ with Zero clients under each desk which take the place of conventional computers and instead communicate seamlessly with systems based elsewhere. By developing virtualised offices across three locations, Jellyfish is able to operate as if all the work is taking place under a single roof.

Apart from the infrastructure challenges of finding space in London (where real estate is the most expensive in the world) fast growth has created some interesting new difficulties to overcome. One difficulty which all businesses in the VFX and Animation sector face is managing rendering processes which can take up a lot of physical space with an on-premises set up and projects sometimes require more power than a local, on-premises render farm can deliver.

With strict client deadlines to contend with, the importance of being able to access secure, reliable, on-demand rendering solutions is a dream come true for businesses like Jellyfish. It’s as simple as taking advantage of cloud rendering on a pay-on-demand model whenever the capacity of the on-premises render farm comes up insufficient for all the work flowing through the studio.

With cloud rendering solutions, like virtual office solutions, it matters much less where a studio is located and what size the facilities are because the main thrust of technological power is being piped in from elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether other businesses will also be early adopters when it comes to cloud rendering and virtual offices, but it is clear to see that not innovating and pushing boundaries (as Jellyfish Pictures has done) could result in competitors failing to future-proof their businesses.