Hobbyist animators and Cycles

I just want to pick the brains of a couple of Hobbyist animators. I am new to the animation game but I have started some very some early planning for a short I want to work on something in the ridiculous vain of this https://vimeo.com/790881

But here is my situation you are a hobbyist wannabe animator, you have one desktop(windows 7 64bit, Haswell i5 4570, 8GB ram, GTS450). You suck at lighting, the very thought of placing bounce lights manually turns you ghostly pale. Your internet connection stinks so rendering on a farm is out of the question.

In this situation should I even be thinking of using cycles as my main render engine I have an extremely simple head I am working on at the moment and I just started testing SSS out,a single SSS shader Fresnel mixed with a glossy shader and lit with three mesh planes. I am doing renders of 1080 by 864 pixels, taking about 625 SSS samples and 400 for the mesh lights, 225 for glossy and using the limited GI preset. It’s taking me 10 minutes to render some noisy pics.

I just want to hear some thought from hobbyist animators without access to heavy computing power. How has cycles worked out for you? I am particularly interested in hearing from people doing character work, SSS, short hair that kind of stuff.

I know I have a lot to learn about using cycles but I just want to get an idea if I should invest my limited time learning BI. Is using Cycles for animation more for small studios like the Blender foundation who can build a small render farm like that cabinet one they built.

you could use a community renderfarm for that and you can also render for others…
but as with Blender if you can give back as much as you get and got out of it, - by all means do it :slight_smile:

Currently, if I really wanted fancy indirect cycles esque lighting while retaining render speed, my first instinct would be to look whether you can use lightmaps in BI. (There’s at the very least a texture slot for affecting the ambient. Indirect-light bakes could maybe help here, otherwise look at which objects will not be affected by the characters shadow and will remain static, and create a shadeless texture with a full-render bake)

The second, slightly more render intensive solution is to take a look at the scene-tab and taking interest in the indirect light(approximate) and ambient/enviroment lighting(approximate). This is about a few minutes extra a frame, but then noiseless.

I have done very little animation rendering with blender though, so others would probably have better advice, but I do know that it’s useful to investigate BI.

Windows 7 64bit - AMD FX 6100 six core - 6GB RAM - GT 530: I won’t attempt to address your specific scene and you have more computing power then I do anyway.

But, I can only use it (Cycles) for the simplest of animations in open space. However, having started with 2.48 Blender Internal and I are old friends. Which is damn lucky by the way.

I will assume when you say animation you are talking about animating anything, camera, characters, pieces, without regard for the renderer. Now most of my projects involve completely enclosed spaces where I can rotate the camera at will. And, this is a scenario that Cycles hates. A pure raytracer it seems doesn’t handle enclosed spaces well.

So my advice is learn BI or use YafaRay for animating. With Yafaray you can use Direct Ltg. with Caustics for glass and gloss. But, this is just my view since I don’t choose to tolerate render times in the double digits with the machine I have. Others on here with different equipment are doing some amazing animated work with Cycles. (See ‘The Falcon’ WIP) I can’t do it nor do I anticipate being able to do it in Cycles with my machine.

But, we all have 3 decent renderers available to us for animation in Blender. Some projects cry out for a raytracer and I simply can’t use one with a few exceptions. Other projects are better suited to YafaRay with caustics. Others honestly look the best using a scanline renderer. All subjective calls but that’s what we do make subjective calls.

I’m retired now but believe me I remember limited time. With that thought in mind and my computer I would be learning Blender Internal and YafaRay for animating. With any pursuit of Cycles being for specific projects where render times are below ten minutes per frame. Hopefully well below.

Once again your equipment can dictate which renderer you go with as your main one when animating. Unless render times aren’t a priority. And, the one with the least hassle for animating is by far a scanline in my book. That’s just my personal opinion based on the machine I have and for anyone reading this please spare me yet another Cycles pissing contest. The man asked and I responded.


If you’re new to animation, I’d suggest putting the short to one side for a month or two and working on some test shots with simple models. These can use BI or even GL. Nuts and bolts renders with quick results to help you get to grips with basic movement. When you’re happy that you can make things move nicely, that’s the time to start thinking about long term projects and the best render engine.

I speak as a Blender noob who has just spent a week rendering a one minute test animation in Cycles.

@myclay I have a terrible internet connection and get charged for each MB I upload or download. I don’t think I want to be downloading hundreds of GB of data, I am already penciling in doing a bit of composting so downloading a bunch of 16 bit images is not something I want to do.

@therahedwig thanks for the suggestions.Sadly I am already struggling with just a character head no sets or anything.

@theoldghost thanks for taking the time to reply. Sadly ruled out Yafaray not a lot passes IIRC and I definitely need those. I am also aiming with keeping my render times in the 10minutes to 20minutes range.

You’re right on another point though I also want to be spared another Cycles pissing contest. To those reading and replying I don’t want a cycles versus BI flame war. I just want to know if the are hobbyist animator who are doing character animation are using and working with Cycles to render their work and how you are coping with limited or modest computing resources.

Edit didn’t see Old Scratch post
@Old Scratch I am past that stage long ago. I think 18 months before my old pc died I was doing the whole bouncing ball exercise thing, I think some of my tests are on Youtube. I was rendering those in BI. But rendering a simple scene in BI with three or four lights is nothing a complex set I am not sure of.
I am currently building a test face rig and I just thought to see how SSS performed in Cycles

It was taking me 10 minutes to render something this simple, it something like 2600polys for the cage with level 2 sub-surf. And I haven’t even put hair on it or even painted any textures.

use realtime graphics

Some things i wanted to point out is that since Cycles is still underdevelopment SSS can’t be used in GPU It makes the “under 10-20 minutes” per frame animation quite hard to achieve, I can’t really say much since you have more robust equipment than me.
Most of my short animations i do, i m a hobbyist, things like the camera angle, lighting (brighter == faster), how close the camera is to the character (Closer == more render time) influence the render time.
One trick i do is most of the time render the animation in .png, overnight or when i have a date :slight_smile: , spent time with family, you get the idea.

Have you tested cycles baking?
Then, go for GLSL rendering?
This really fast. Almost real time rendering.

Have you tried playing with the Ambient Occlusion settings in the World panel, or mix in the AO shader for less important/noticeable items in your scene?

There are also some good pointers on how to reduce noise here:


If you want to use GPU for rendering, but are having trouble with SSS for instance, there are some ways to reasonably fake the effect (depending on how much realism you want.)

If you use Cycles in real direct mode ( 0 difuse, 0 glossy) and branch on one and only dial up light samples and maybe AO, it should be well faster than BI especially with heavy geometry. Than fake the SSS and be done.

I’m currently working on a short and i’m using Cycles. Average rendertime for a 1920x1080 frame is 14 minutes on Linux and around 19 on Win7. CPU is a Haswell i7 4770. The scene has 3 renderlayers, hair, some compositing and multires for the character. You really have to tweak it and find out what you need for the look and feel you’re going for. Even a scene with mostly simple diffuse shaders can look good and stylish if your animation is good. I could bring rendertime down to 3 minutes or less if i wanted to, but that would mean sacrificing the look i want for my project. Endi here uses realtime graphics and they work well enough for him.

I tried using SSS on my character’s face and it looked great, but it really didn’t justify a doubling of the noise, so i’m just using a plain diffuse shader+texture with some faint glossy and anisotropic shader stuff on top. Hair in Cycles has never really been a problem, whereas on BI it has been the source of major slowdowns and headaches. Vector blur is awesome and i’d use it even if there were actual deformation motion blur support in Cycles. Unless you absolutely must have motion blur on a character’s arm reflected in a mirror you don’t need it. I’ve also set max bounces to something low like 2 or 3 - since this is not archviz you don’t really need any more than that. There’s also some unexpected things that slow down a scene a lot like “Use Environment” in cases where it takes up a big portion of the frame. If you’re using a skybox or textured planes for a background you may want to turn the environment off.

Anyway, these are just tips for things i’ve found out from working on my project. Short answer - speed depends on what you want to make, not the render engine so much.

Hey tyrant monkey,

I once did a freebie vfx shot, took me a bit to do it. A lot of personal time I wasted on this project, thinking that once the short is released, I’ll have a credit and a clip for a demo reel. So suck it up and do the work, the end result will justify the time spent. Today, 2 years later, the short still hasn’t been released…

Anyhow, using BI to render the scene, took time. I was using an older dual-core intel 2.8ghz, my main pc and 3 single core 2.8 ghz dell machines I picked up cheap in a renderfarm setup. Took me a week running this setup constantly to render 10 seconds of animation, or 240 frames… If my math is right, that’s ~34 frames a day rendering…

So my point is, sometimes if you want the great results, find out what you can cheat, and then just suck it up and render it…

Also, don’t do freebie VFX shots for someone that will never use it…


I started using Blender as a hobby a long time ago and for a long time, I didn’t have a machine suitable for Cycles, so I’ve tended to use BI. Currently I have a laptop with an i7 and GT630 card, but the GT630 renders about the same speed as CPU. My emphasis is on animation not still renders or high definition, so I’m constantly looking for ways to trim my render times. So at the moment, I still find Blender Internal gives me better performance especially if the image contains glossy surfaces or reflections. I already find that Cycles is easier to get the lighting right, and I like the node editor - although I’ve yet to find a really good (advanced) overview on creating materials in the Cycles node editor.

you need to look into the branched path tracing. This is probably the best way to optimize your renders.
get the newest version available right now as they are always looking to optimize.

I have a 780 and still can get it to hang. be very carful with the settings as it can rip your card to shreds.

Try to avoid using the live render at this point as you are bound to blow your card as you experiment.

" I could bring render time down to 3 minutes or less if I wanted to, but that would mean sacrificing the look I want for my project"

Damn @Pesho I would love to see that at 1080p. Even on the machine you have which is without a doubt top tier. I’ve found if I set the stamp to Render Time for my PNGs it’s displayed in the animation as a running log in the upper left hand corner when made full screen in Windows Media Player. I use that to keep track of render times with different setups.

But, damn it just dawned on me if I sent that to another animator they could stop the clip at any point and see the render time for that frame. Very helpful little feature there. I stand by my statement that the render engine used for animation is based on the machine a individual has.

@minoribus knew that when buying a ‘Titan’ for his machine. The man wanted to animate using a Raytracer. If he had my machine that fascinating thread in WIP wouldn’t even exist. @tyrant monkey doesn’t have your machine but it’s damn sure a cut above mine. And, if he wants to accept render times around 15 minutes per frame for a simple scene that’s fine. But, how about his next project which might be the inside of a museum. After all he’s looking for a render engine to animate with. And, I assume that means any future project.

So short answer - yes speed does depend on the render engine and your machine.

Setting a stamp can be useful, but it has no place in a final render :wink: I started the project on an old AMD X2 4000+ and the rendertimes i got were about 7-8 times slower than currently on the i7 4770. There is also a lot of time wasted on caching before the render starts - if you remove all the multires detail and hair you can shave off 20-30% of the overall time. Baked textures and direct lighting should bring that down even more. If you set everything up as game graphics, then 3 minutes for a 1080p render is not so impossible. I also don’t like how much time is wasted on making sure lights and materials play well with each other in BI…

I guess I can add some thoughts since I’m a hobbyist and currently in the process of making an animation with Cycles - although I bought a Titan card for that, which speeds things up. I’m using Cycles since I joined BA. On before I used Blender Internal render. I love to work with cycles materials because of the visual feedback coming from the real time rendering. I know that BI has that feature also by now, but it does not feel the same.

When it comes to rendering the animation I usually do the rendering stuff over night and I tweak each of my scenes for this nightly render sessions in a manner that each frame is rendered in about 5 minutes (±2). This tweaking often means several hours of work for me in which I adjust the scene for the specific light in that take. I refine materials, adjust MIS, test different clamp settings, define bounces, design new materials, try the results of different AO settings. As I said this takes hours of setting parameters and doing test renders.

The scene I’m currently working on is not one of Cycles specialities. I have an enclosed room. I can’t use image based lighting. So I don’t have the chance to use the MIS in the world settings and to use IBL as a faster converging light setup. Instead of this I have to work with several mesh objects as lights. And that fact makes it difficult to cut render times down in my experience.

I don’t use SSS on my characters, because it isn’t working on the GPU. (And I think that it is only needed for close ups and special light conditions anyway.) For the same reason I try to avoid particle hair. Particle hair works on the GPU but it also slows things really down. Interestingly the CPUs are really engaged when Cycles is rendering hair on the GPU. I guess that’s the reason why this is so slow.

Another thing is, that I’m rendering on 720p to be able to tame render times. Full HD with render times above 10 minutes is too much in my opinion.

In my eyes the reward for all this struggling are simply nice and appealing renders. So I think, it’s worth it :slight_smile: And perhaps I can avoid some mistakes that I surely unknowingly do today in the future.

Currently there is an ongoing optimization project for Cycles in the context of project Gooseberry. I think, that Cycles’ suitability for animations will benefit from this project: a http://wiki.blender.org/index.php/Dev:2.6/Source/Render/Cycles/Optimization

The project focuses on optimizations that help with typical animation production scenes that might be rendered in Gooseberry.

I could read all the post you were writing over the weekend but couldn’t reply, the disadvantages of using a 3G connection when its cloudy.

@rsol I was using branched path tracing if you look at my first post you can see I listed different samples for the SSS, mesh light and glossy. I also tried out another suggestion of using direct lighting. It is first if you use no SSS, I guess glass will also be the same. I guess direct lighting or using single bounce GI with fake SSS will work.

@minoribus thanks for the suggestion I can’t get away with not using SSS lots of facial animation work that I am planning.

Sorry for not replying to everyone but thanks for all the suggestions you have given. I played around with BI over the weekend and the old three layer SSS worked just fine for the simple test I was doing. Under a minute of 720p renders with buffered spot lights or about 1 minute 30 with area lights.

If I can learn spot lights buffered shadows better than I will go in that route. I still struggle with those buggers when it comes to sorting out shadow artifacts.

This is a great post for noobs like me…sticky! :slight_smile: