Installation and Setup of RenderPal

This article will guide you through the first steps of RenderPal V2, from its installation, its configuration, to the clients setup, finding rendering errors and more.

For simplicity, we will configure RenderPal V2 with one client to render a simple Maya job (the procedure for other renderers is exactly the same). We won't cover any advanced concepts nor go into great detail here - this article is meant for new users, so we won't confuse you with too much information.

0. Before you start

Here are a few things you should keep in mind before using RenderPal V2:
  • RenderPal V2 makes heavy use of so-called context menus (those menus that pop up when right-clicking something); just try it out about everywhere in RenderPal! Many very convenient functions can be found by simply right-clicking an item.
  • All rendering nodes must be able to run the renderer you want to use; this either requires local installations of the renderers or a network installation (not all renderers might support the latter). RenderPal does not include any renderers or licenses for them! When we refer to a renderer in RenderPal, the renderer interface that comes with RenderPal is actually meant.
  • You are no longer rendering locally, so be sure to have your scenes and scene-related files available across your network, usually by having them on a shared network drive. Submitting, for example, a local scene on your C: drive won't work.

1. Installation

After downloading RenderPal V2, it is time to install the various components of RenderPal V2:
  • RenderPal V2 Server This is the main server application and should be installed first (preferably - not necessarily - on a dedicated machine).
  • RenderPal V2 Client Once the server has been installed and is running, the clients should be installed on your various rendering nodes.
  • RenderPal V2 Remote Controller The remote controller is used to monitor and control your render farm remotely.
  • RenderPal V2 Submitter This tool is used to quickly submit new jobs to RenderPal V2, usually from within a host application (like Maya, 3dsMax...).

1.1 Server installation

The first thing is to install the RenderPal V2 Server on your server machine. The Windows setup is quite simple - it's basically just clicking 'Next' a few times (and selecting which components of RenderPal V2 to install). Once installed, launch the server. When started for the first time, the server will ask you to select the renderers you use in your farm. After you've made your selection, the server is ready (don't worry about configuring the server - the default settings will work just fine for most users).

1.2 Client installation

Next, it is time to install the RenderPal V2 Client on every computer you want to use for rendering. The Windows client can be installed using the Windows setup, just like the server. The Linux and MacOSX client (as well as the remote controller) do not come as a setup, but are simple archives that can be extracted to any location; be sure to read the included Readme files for full details. You should also disable UAC under Windows, as this will usually cause many problems when rendering across a network.

It is also possible to simply copy an existing client installation to another machine; this can save a lot of work: Install the client on one machine, configure it as needed (especially the server heartbeat address; see 2.1) and copy it to all other machines.

The next section will explain how to setup the clients and add them to the server (so continue reading before launching them).

1.3 Remote Controller and Submitter installation

The Remote Controller and Submitter are not necessary to get your render farm up and running, so you can skip them for now. We will show you how to use the Submitter to submit a job from within Maya shortly; the Remote Controller closely resembles the server interface and can be used to manage your farm remotely.

2. Adding clients and pools to your farm

Before we will show you how to organize your farm, we have to define a few terms: A client refers to an instance of the RenderPal V2 Client running on your rendering machines (called nodes); a client pool (or just pool) is a logical unit consisting of a number of clients (so pools are, in a way, client groups).

2.1 Adding clients

Clients can either be added manually to your server, or they can add themselves using the so-called Heartbeat feature; we will explain both approaches:
  • Manually adding clients First, open the Client management using the corresponding button in the top toolbar:
    Opening the client management
    This will bring up the client management; here, you can manually add clients to your farm:
    The client management
    The dialog that will come up allows you enter the IP or NetBIOS name of the client you want to add:
    Adding a client
    For now, leave all other settings untouched; to find out what they all mean, refer to our great manual. The client will appear in the list of clients:
    One known client added
    The new client hasn't been assigned to any pool yet, and so is not part of your farm (and thus won't be used for rendering); we will discuss assigning clients to pools shortly.
  • Automatically adding clients Clients can be configured to send a so-called Heartbeat to the server, which tells the server "Hey, I am a client so add me to the farm!". These clients will also be automatically assigned to a pool, so they are immediately available for rendering.

    For the Windows client, open its options (using the 'Tools' menu) and select the 'Client/Settings' section:
    Client heartbeat settings
    Enter the address of your RenderPal V2 Server in the 'Broadcast address' field and you are done; your client will now report its existence to the server automatically.

    For the Linux and MacOSX, open the 'RpClientCmd.conf' using a text editor, locate the [Client.Heartbeat] section and set the BroadcastAddress to the address of your server.
As explained in 1.2, we recommend to do this only for one client (per OS) and copy that client to your other machines.

2.2 Organizing your farm

A render farm can well consist of several hundreds of clients, so it is indispensable to organize them; this is done via client pools, and in fact, a client has to be assigned to at least one pool in order to be used in your farm. Pools are created in the Client management:
Adding a pool
A fresh installation of the RenderPal V2 Server already comes with a 'Default pool', and clients which report to the server via heartbeat will be automatically assigned to that pool (this can be changed in the client management options). How many pools you create and how you organize your clients into those pools is entirely up to you; we will stick to the Default pool for simplicity now.

To assign a client to a pool, you can simply drag and drop one or more clients from the right over to the desired pool on the left, or press the button shown below (after selecting the clients and pool):
Assigning clients to a pool
The client will now appear under the just-assigned pool:
A pool with one client
Don't worry if your layout isn't perfect right from the start - you can always modify it later. Once you have set up your farm, you need to configure your clients before you can actually render something.

3. Configuring clients

Before we can actually render something, we have to configure our clients; this mainly involves setting up the correct renderer executables. The easiest way to do this is using the Remote client configuration, which can be accessed by opening the drop-down menu next to the Client management button:
Accessing the remote client configuration
The Remote client configuration dialog will come up, where you can modify various client settings (which we'll leave untouched, as the defaults are usually fine), as well as configure the renderer executables - which is essential (not doing this is actually one of the most common mistakes new users do!):
Configuring renderers (1)
After switching to the 'Renderers' tab, select the renderer(s) you want to configure in the renderers list; we selected the Maya Scene renderer here, since we want to render with that one. As you can see, RenderPal V2 allows you to specify the executables for each operating system (Windows, Linux, MacOSX) and each architecture (32 and 64 bit).
Configuring renderers (2)
For our selected renderer, RenderPal shows three groups: Scene renderer, Scene renderer/2008- and Scene renderer/2009+. The first one allows you to set executables that will be used for all versions of that renderer (as long as you don't override them in a version); the two other groups allow you to set executables for individual versions of that renderer.

Edit an executable by double-clicking the corresponding entry; a dialog will come up where you can enter the path directly or browse for the executable. For all our renderers, information about which executable to use is shown in the Executables information box; do not use any other executables unless you really know what you are doing! Our renderers depend on the correct executable being used, and using a different one than stated will usually only result in errors.

You can also copy & paste a path by using Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V, respectively; to quickly select all executable entries for the same OS(es) and architecture(s) as the currently selected ones, press Ctrl+Shift+A.

For Windows clients, executables can be found automatically as long as they are installed in their default locations, so it is not always necessary to set them up manually. If you get errors about renderer executables not being configured, be sure to set them up using the described method, though.

4. Creating jobs

After setting up your farm, it is now time to create your first job (called net job in RenderPal V2). Jobs can either be created directly in the RenderPal V2 Server or a Remote Controller, using the Submitter or via command-line; we will discuss the first two methods here.

A net job is what will be rendered on your farm; it consists of one or more scenes to be rendered with a certain renderer and a multitude of render and job settings. Each job will be splitted into one or more chunks, each representing, for example, a certain range of an animation. It is these chunks that will be dispatched to your nodes for rendering.

4.1 Creating (and editing) jobs using the Server/Remote Controller

We will now create a simple Maya job using a RenderPal V2 Remote Controller. When started, the Remote Controller will ask you for login information (server address plus user credentials); by default, RenderPal V2 comes with three default accounts: Admin, User and Guest (no passwords).
Using the Remote Controller
To begin creating a new net job, switch to the 'Render set' tab. The render set contains all render-related settings, like the scene(s) and frame ranges to render, output file and directory and various other renderer-specific settings. Add the scene(s) to render by pressing the 'Add scenes...' button or simply drag and drop them from an Explorer window onto the scene list:
Adding a scene
RenderPal V2 will automatically switch to a renderer based on the file ending of the added scene; if the suggested renderer isn't the one you wanted, select the correct one using the drop-down lists in the top left (the first one lets you select the renderer, the second one its version):
Selecting the job renderer
Last but not least, fill out the various settings, like the Frame list, Output file and Output directory. Note that the settings available vary with the selected renderer and version, and some features of RenderPal V2 require certain settings to be filled out (e.g., Frame splitting requires a Frame list to be provided). Once you've filled out everything needed, click on 'Create net job...':
Creating a job
The net job dialog will come up, which allows you to set various options which control how the job will be split into chunks, how it will be monitored and more. We won't go into details here, so if you want to find out more about the various settings, take a look at our manual. The following screenshot highlights the most important settings:
Net job settings
Frame splitting allows you to split an animation into smaller pieces, while Image slicing allows you to render a single image across multiple nodes (not all renderers support these features); there might also be additional splitting options available, depending on the renderer used. It is crucial to understand that without any of these options activated, your resulting job will only consist of a single chunk and thus will only be rendered on one node - which you will usually not want. You also need to select the pools (and clients) to which the job shall be dispatched; one way to lay out your farm, for example, is to create pools for the various renderers in your farm; only nodes which have those renderers installed will be part of the corresponding pools.

When you're done, click 'OK' and the job will be added to the farm's job queue, ready to be rendered:
Job added to the queue
If you want to change some job or render set settings, select that job and click the corresponding tool bar button; you can also simply double-click a job to change its settings. The tool bar and context menu of the job list offer many further options and actions, so be sure to take a closer look at both.

4.2 Creating jobs using the Submitter

The RenderPal V2 Submitter is used to quickly submit new jobs, usually from within a host application like Maya or After Effects. To use the submitter this way, you will need to install a submitter script for the host application; these scripts come with the setups of the Submitter, along with detailed Install.txt files that explain how to install them properly (the procedure is different for every host application).

Once you have installed the RenderPal V2 Submitter on your artist's machine, take a look at the included Readme.txt file, which will explain how to install the submitter scripts; you will also find an Install.txt file for every host application in the corresponding sub-directory of the SubmitterScripts directory.

It is necessary to run the submitter at least once before being able to use it from within a host application; you might also need to restart your machine beforehand. When starting for the first time, you will be prompted to enter the login information and user credentials for the RenderPal V2 Server (just like when using a Remote Controller, see 4.1):
Starting the submitter
Once you've successfully connected to the server, you can close the submitter for now. Again, it might be needed to now reboot your machine (especially under Windows) for the submitter scripts to be able to find the submitter.

We will now submit a job directly from within Maya:
Submitting from Maya
The submitter will be launched, and for every layer/camera combination, a separate job will appear in the job list; various settings will also be filled out automatically, so you don't have to provide them manually:
The submitter (1) The submitter (2)
Just like when creating jobs using the Server/Remote Controller (see 4.1), it is important to apply Frame splitting and/or Image slicing so that your jobs will not only consist of a single chunk. You' ll also need to select the pools and clients to submit the jobs to, and you can set various other settings (not all net job settings are available in the submitter yet, so you might need to edit the jobs using a Remote Controller afterwards). Once you're done with filling out everything, click on 'Submit' or 'Submit and exit' to send your jobs to the server:
Submitting jobs

5. Rendering, monitoring and finding errors

Once we've submitted a job, the RenderPal V2 Server will begin to dispatch its chunks to the clients for rendering (as long as the job hasn't been paused); it is also important that the client pools are started as well (by default, pools will be started automatically on startup):
A rendering job
When you've selected a job in the net job list, more details about it will appear in the pane right to the list. These details include some general information about the job, a list of all its chunks, preview images of rendered frames (if the renderer supports this) and more. The top of this so-called Server view contains a list of all pools together with their assigned clients; this view is also available through the Remote Controller. From here, you get a full overview of your entire farm, and you are able to monitor and control everything as needed.

5.1 Finding errors

It is very likely that you will stumble upon some errors with your jobs sooner or later. As long as RenderPal can catch these, they will be reported in various places, and to work efficiently with your farm, you need to know how to find out more about why things didn't go as desired.

Let's say that we suspect that our job isn't working. The first thing to do is to select that job to get its details; we can see in its chunk list that there have indeed been some errors:
Chunk errors
To find out more about why these chunks resulted in some errors, we can take a look at the job's Events and Output logs tabs:
Renderer events
The Events tab will contain various events that occur during the lifetime of each chunk; as we can see, Maya reported that our scene could not be loaded. To get the (textual) output of the renderer, we can switch to the Output logs tab:
Renderer output
The output logs are usually the best way to find out what is going on: The scene file could not be found, so we most likely made some mistake while adding the scene (or the scene resides on a path our clients don't have).

When something doesn't go as expected, always take a look at the job's events and output logs! They are also good places to get real-time information about how your job is doing and progressing.

This concludes our Setup & Installation guide. We hope it helped you on your way to using RenderPal V2 as your render farm manager. Do not worry if you feel a bit overwhelmed or lost at first - RenderPal V2 is extremely feature-rich, but also very easy to use once you got the basics. Take your time and play around with RenderPal V2 and its various concepts - this is always the best way to get to know a new piece of software!

Further resources

About RenderPal V2

RenderPal V2 is a powerful, feature-rich, yet easy to use Render Farm Manager for  Maya, 3D Studio Max, Cinema 4D, V-Ray, VRED, Modo, SketchUp, After Effects, Arnold and many more.

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