PipelineFX Helps University Students Render Feature Film

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When a University of Portsmouth professor wanted to give his students more hands-on work, he set his sights high: a feature length film in full CG. After the shock of such an ambitious undertaking wore off around campus, a small team of technicians started brainstorming how to make it happen. This process led them to the idea of sponsors, which in turn led them to render farm management experts PipelineFX.

Currently in its third year of development, Stina & The Wolf is the story of a young girl who is swept into an adventure of love, danger and mystery in a land of towering mountains and dark forests. To mimic a real-life work environment, the school created FOAM Digital, an in-house studio complete with the departments and infrastructure professional artists use daily. Now at the trailer stage, the film gets closer to completion every day thanks to a revolving team of students who add as much as they can before graduation, and the programs provided by a number of professional software companies. 

“Support from vendors like Vicon, Faceware Technologies, and PipelineFX has really helped our students produce the best work they can,” says Alex Counsell, principal technician for the faculty of CCI, The University of Portsmouth. “Producing a full-length feature is rare at the university level, which makes it invaluable for our students and another way to stand out to future employers.”

Perhaps the biggest question faced early on was how the students were going to render the film. With nearly 300 PCs, The University of Portsmouth’s students had lots of hardware power. An excellent asset in theory, but one that also requires a management tool that can get every last ounce of efficiency and speed out of the pipeline. With a short visit from one of PipelineFX’s specialists, the school quickly learned how to transform their current set-up into a catalyst for production with Qube.

“We looked at render farm management software in the past, but didn’t have any experience in the area,” says Counsell. “A PipelineFX rep came down for a day to help me set up a 50 node farm, and taught me a lot about Qube and rendering in general. That support has been consistent ever since; they always seem to have time for any questions or problems on our end.”

The production team saw efficiency improvements almost immediately, especially in the lighting and look dev stages as all test renders could be sent to the farm as artists continued to work on other shots. The ability to get notifications of potential rendering issues, and prioritize jobs on the fly has kept the pipeline running smoothly with limited interaction.

“Today, our student artists are submitting jobs themselves and I can remotely manage all of our workers to reconfigure the farm as required. Wrangling potential rendering issues is no problem,” added Counsell. 

The system is also giving students the opportunity to work with a production-quality render farm management system that is used by high-end production studios like MPC, Deluxe, and Base FX.

“This is my first feature film and the first time I’ve ever touched a render farm,” says Oliver Hermann, a student studying Computer Animation at The University of Portsmouth. “Qube has been really easy to use. Now I can really push myself knowing that I can render and review what I create that much faster.”

The team’s unique vision and hard work behind Stina & The Wolf, will be featuring during Counsell’s presentation at SIGGRAPH 2014 in rooms 118-120 at 2 p.m. on Monday, August 11. A short clip will also be highlighted in the Dailies section this year at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 13.



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