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By Gus Petrikas 

Rendering in Autodesk 3ds Max using Mental Ray can become quite time consuming, especially if you are dealing with big scenes, detailed objects or dark environments.

Now there are a couple of ways of speeding your workflow up: Upgrading you PC, Cloud Rendering, and using something that is called a "Render Farm".

A Render Farm is a cluster of interconnected computers that all work on the same render simultaneously. This results in a speed increase which is directly proportional to the amount of PCs connected (Assuming all PCs are identical).

Let's say you have your workstation and a couple of PCs connected to the same network: A host (HOST) and two Satellites (SAT1 and SAT2).

Before we begin, make sure you have a fully licensed version of Autodesk 3ds Max on you HOST, and a working copy of 3ds Max on your Satellites (they do not require an active license).

Now, the setup:

1. Start the Mental Ray Satellite Service on all your Satellites. Go to Start Menu - Run (or Windows Logo + R on your keyboard) and type in services.msc, find the service called mental ray Satellite, right-click on it and click Start. Repeat this step on all SATs.

2. Obtain IP addresses of your Satellites.

3. Run 3dsmax on HOST.

4. Hit F10 (Render Settings), make sure you have NVIDIA mental ray selected as your renderer and navigate to the Processing

5. Expand the Translator Options menu and tick the Use Placeholder Objects

6. Scroll down to Distributed Bucket Rendering and expand the menu.

7. Tick the Distributed Render

8. Hit Add, type in the IP address of your first Satellite and click OK. Repeat for all Satellites.

9. Make sure they are all highlighted in blue. Only the highlighted Satellites will be used.

10. Hit Render and enjoy the speed. Each processor will be represented as a new "bucket" (square)

Optional: If you have monitors connected to your satellites, you could run the Task Manager to check the CPU usage.

Done!

So how does a Rendering Farm compares to Autodesk's Cloud Rendering? It is hard to compare them side-to-side, as the rendering results are quite different. The problem is that you are quite limited with what you can do when using the Cloud Rendering option. Let me put it that way - if you need a quick display of your scene for a presentation, then Cloud Rendering is perfect - it is fast and relatively cheap (roughly £1 per Cloud Credit, 10 Credits per Large, High-Quality render.) If you are aiming at highly photorealistic visualizations, a rendering farm is the way to go.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the Cloud Render, vs Mental Ray Render. One of the 3ds Max's default scenes.