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KeyShot Network Rendering – Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated: May 30, 2022 • 12 min read

So, What is KeyShot Network Rendering?

KeyShot Network Rendering is a piece of software created by Luxion, the makers of KeyShot. It allows you to use more than one computer at a time to speed up the process of rendering an image or animation.

Time is money. And in the world of ray tracing technology, time has always been one of the biggest downsides to photo-real rendering. While computers continue to get more powerful, designers and artists are pushed to create more realistic, impressive and extensive computer-generated images (CGI).

Network Rendering allows someone using KeyShot to cut their render times significantly. This is done by using multiple machines to work on the same image or animation simultaneously. Once a job is submitted to the network for rendering, it frees up your computer. Then, you’re free to continue working in KeyShot. Once the job is finished, it’s sent back to your computer leaving you with a finished image without interrupting your productivity. 

I have used KeyShot Network Rendering many times to complete jobs and meet deadlines for past clients of mine. 

KeyShot Network Rendering Tutorial | Setup & Use

Luxion has provided documentation on how to install and configure KeyShot Network Rendering here. However, I always prefer watching videos. In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through how I use KeyShotFarms Network Rendering to arrive at the same results in far less time. I’d like to thank KeyShotFarms for allowing me to record this tutorial using their render farm.

What I Do When I Need to Render FAST - KeyShot Network Rendering

Local Network Rendering Vs. a Render Farm

Whenever your network of computers are in the same building as your primary computer you run KeyShot on, the network rendering configuration is considered local. So, for example, the two computers I use in my home office for rendering are considered a local network rendering configuration. Looking for a new computer for rendering? Learn more about my own computers and what recommend here.

When running KeyShot Network Rendering on a set of computers in a different location from where you are working, it’s considered remote and often referred to as a Render Farm.

Local Network Rendering Pros and Cons

Perhaps the most obvious drawback of local network rendering is that you have to use your own computers. If you don’t have any extra high-powered machines lying around, then local network rendering doesn’t make much sense.

If you do have your own computers, then you’ll be playing IT pro, installing, managing and maintaining all machines and network rendering software. Also, don’t forget the electricity bill that comes with running a few high-powered computers for days on end.

On the other hand, it can be advantageous to have complete control over your network of machines should you need to physically make changes, restart machines or troubleshoot. And for security purposes, it’s nice to know who has access to your computers.

If dealing with managing your network rendering setup sounds daunting or prohibitively expensive, then a render farm may be the solution for you. 

Render farms typically charge you for the time you spend rendering or allow you to rent time on their hardware for a given number of days, weeks, months or even years. 

Using a render farm saves you from having to invest in expensive hardware and often are able to scale up or down to meet your needs as your projects progress. There’s also a bit of peace  of mind that comes with using a render farm. Typically there will be some sort of support professional on the other end who can help you in a pinch if there’s a hardware issue.

It’s worth mentioning that every job you submit to a render farm will need to be transferred over the internet to that render farm facility. Depending on your own local network speeds and those of the render farm, there is time associated with transferring jobs to and from the render farm. 

Who is KeyShot Network Rendering For?

There are few common scenarios that describe most users of KeyShot Network Rendering. The first is enterprise clients. 

Large companies who have teams of creative professionals often own licenses of KeyShot Network Rendering as well as their own render farms. This is a great way to provide the designers with access to a network of computers for rendering without tying up his or her primary machine.

Next, you have small studios. This might be a business with a handful of employees or even a single freelancer who has a few computers they’d like to connect to enable them to provide high-resolution images or animations for their clients. Even the fastest personal computer is often not enough to meet production deadlines, which is when it’s handy to have Network Rendering available.

Finally, you have render farm customers. Depending on budget, logistics or other needs, many turn to renting time on a render farm. For instance, when my own local network isn’t fast enough to produce an animation project, I’ll rent a week or two on a dedicated render farm. Other companies whose needs for renderings are often changing might prefer to rent time on a render farm and increase or decrease power based on needs. 

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How Does KeyShot Network Rendering Work?

When you’re working in KeyShot and you kick off a rendering, the KeyShot real-time view pauses so your computer’s processor or GPU can focus on rendering the final output. 

One the biggest benefits of Network Rendering is offloading rendering jobs. You can keep working on your computer, uninterrupted, while the network processes the jobs. This keeps me in a focused creative state where I can keep submitting jobs to render without breaking my flow. 

Once a job is submitted to render, the piece of software called KeyShot Network Rendering will manage each machine called a worker. Network Rendering must be installed on each machine being used. The software will divide your job into tasks which will be doled out to each machine. As each task completes, a new one begins. When the tasks are done, the job is re-assembled. The finished image or animation is sent back to the manager or the computer that you submitted the job from. 

If you are rendering frames for an animation, each frame will be sent back to the specified destination (usually your main computer or the manager). I personally like this because it allows me to inspect a frame before waiting for the entire job to complete. This allows me to catch costly mistakes quickly.

What Render Farms Should You Use for KeyShot?

Aside from my own home network, I’ve only used one Render Farm. I choose to use KeyShotFarms (formerly 3D Off the Page). To my knowledge, it’s the only certified KeyShot-specific render farm service. There is a long-standing relationship between KeyShotFarms and Luxion. 

This, coupled with the ability to rent dedicated render farms for weeks at a time in which nobody else has access to the machines you do makes it my top choice and recommendation.

How Long Will a Job Take to Render on KeyShot Network Rendering?

This is where I will have to offer you the worst answer in history–it depends. You can do some back-of-the-napkin math to get a ballpark figure. However, it’s never going to be 100% accurate given the dozens of variables that change with every job or project.

What I like to do is create a simple spreadsheet. I track the time a rendering or frame takes on my computer. I note the number of cores my CPU is using; 64 for example. Say a job takes 60 minutes on my computer using all 64 cores. Then, I rent 128 cores on a render farm. The same job will in theory take 30 minutes to complete.

The reason I say in theory is while Network Rendering is designed to scale linearly, the truth is that it’s not 100% perfect and some render settings will reduce the efficiency of this scaling.

Non-linear Scaling

Some testing performed by KeyShotFarms revealed that certain render settings can cause jobs on Network Rendering to take much longer than expected to complete. 

Take Global Illumination and Caustics for example. Not every rendering will warrant enabling these two settings. However, some will. Enabling Caustics and GI lead to a 115% increase in render time on my test image on a single computer. I share this just to highlight the impact some render settings can have on render time, whether you’re rendering locally or on a network.

When I took my benchmark scene to KeyShotFarms Render Farm, I noticed a hefty deviation from the linear scaling I’m used to seeing on my computer. The benchmark rendering took 64 minutes on my home computer with 64 cores. On the render farm with 512 cores, it took 14 minutes, 53 seconds. Because 512 is 8 times more cores than 64, then the image should in theory render 8 times faster than it did on my machine. With perfect linear scaling, I would expect this image to complete in 8 minutes on 512 cores. It took almost twice as long as expected.

Causes of Non-Linear Scaling

Not all scenes rendered on Network Rendering will scale this inefficiently. It just so happens my benchmark scene is what is called a ‘torture test’, or likely worst-case scenario. Likely, you’ll see better scaling than I did in this case. The biggest contributing factors was the use of Caustics and 2 GI bounces.

Without getting too in the weeds, the linear scaling you experience on a single, local machine will be less likely when rendering on a network. The more complex your scene gets, the more pronounced this may be. And especially when adding Caustics into the mix. Caustics accounted for a majority of the deviation from linear scaling. This is because when rendering each task, each worker needs to render a few extra pixels outside of each task to avoid unwanted artefacts when stitching the image back together. Or at least, that’s how I’ve come to understand it.

Other Considerations Regarding Render Time on Network Rendering

When you double the resolution of an image, you quadruple the number of pixels. For example, a 1920 X 1080px image has 2.07 million pixels. A UHD (often called 4K) image (3840 X 2160px) contains 8.3 million pixels. That’s 4 times the number of pixels resulting in a 4x render time.

Some recent tests show that features such as global illumination and caustics significantly slow down the render speeds when using Network Rendering.

A Note on Thread Vs. Core Count

Modern computer processors use physical cores for faster processing and multitasking. The more cores, the more simultaneous computing. On CPUs that support hyperthreading, the physical core count is doubled, speeding up the render time even more. 

KeyShot however, does not distinguish between cores and threads. So, even though my CPU has 32 physical cores and 32 theoretical cores, KeyShot sees and labels that as 64 cores.

This will come up when discussing the cost of Network Rendering below.

Does KeyShot Network Rendering Use CPU or GPU?

Yes. As of recently, KeyShot Network Rendering supports both CPU and GPU rendering, but not both simultaneously. 

For example, a job can be rendered in CPU mode on the network or in GPU mode on the network. A single job can not be rendered in CPU AND GPU mode simultaneously.

Regardless of what make and model, all GPUs will count toward 16 ‘cores’ of network rendering when purchasing a Network Rendering license from Luxion. So, if you have two GPUs in each machine and two computers that are networked, you would need a license of 32 cores to utilize all 4 GPUs.

How much does KS NR cost?

Luxion sells Network Rendering as an add-on service. It’s not included with a KeyShot Pro license. Network Rendering is sold by the core count.

As of 1/12/2022 Luxion sells 32 cores of Network Rendering for $384/yr

For example, I own two computers with 32-core (64 thread) CPUs. In order to use both machines with Network Rendering, I need to purchase 128 cores of KeyShot Network Rendering. This costs $1,536/yr.

The cost of renting time on a render farm varies by your needs and configuration. To learn more, you can complete this form here on KeyShotFarms website.

Is KeyShot Network Rendering Worth It?

It largely is a matter of perspective, but for me yes. For someone who only occasionally needs to render out more than they can in an overnight rendering, then probably not. 3D is expensive. The price of a KeyShot Pro license as well as the cost of Network Rendering is not cheap. But then again, neither is a computer. 

A tool is worth buying if it allows me to earn more than I spent on it. I needed to use Network Rendering to produce my first client animation. I used the money from my first animation job to purchase a KeyShot Network Rendering license. Now, I can render some animations locally.

When I need to produce longer animations, I rent time on a farm over at KeyShotfarms. In this case, the cost of the render farm becomes a line item expensed to the client.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a network render?

Network rendering is when the process of rendering is shared across multiple computers. It’s used to speed up and scale up large render jobs.

Is KeyShot a real-time renderer?

KeyShot is a progressive real-time render-engine. The definition and expectations of ‘real-time’ have changed considerably over the years. KeyShot’s real-time view is where you will see live updates to the model. Changes made to lighting, materials and more will be visible immediately. The image quality will improve over time, progressively.

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Will Gibbons
Will Gibbons is an industrial designer-turned rendering specialist. He's trained and worked with some of today's most recognizable brands and now is focused on creating the best product visualization content on the internet.
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