Cloud-Based Rendering for the Animation Industry

Cloud-based rendering has the potential to cut costs for everyone, if service providers can cater to small studios by thinking big.


The 3D animation & visual effects (VFX) industries require substantial data storage and processor-intensive resources. As animated films have taken a larger market share of distributed media, especially in the U.S., the multi-billion dollar animation industry, with a market size potentially as large as $100B, is estimated to be growing 15% every year (6). Films such as “Frozen” and “Minions” have earned revenues over $1B dollars each (1 + 2). Large production studios have access to substantial resources such as unprecedented server power to support the incredibly expensive and time consuming process of rendering animation data. A single frame from the film ‘Toy Story’ took three hours to render into a deliverable image. With over 100,000 frames in the film, the only way the film was completed in two years was to render scenes in parallel on render farm systems that employ multiple processors working from multiple servers (3). And since then, for every advancement in technology that creates a more efficient render system to speed up render times, an increase in data, resolution, and output capability slow them back down again.

Increasingly commercials, and even e-learning and education, employ impressive visual effects (VFX) that require more sophisticated animation techniques. With higher polygon counts, greater image fidelity, and an increase in resolution and color data for deliverables, smaller studios require more impressive but equally expensive server and processing systems to handle their render needs.

Zync Render was founded by Boston VFX studio ZeroFX. ZeroFX’s unique operating model of servicing both the commercial production and film production industries gave them the insight to see the potential benefits of employing cloud-based rendering systems to benefit their workflow. Cloud-based rendering allows multiple workflow streams to benefit from a single cloud-infrastructure (or multiple workflows more efficiently from multiple infrastructures). The ease of use, integration with current animation software, and optimization for animation workflow differentiate Zync Render from other cloud service offerings. (4)

Zync Render had the additional benefit of being tested by its founders for real-world animation industry needs. The studio was hired to work on scenes from Star Trek, American Hustle, and a dozen other films. They have also tested the service for the hundreds of commercials they have worked on. Currently on their website they state the Zync Render service has provided over “50 million core rendering hours” (4 + 5).

Cloud-based rendering certainly benefits large film studios and VFX studios that employ hundreds of animators working towards a similar goal. By queueing renders to the cloud, the animators do not idle their machines rendering frames locally, or slow down their local network with server overload. Studios also do not incur the direct costs of building servers, maintaining them, and hiring staff to manage the workflows. However, cloud-based rendering also has the potential benefit to open up new animation technology to small and medium sized studios as well as independent animation contractors.

Data intensive animation software, such as VRay or Houdini, require expensive processing power in the form of hardware. As animation demands increase from clients, animators must offer services with higher fidelity using industry best practices to stay competitive. Traditionally this would require large upfront fixed costs to build an internal server or rent space at a studio and use their resources. Zync Render could allow independent contractors to benefit from advancements in software, without bearing the upfront burden of large fixed costs for hardware (3). With pay-as-you-use terms, animators can also budget more appropriately the processing needs of a project to their clients. By renting processor time from someone else’s server and cloud-infrastructure, cloud based rendering is also generally a better utilization of server power to the service provider. Any down-time for your server can now be sold as a cloud-service to remote studios or contractors. Additionally, costs for IT can be drastically reduced by outsourcing the support to the cloud-provider.

Zync Render was acquired by Google in 2014. With a bright future ahead of them and the resources to now scale and penetrate the multi-billion dollar animation industry, they can gain market share in a relatively new field of rendering but an incredibly important piece of the industry. I hope they take the opportunity however to cater to small or medium sized studios and independent contractors who would benefit from their service as well and could provide an equally lucrative revenue stream.

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Works Cited


  1. “Box Office Milestone: ‘Frozen’ Crosses $1 Billion Worldwide.” The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 2 Mar. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
  2. McNary, Dave. “‘Minions’ Hits $1 Billion at Worldwide Box Office.” Variety. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
  3. Lavanya Rajendran Et Al. / International Journal Of Engineering Science And Technology (Ijest). INVESTIGATING THE CLOUD SERVICES IN ANIMATION FIELD(n.d.): n. pag. International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology, 3 Mar. 2012. Web. <>.
  4. Lardinois, Frederic. “Google Acquires Zync To Bring Visual Effects Rendering To Its Cloud Platform.” TechCrunch. N.p., 26 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Nov. 2016. <>.


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Student comments on Cloud-Based Rendering for the Animation Industry

  1. Fun fact: I was minored in Digital Arts in college and spent a lot of time in the computer lab making 3D animation. Even as an amateur animator, when I rendered a split second of the scene, I would let the fairly well-equipped mac in the computer lab run while I got food. When I’m rendering a video clip of 10 seconds, I would often let it run overnight. As the animation got heavier with textures, light, and curvier surfaces, we had to start using render farms, essentially what Zync Render is.

    Implications of using a render farm was huge. This freed up animators’ time and allowed almost double productivity, as you highlighted above. It also meant that if something was not going well (rendering in a wrong way than you had imagined) then you could step in and restart the process because you were on your computer instead of letting it run and stepping away from the desk.

    Cloud render farm is entirely dependent on processing power. As the price of hardware drop precipitously, I wonder what would happen to the greater 3D Animation & VFX industry. Rendering costs will decrease significantly and it may start to be more attractive to make films through 3D animation than real life filming, which is completely not the case currently. I also wonder if Zync Render will be able to have a competitive edge since competitors in countries with cheaper electricity and real estate costs would be able to provide cheaper cloud rendering options.

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