Don’t Go From Bad to Worse

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Our company rents computers and servers and often our clients are smaller facilities that have to scale up for a big job. These customers usually don't have an IT person on hand to deal with the inevitable hiccups that occur when you have a lot of equipment around.

Even though we provide support, we've learned that we have to emphasize to our renters that if there's a problem, call us first! All too often in the heat of the moment, someone on their team decides he or she will try a few things. Not good!

I thought it would be helpful to share some thoughts with you as to how to avoid turning a simple problem into a disaster. 

The first rule, don't do anything while the machine is running a process. Wait as long as you can and add 15 minutes to that. Rebooting can solve a lot of problems but not if you kill the power while the machine is computing. Never kill the power, period! Restart the device using a command, doing a force quit, or pressing the power button. Don't pull the plug.

Along the same lines let's talk about removable hard drives. Do nothing while they're reading or writing data. Typically, this is indicated by a rapidly flashing light on the front of the drives. One of the worst expressions associated with RAID arrays is 'hot-swappable.' If you think one of the drives in your RAID is faulty, follow a safe procedure or call us at VFX Technologies for support. Ejecting a drive or a flash card without following proper procedures can lead to a catastrophic disaster, possibly the loss of all data on the device.

Keep your original media assets safe and close by while you're working. Save and back up, use a RAID if you can and if you can have a near-line server or backup to drives, even better. There are very simple methods of backing up the critical folders of a job quickly and easily. Depending on the specifics, I can share this information with you, just drop me a line.

A good practice, if you can, is to keep your project on a network not connected to the Internet. If your team can be on workstations and storage servers independent of the primary network, you avoid a lot of potential problems such as intrusion, malware infection, misuse of assets, and loss of productivity. There are several approaches to this solution that depend on your circumstances. Again, if you want to know more, get in touch with me.

There is a basic list of reasons why computers and storage fails. At the top of the list is human error. Be patient with your gear and if you don't know why it's not working, don't try to guess. Support is out there for you. Here's a quick list of what else you can do to keep things running smoothly:

  • Have a Battery Backup Device (UPS) or a surge protector at least.
  • Keep your software up to date.
  • Have virus protection.
  • Keep your equipment in a cool and clean environment.
  • Don't ignore warning signs, error messages, or system crashes.

It's easier to solve a small problem than a big one. It's better to make sure your systems are in good condition before you start a project. It's smarter to ask for help when a problem arises.

-Jim Reisman

Apple Remembers Us

The recent announcement of Apple's new iMac Pro is targeted right at Creative Professionals in the Media & Entertainment industry. The first paragraph on the web page says, "So everyone from video editors to 3D animators to musicians to software developers to scientists can do what they do like they’ve never done before. "

Praise be, the coolest kid on the block hasn't forgotten about us. He's given us a "...lean, mean dream machine", the iMac Pro. Now, will Apple also make us a meaner, badder, kick-ass, modular, and component capable Mac Pro that kicks that trash can to the side of the road? We'll see, maybe next year. In the meantime, this new iMac Pro ain't half bad, based on the specs. 

I'll leave you to look at the pretty pictures and excellent graphic arts on the Apple site. I want you to know what we see in that information that relates to you, as a visual artist and media producer. 

The iMac Pro offers a XEON CPU with up to 18 cores that clock up to 4.5GHz. Apple is utilizing AMD's Radeon VEGA Pro GPUs. Once software manufacturers adapt their applications to these GPUs, you will have a graphics card capable of 22-25 Teraflops of computing speed (really fast) compared to the wonderful and recently introduced GTX 1080TI which tops out at 11 Teraflops. Radeon has an architecture that's way ahead of where Nvidia is right now. We predict a GPU war is brewing as we speak. This also supports our contention that GPU rendering is truly the future in visual effects and digital media production.

The Mac is also no longer a sealed box. Apple dropped the Metal 2 SDK to allow developers take advantage of external AMD GPUs using the latest Thunderbolt 3 interface. That is 40Gb speeds you'll be getting! Apple's change will affect the current Mac lineup as they will be able to use upgraded GPUs now, with Nvidia’s new drivers, Macs will allow users to add external GTX cards like the 1080 and when the new AMD GPU ships, there will be drivers to support them too.

Expect that the new AMD graphics cards will also benefit the PC world as soon as drivers become available for Windows.

How long have we been talking about Apple with shaking heads saying, they don't love us anymore? They do, and VFX Technologies will have the new iMacs available for rent as soon as we can get our hands on them. In the meantime, we have the very capable iMac 27 inch Quad Core i7 available for rent along with the Mac Pro 12 Core and, of course, the HP Z workstations that remain the King of the Hill, for now. - Jim Reisman

GPU Rendering is Here. Take a Break!

Rendering using graphics cards is not new, but it is not widespread because it requires a change in established workflows. Autodesk Maya, for example, is widely used by visual effects artists and the rendering software for Maya is Mental Ray. Recently Mental Ray was updated, and it can now work with GPUs. NVIDIA purchased Mental Ray, and their latest version has GPU acceleration for GI-Next that can slash a one-hour render to a 5-minute coffee break. 

This speed requires the combination of a high-end graphics card such as the NVIDIA M6000 and a Dual CPU, multi-core processors such as the HP Z workstations or Boxx Apexx line. CG artists using Autodesk Maya can tap NVIDIA’s GPU-accelerated renderer, Mental Ray, directly within Maya for free. You'll only need a Mental Ray license for production rendering.

Autodesk used to provide Mental Ray support to end-users, but NVIDIA has taken over that task. NVIDIA is supplying the latest Mental Ray and workflow enhancements to multiple Maya versions, starting with Maya 2016 and 2017 on Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

NVIDIA will “be serving end users directly” with their Mental Ray for Maya plug-in. The new plug-in will show results directly in the viewport, starting at low quality and increasing until the view changes.

By announcing GI-Next, NVIDIA says this will speed up global illumination in Mental Ray, and it will also reduce the number of options required to tune the results to just a single quality slider, making it easier for artists to pick up. One of their benchmarks shows a 26-fold increase in performance, most of that attributable to GPU acceleration.

Artists can use Mental Ray within Maya to craft scenes and render individual frames at any resolution, using any supported processor within a machine. NVIDIA Mental Ray is backward compatible for scenes from earlier Maya versions. It’s able to output .mi files to feed production pipelines. Autodesk 3D Max is also making use of Mental Ray, and it's GPU rendering capability.

To the delight of professional artists, GPUs are becoming more viable after years of CPU dominance. Recent trends suggest that this will only increase in the future. GPUs are increasing in speed, memory, and power efficiency. Having graphics cards handle with image processing while the CPUs manage the workstations resources results in a faster and smoother workflow. With a computer properly configured to handle your project, you may be able to get home in time to relax and watch a few TV shows featuring some cool visual effects. 

My company, VFX Technologies, can provide these GPU enabled workstations to you for rent, to keep your expenses down. We can also build, configure, and sell your company the optimal system to increase efficiency and lower operating costs.

- Jim Reisman