Blender 3D: rendering an animation across multiple computers

Quick tip on rendering 3D animations on more than one computer to speed things up but without a proper setup or render farm or similar:

I’ve been using Dropbox for all kinds of syncing and this is another useful one:

If you have multiple computers set up with the same dropbox path and they are in sync, you can simply open the same .blend file on all of them and uncheck “Overwrite” and check “Placeholders” in the Render -> Output settings. Then render into your dropbox folder and each computer will see the placeholders and move on to the next frame during rendering.

 

Sometimes you might get some overlap and 2 computers rendering the same frame but it’s no big deal because it simply shows up as a conflicting copy on all computers and is quickly cleaned up. Overall it’s still a huge timesaver.

Out of nowhere: updated MacBook Pro (2018)

The updated MacBook Pro (2018) is here and it’s what I expect in a pro computer:

  • 6-core Intel 8th generation (Coffee Lake) Core i7 and Core i9 processors up to 2.9 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 4.8 GHz
  • Up to 32GB of DDR4 memory (FINALLY!)
  • Radeon Pro graphics with 4GB of video memory
  • Up to 4TB of SSD storage (if you have more money than god)
  • True Tone displays
  • Apple T2 chip

The main improvement seems to be the extra RAM on the 15 inch and the (hopefully fixed) keyboard. 

I have the maxed out 2016 Touch Bar MacBook Pro and the main thing I noticed compared to my previous machine (late 2013 maxed out MacBook Pro) is that it’s maybe around 15% faster when rendering a 3D scene. Not worth the AU$5600 I paid for the upgrade.

Keyboard Trouble

Especially if you look at the keyboard issue I had where Apple first replaced a key and then ended up replacing the entire top case (keyboard, battery etc.) as well as the display. A AU$1500 repair for a sticky “B” key on a laptop!

Alternative: iMac Pro

If you want to fork out top dollar for this MacBook Pro, I would recommend that you look at the iMac Pro instead. You’re entering similar pricing territory but the iMac gives you better performance by a long shot. 

In my informal rendering tests, the iMac Pro (mid-level) outperforms the top of the line 2016 MacBook Pro by a factor of 3!

If you don’t need the portability or you’re willing to be this guy

Why?

it’s worth considering the iMac Pro instead of the top-of-the-line MacBook Pro 2018.

But seriously… Don’t be THAT guy.

Let‘s talk backups

You could say that I‘m crazy about backing up. Let’s face it: most people don’t think about it. In 2018, it is still difficult to set up, can get expensive and there is no “set it & forget it” solution.

If you’re all-in on Apple, you can pay for iCloud and it will cover you for most scenarios even though some of the Desktop and Documents syncing is unreliable at best. Your iOS devices and photos are pretty well backed up.

But is that enough? 

Of course not! Like most people who are thinking about backups, I have adopted the 3, 2, 1 backup strategy. But I also added a fourth copy because it doesn’t take that much extra work once you have the basics in place.

My setup 

My setup consists of an iMac and a MacBook Pro which are more or less in sync using cloud services: a mix of Dropbox, iCloud and Google Drive for work. Some might see that as backed up already, but remember: Dropbox is not a backup! It’s very close to that though! It’s the first place I go to when I need to revert a corrupt file or restore a previous state of my documents. It’s faster and more intuitive than any “real backup”.

What’s the “real backup”?

  1. First copy: the main copy on the internal drive
  2. Time Machine: this is just running in case I need to revert something that can’t be done through Dropbox
  3. Backblaze: off-site copy of all important parts of my system
  4. Super Duper Scheduled bootable clone: every day at the end of the working day, Super Duper creates a bootable copy of my internal drive on an external USB drive. 

Add in the cloud services and the habit to store everything on Dropbox instead of using the Desktop or Document folders locally and you’ve got a pretty solid backup strategy with plenty of room to recover from any possible failures.

Especially since these backups are running on 2 separate computers where the files are in sync as well. That means that I can also revert from my iMac to my MacBook Pro and vice versa. Which makes this an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 backup!? 😂

Let’s quickly talk external drives

Any external drive also has to be backed up to Backblaze and will need at least one scheduled copy. This has the unfortunate site effect that every harddrive purchase means that you need to buy two drives instead of one. Depending on your storage needs, that might not be feasible.

But if losing data is the other option, buying 2 drives is really worth it!

WordPress: Must-Use Plugins?

A plugin that is uploaded to the “mu-plugins” folder is always activated by default and can not be accidentally deactivated by the user. It was originally created for multi-site blogs (as “multi-user” plugins that were active on all sites of a multi-site) but can now also be used for single sites.

MU-Plugins:

  • can not be deactivated
  • are always executed
  • can not use activation hooks
  • loaded before all other plugins (in alphabetical order)

Visit the documentation for more.