INSTALLING

Everything you need to know about installing the addon

RENDERING

How to render with crowdrender

TROUBLESHOOTING

Tips on what to do when things go wrong

GETTING STARTED

How to enable the addon, configure and connect to other computers

EDITING

How to edit scenes when using crowdrender

SUPPORT

How to get help

INSTALLING

 

Crowdrender is currently downloaded as a zip file which can then be installed into blender using the "install from file" button inside blender's user preferences as shown in the image below. You will also need Blender which you can get from www.blender.org

If you already have a copy of crowdrender installed then you will need to remove the existing copy first. Though there is an option in blender to "overwrite" the addon with a newer install, we've noticed on a few occasions that the addon doesn't get overwritten. So best practice is to remove it completely before installing the latest version. 

On windows you can't remove the addon once you have enabled it. You'll need to save your user preferences ("Save User Settings" button in the image above) with the addon disabled, then restart blender. Once restarted, open the user preferences again and you will be able to remove the addon and install the new one.

You can view a video below that covers the entire installation process for both Mac and windows (linux works much the same as for mac and so is not covered).

 

GETTING STARTED

With the addon installed, the next thing to do is to enable the addon. You can enable the addon in the user preferences and even save it enabled so that blender will always start with crowdrender active. You'll need blender running and crowdrender enabled on each computer you want to use as a render node. 

Please note that some windows platforms may give an error when enabling the addon for the first time. You may see an error which contains the following text (most likely at the end of the error text):

File "C:\Users\James\AppData\Roaming\Blender Foundation\Blender\2.79\scripts\addons\crowdrender\lib\Win64\zmq\backend\cython\__init__.py", line 6, in <module>     from . import (constants, error, message, context, ImportError: DLL load failed: The specified module could not be found.

If you encounter this error, don't panic! There is an easy fix for it. This error occurs due to your windows installation not having the most up to date files. This is easily fixed by downloading and installing a windows update, the link for which is here -> https://www.microsoft.com/en-US/download/details.aspx?id=48145

Once you've installed the update, you can simply try to enable the addon again. 

Once the addon has been successfully enabled, you will see a screen similar to that above. A new panel should appear with the name "crowdrender" and you may see a pop up announcing that crowdrender has successfully discovered your network (sometimes this notification gets hidden behind another window though). 

Connecting to other computers (we call them render nodes :D)

 

Now that you've got your system setup, you'll want to connect to another computer, and start rendering. Make sure you have at least two computers on the same network, running blender and with the addon enabled. 

Next, go to the crowdrender panel, and add a node using the " + Add" button. You should see a new node appear as in the picture below. 

The new render node by default gets given "new name" as the default for the node name. By simply clicking on the text of the name you can change the name. We recommend entering the computer's host name. If you're not sure how to find out what the host name is for each of your render nodes, don't panic! We've got some resources for you in our article that should help :).

 

By entering the host name, you can click the "Conn" button and Crowdrender will attempt to resolve the render node's hostname to its ip address. If this succeeds, you'll see the status of the new render node change to "connecting" like in the image below.

 

If the name you enter can't be resolved to the render node's ip address, then you will be offered the chance to manually enter its ip address. A dialogue box will appear where you can type in the ip address (see the picture below), and then press ok, and we've also got resources for you to find any computers ip address if you need them (just click here!).

Once crowdrender has the ip address of the node, it will attempt to connect, you will see the status change to "connecting" then "syncing". If the node doesn't have the blend file you will likely see the file being uploaded. The status will change to "uploading"  as in the image below.

Once the new render node has finished initialising, it will show a status of "synced". If the node fails to connect, it will show this in its status. You can see the troubleshooting section on this page for tips on what to do if you can't connect. 

 

RENDERING

Rendering is actually quite straight forward. Once you have at least one render node in the "synced" state, you can press the "Render still" button on the crowdrender panel or "Animation" and crowdrender will render the scene on the master computer (the computer you are launching the render from) and the render node or nodes that you have connected. See this in the image below.

 


 

During the render, the crowdrender panel will show the progress of each individual machine's render tile. The progress bar shown at the top of the screen (which is displayed during normal blender renders as well) is updated as the average of the individual machines. The stats of each machine are also displayed as each render tile is completed, all this can be seen in the image below.

 

Using the exclude render option

You can exclude any node from rendering by simply clicking the camera icon next to the node's name in the crowdrender panel. This is mainly used by artists that are using a laptop to connect to their workstation or render farm. It allows you to use the render power of your powerful hardware from a portable device without slowing your device down. This option can even be toggled during an animation render, the toggle will affect the next frame of the render. 

When a render node is excluded from rendering, its entry in the list of render nodes will grey out as you can see in the image below where the 'local' node has been disabled for a still render. You might recognise the interface for disabling rendering on a node is similar to Blender's outliner where you can disable objects from rendering and that is intentional. We hope it makes our interface more intuitive, but we'll let you be the judge on that issue!

Custom Render Tile Sizes

If you have a mix of render nodes, some having GPUs, some only CPUs, a compromise render tile size of 64 x 64 is usually used, but this is not optimal for either GPU or CPU. Crowdrender now allows you to customise the render tile that each render node uses so you can give each node the best tile for performance.

Every node will use the default of the setting in the render performance tab if you do not give them a custom tile size.

If you change them, they use the custom setting from that point on and can't be changed back. Also, settings that are lower than 8 pixels are converted up to 8 pixels the same way as blender does for its render tiles (Currently, however, this is not shown in the UI).

To access the render tile properties for a render node, simply click the cog icon thats next to the camera icon in the row of the render node. See the image below for what this looks like.

 

EDITING

One of the issues when using multiple computers to render is when you need to make a change. This happens frequently when fine tuning a render after all the modelling, texturing, lighting and animation has been done and you're looking to nail the final production. 

Traditionally changes to your scene have meant you've had to upload your project file to each node all over again. We've built a system that makes some edits sync instantly with no file uploads. Eventually its our goal to have close to every edit you can make sync this way.

Currently, as of the v013 release the following kinds of edits are supported in real time. These are:

  • Changes to object transforms, rotate, scale and move

  • Changes to shader settings, you can edit values of existing nodes (sadly making new nodes or  editing connections between them is a future feature)

  • Changes to your render settings

This set of edits has been chosen to allow you to tweak things just prior to finalising your render. We focussed on composition, shading and rendering over modelling, texturing and animating.

 

How to use real time updates

Simply edit your scene as desired, the updates are automatically handled by CrowdRender. You can check the status of your render nodes as you edit to make sure each computer is still "synced". 

Its also important to know a little about how our system works to use it well whilst editing. If you make edits that are not supported, one of two things will happen.

  1. If the edit causes a change to your scene that we can't update in real time, but we can track the fact you made a change, your render nodes will show "sync failed" indicating that CrowdRender knows you did something to change your scene, but it can't replicate that change on your render nodes.

  2. If the edit causes a change to data we can't track, you won't see the nodes enter "sync failed", but, when you render, you will most likely notice that something is wrong. Some parts of the screen showing the edit, and some parts not.

In both cases we provide the "Resync" button to fix this issue (see the image below). Be warned though, the resync button will send the project file to each connected node. 

In some cases you may find that performing a resync will not synchronise all nodes. Before heading to the troubleshooting section, you may be able to fix this by using Blender's "revert" function (check image below). 

The revert function will reload the blend file and CrowdRender will re-process it. This fixes issues where data on the master computer is incorrect. You'll likely see this after duplicating objects and then deleting some of them. IMPORTANT! Revert doesn't save your file before reloading it, so make sure you save first!

If you remember one thing leaving this section, its this, the live update system is currently designed to help you in fine tuning before you render your full production. Its especially useful where you load everything to all your render nodes in your render farm and start testing just before you commit to render all your frames, or a super high resolution still. 

If you use CrowdRender this way, you'll enjoy having very quick turn arounds for getting everything ready for rendering on your farm. 

Future versions will be able to handle far more edits in real time, giving you far more flexibility and allowing you to use CrowdRender for test renders earlier in your project. For now, using it how its been designed for fine tuning will give you the best experience. You can use it from the very start of a project if you wish, connecting all your nodes at the beginning. You'll find that you'll need to resync a lot. Waiting until you are actually ready to fine tune will avoid a lot of unnecessary uploads!

 

TROUBLESHOOTING

This section covers what to do when things inevitably go wrong (we're not being pessimistic here, in reality the current version is alpha software! Its going to misbehave at some point!). More specifically we'll deal with the following:

  • Installation and enabling

  • Connecting and synchronising a render node

  • Rendering

Installation and enabling

The known issues we have with installation have been touched on previously, but we'll repeat them here to save you a trip back to the installation section :)

Installation is done using Blender's "install from file" feature. The installation itself merely copies the contents of the CrowdRender install zip file to the correct location on your system as determined by Blender. This normally succeeds in 99.9% of cases. Where you see an issue with the install failing, not any error messages that are printed to screen. Basic computer skills should be used, such as, "do you have enough disk space?". CrowdRender is tiny at 10MB, but still, if you don't have 10MB, then installation will fail.

The number one issue with failure to install is normally not removing the previous version of the file, which you must do! Blender may copy the files correctly but we've found numerous cases where a cache of the old addon is used instead. Removing the addon completely also removes this cache. This problem is hard to spot because the addon may seem to work, then fail, or might not enable properly. It is not obvious that failure to remove the original addon was the culprit.

Some confusion can also arise as to whether it is installation that has failed or enabling the addon. To be clear, installation is when you press "install from file" and tell Blender to use the CrowdRender zip file, this is installation. 

Enabling the addon is when you check the checkbox next to "Crowdrender" in the list of available addons. 

In the image above you can see what enable means. Once you check the check box, Blender will attempt to enable the addon. This is the first time Blender actually tries to load CrowdRender and is where many users mistake a failure to load as a failure to install. So lets cover the problems with enabling the addon. 

The most common issue we see is on windows where the operating system is missing some required system files. Usually you'll see an error like this

File "C:\Users\James\AppData\Roaming\Blender Foundation\Blender\2.79\scripts\addons\crowdrender\lib\Win64\zmq\backend\cython\__init__.py", line 6, in <module>     from . import (constants, error, message, context, ImportError: DLL load failed: The specified module could not be found.

As mentioned in the installation section, there is an easy fix for this. Just download and install this windows update -> https://www.microsoft.com/en-US/download/details.aspx?id=48145

The second most likely culprit for a failure to enable properly, and one that you might not recognise as failing at the enable/loading stage, is after you've had a crash or hang with the CrowdRender system. CrowdRender uses two background processes of blender to handle communications with other nodes. Its possible for one or both not to exit when blender suddenly stops working or if the CrowdRender system hangs. 

Its really good practise to check before you load Blender after a problem that there aren't any background processes still alive. If there are; kill them before opening blender.

Connecting and Synchronising

Connecting to a node is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the CrowdRender system to troubleshoot as it involves the most number of variables. Any number of the following can prevent a connection from happening:

  • The render nodes you want to connect to are off, not running Blender, or CrowdRender, on fire, gone, etc 

  • The render nodes you want to connect to no longer have network connections

  • The render nodes you want to connect to have firewalls blocking Blender from accepting incoming network connections

  • The render nodes you want to connect to are on a different physical network to the one you're connected to

  • The render nodes you want to connect to are running a different version of blender, CrowdRender etc

  • The render nodes you want to connect to are 'sort of' within wifi range, but not really for this to work

  • The ip address you typed in that you were sure was right proved you that you were wrong, but you won't admit it.

This is also not an exhaustive list by the way. It gives you an idea of how many things you need to check when a connection doesn't work. Typically CrowdRender will give you the following feedback, It will say "connecting" for about 30 seconds (the default network timeout) and then show that node as "Failed to Connect". This is all CrowdRender knows, it tried to contact the render node and got no response. This could be anyone of the reasons given above, or others not mentioned.

Its a good idea to use the list above as a check list when trying to figure out why you can't connect. Also notice how none of these issues has anything to do with CrowdRender have a bug. This is also a possibility, but with over a thousand people using our software successfully, its not the first thing you should check. If you find everything else checks out and you still can't get a connection, then its time to get support, which we'll gladly provide :D.

After connection, synchronising render nodes is the next hurdle to overcome! Synchronising is the process by which our addon calculates whether the master and render nodes have exactly the same scene in memory. This is critical as when you press render, you want to be sure that you will get an image which is correct with no corruption. CrowdRender has a play it safe policy in which if a render nodes is in a "sync failed" state, it won't be able to render. 

Naturally you want to avoid this. We've touched on this a little in the editing section. Its important to realise that the synchronisation feature for Blender is not yet complete. Not all blend data is tracked. So it is possible to get a project to synchronise and then see renders that look wrong. Normally the way to fix this is to press the "resync" button (see below). 

Pressing "Resync" first saves the project file and then sends it to each connected render node. This is an operation that gets slower the larger your file is. It is a good strategy, therefore, to not keep resyncing after each edit, but plan when you will actually be rendering and resync just prior to beginning the render, tune, re-render process. 

We also mentioned that sometimes resync will not results in each node being synced. In some cases this can be fixed by first saving your project and then "reverting" which reloads the project (see below for where to access the revert tool in Blender).

 

SUPPORT

If you get stuck and need help, there are a few ways to get help. Though we can't sit next to you and walk you through stuff, we will do our best to answer your questions. So, where do you go to ask such questions?

First you can head to our forum, here you can post questions and browse similar ones from other users. We do our best to respond promptly, but being based in Australia, we sometimes won't be awake and only see your post the next day. This is especially true for users in North America and Europe :)

Another way to reach us if you'd rather not have your question out in public (the forum is open to anyone with internet access), is to e-mail us. You can send us a msg via our contact form here (just click Contact Us).

If you're pretty sure you've found a bug and would like to report it, we've got a section on our site where you can raise a bug which will go into our software manager. You can post details of what happened, how to reproduce the problem, and your log files. You can access the bug reporting tool by clicking this link.

© 2019 Crowd Render Pty Ltd