Speed Kills (time to market)

Hey everyone! After moving to our new place, and getting the offices setup, I finally got a chance to play with Natas. Yea! If you don’t remember, Natas is the new rendering box that was created by Dave Atkinson. You can read about it here if you missed it, Natas Rendering Box – The Dark Lord is Among Us!

Why was Natas Built?

Natas was built primarily for one application, 3DS Max by Autodesk. Without a 3D modeling package like Max, Absolute Zero would not be possible. In a nutshell, it is the most important piece of the project.

You may or may not know, but the amount of time it takes to create a game asset can be incredible. I start with the concept art, model the asset, texture the asset, and finally rendering the asset. Up until Natas, this was all done with a single pipeline on a single machine called Deep Thought (which Dave named Deep Throat in the system settings).

Deep Thought is a very powerful box sporting a 6 Core i7 and 28GB of RAM and a 1080 card. Natas is a 16 Core Xeon with 128GB of RAM. While Deep Thought is fast, there are two new rendering engines that have came along that have replaced our Mental Ray rendering engine and are CPU gluttons. The first is ART by Autodesk, and the second being Arnold by Solid Angle. Both of these are very powerful, and both are CPU based. Arnold now has a GPU beta, but it is flaky as hell, so I don’t use it, and it isn’t noticeably faster than the CPU version on Natas.

To get to the point, Arnold and ART on Deep Thought are fast, but still a single scene can take upwards of two hours to render. Sometimes they can take much longer. However, using the power of the Dark Lord, the render time is less than a 1/4 of that now! Take a look at these two renders. This first scene was rendered on Deep Thought using Arnold.

Max 2019 on Deep Thought – 1:46:00 render time

Almost two hours on Max 2019 for a partially completed scene. I ran the same render on Natas with Max 2020. Just over half and hour and it was done!

Max 2020 on Natas – 0:33:46 render time

So as you can see, speed kills time! I later discovered that if I take a 2019 project and merge it all into a new 2020 project, it was even faster!!! For some reason the legacy projects are slower in 2020.

What this means for the Absolute Zero

Well if you haven’t already guessed, it means we can get the game done faster. Not only because the box is so fast at rendering, but it is also a lot faster at modeling in general. There have been times where I have done a Boolean operation on two objects and seen Deep Thought pause for a few minutes. I’ve never so much as seen Natas take a breath. It does raise the temperature of the office by 15 degrees in minutes though.

On top of all that. I still have Deep Thought connected to the Wacom Cintiq and sporting ArtRage for concept art, ZBrush 2019 for organic modeling, and Substance Painter for texturing models from both Max and ZBrush. So, when I am done modeling something in Natas, and it is rendering, I’m free to create concept art for another asset, or 3D Model a character in ZBrush, or texture map an asset.

Our graphics pipeline has been sped up by a quantum amount (along with my electric bill) 😀

The results

So for example, this is one of the assets for Absolute Zero. Below is the concept art created on Deep Thought.

Concept art from Deep Thought

You might have seen this before, however; you haven’t seen the results from modeling this on Natas, passing it back to Deep Thought for textures, and then rendering it out on Natas. This render took 00:01:39! And the molex connector part has sub surface scatter material. That usually kills a render time.

Rendered in under 2 minutes on Natas

So there you have it. I am optimistic that Absolute Zero will be out by Christmas now 😀

I’ll create a video of the modeling of this for you guys / gals to watch later.

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