Crafting the Performance : Redshift enables Gentleman Scholar to bring ‘Mia & Morton’ to life.
Gentleman Scholar is a creative production company drawn together by a love for design and an eagerness to push boundaries
creativebloke May 15, 2017
creativebloke May 15, 2017
Creative production company Gentleman Scholar has just wrapped on the beautiful, character-driven, short film Mia & Morton with DDB Canada for Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC).
Here, Gentleman Scholar’s co-director William (Will) Campbell and CG supervisor Tim Hayward explain how Redshift’s speed and versatility proved vital to the creation of the short, and how it improved the quality of the final outcome.
“GPU rendering had been kind of bubbling around, and I was aware of it, but I didn’t really take it seriously until I tried out Redshift,” says Will.
With a tight four-month turnaround, Gentleman Scholar’s team was concerned that their existing 90-node render pipeline would have trouble delivering the flexibility to iterate the design and look-dev process quickly. They also had worries about the time overhead when it came to final render.
“This project had such a large volume of rendering that we wouldn’t have been able to deliver it on time without Redshift,” Will notes.
The studio had looked at other CPU options, but decided that the difference in speed and quality would have been negligible, and also: “If we were to switch [to another CPU-based option], it would feel like such a huge departure that the overhead on learning a whole new system would not really worth it,” Will explains.
FAST, FURIOUS, AND NOISE FREE
When the team did make to switch to the GPU-accelerated, biased renderer, they found the transition easy and intuitive, as it worked in a similar way to the CPU-based render engine they’d been using for the previous five years. “The way the tools and sliders [in Redshift] are interpreted, and the way that they are named felt really comfortable,” says Will.
The GPU-based renderer was put through its paces by the team, and delivered fast, production-quality results, as Will notes: “We tested out a scene that was this crazy refractive water scene that took hours to render; we rebuilt it in Redshift and it took 45 minutes.”
“We could view lighting tests and stock renders in just minutes and then you could crank to production quality to be totally noise free,” he explains. “The instant renders disappear, of course, but it’s still significantly faster.”
As the team developed Mia & Morton, they found the speed and flexibility of Redshift invaluable.
“The look-dev process is amazing! To be truly able to move around and look at things almost in real time, I think, was a big reason why the quality of this piece went up,” says Will. “This was the first time that I was lighting and felt that the tool wasn’t between me and the outcome. It felt like I was fluidly making creative choices and seeing changes and being able to creatively have a sense of flow.”
From a technical FX perspective, the fact that the use of dynamic hair with XGen in Maya was fully supported within Redshift was extremely important, as the team had to deliver complex features like realistic hair.
“We hadn’t really done too much dynamic hair work at Gentleman Scholar before. And these characters all had hair and beards and everything, and we were worried about that at first. But the Redshift Hair shader just connected right to XGen, rendered out, and I went from being nervous to totally calm. It was pretty exciting,” recalls Tim.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
Using the previous infrastructure, the studio was limited to creating 30- to 60-second pieces, but now Gentleman Scholar can create longer-form pieces, such as this three and a half minute short, much more easily. And Redshift has also opened up cloud computing as a way to help the studio to realize these longer projects. In the past, the studio found cloud computing prohibitively expensive, but Will says: “Now that our render times are shorter, it feels like it will make cloud rendering a real possibility. GPU rendering will make cloud rendering take off in ways that it hasn’t taken off.”
In terms of infrastructure, Redshift was easy to integrate into the existing Gentleman Scholar workstation setup as only the GPUs needed to be assessed. Tim tested a range of NVIDIA GTXs to find which ones worked best for the artists’ machines. For final render, Gentleman Scholar rented 16 nodes on-site with four NVIDIA GTX Titans in each. This configuration required a lot less rack space than a CPU-based render solution.
The studio used the Muster Render control software to manage the new GPU farm. The team set up Muster to send four separate jobs concurrently to each render node, so each job used one of the four GPUs. “That way each GPU was treated as its own node, rather than have four nodes just rendering one frame. So that the farm appeared to be 64 separate GPUs,” Tim explains.
Although Gentleman Scholar is predominantly an Autodesk Maya house, the fact that Redshift is already in advanced alpha development for Cinema 4D is exciting news.
“We are mostly happy in Maya, but we do have some other artists here who are more Cinema 4D oriented,” Tim reveals. “And the fact that we can use the same renderer across both Maya and C4D is good. We are working across multiple packages and our render will look the same on both.”
AN ENHANCED PIPELINE
The speed improvements that Redshift affords the studio means that artists can get on with the business of being creative. Traditionally they would do a shot or two, and would have to wait for a week for everything to populate when the renders were finished. Then the creatives would make a round of comments. Then they would render it again, and that would be their final render. The team would be able to make a few tweaks on a shot, and then their work was done. However, with Redshift, they found that they could turn around entire shots like this in two days.
Being able to iterate and see things fully rendered early on in the project really helped the team to develop the short. “There is always stuff in animation, which when you’re pre-vizing, you don’t see until you render it,” explains Will. “Even performance-wise, something that looks right - the eyeline, the little head tilt - might look good in previz and greyscale, but it doesn’t translate to the render.
“Being able to really craft the performances by seeing renders - the finished product - earlier, faster and more often, changes the quality of the product that we are putting out overall.”
When it came to the post-production work, Gentleman Scholar used Redshift’s extensive and robust AOV system, and Will noticed a definite change in the Redshift workflow: “Because we were able to spend more time creatively lighting, I think the final look coming out of the renderer was closer to the final comp than anything we have ever done before. Strategically, I am a fan of what comes out of the renderer looking as close to the final product as possible, and we go from there - instead of kicking out a bunch of AOVs and relighting everything later.”
Will and Tim are positive about moving forward with Redshift being an integral part of Gentleman and Scholar’s pipeline, and are encouraging their freelance base to embrace the software. “We had three guys lighting and none of them had used Redshift before, and we said, ‘Hey we are going to use Redshift’, and they came in and most of them picked it up painlessly.”
One thing that surprised the team was the difference that Redshift made to the client relationship, as the team could offer near final render quality early on in the project life cycle. “With clients that aren’t used to animation, Redshift can definitely help minimize client comments and feedback, as what they are viewing is closer to the finished product,” states Will.
Mia & Morton is available to view at the following link, along with complete project information: http://bit.ly/gs-DFC