Farming for Pixels – A teaching lab becomes a computational clusterApril 26, 2015 - 5:41 pm by Joss Whittle C/C++ Graphics PhD
While working on my submission to this years SURF Research as Art Competition I realized that if I was to have any hope of rendering the final image at high resolution in a reasonable amount of time I would need more power. To do this I applied node parallelism in the form of a computer lab turned render farm.
The above image is the result of ~8 hours of rendering, at 4k resolution, over 18 machines (as described below). No colour correction or other post-processing (other than converting to jpeg for uploading) has been applied.
I try to keep the current generation of my rendering software nicely optimized but at it’s core it’s purpose is to be mathematically correct, capable of capturing a suite of internal statistics, and to be simple to extend. Speedup by cpu parallelism is only performed at the pixel (technically pixel tile) sampling level to reduce the amount of intrusion ray-packet tracing can bring to a renderer. In the future I plan to add a GPU work distributor using CUDA but for now this is quite low on my research priorities.
In order to get the speed boost I needed to render high resolution bi-directional path traced images I made use of Swansea Computer Sciences – Linux Lab, which has 30 or so i7, 8GB Ram, 256GB SSD machines running OpenSUSE. I wrote a bash script which for each ip address in a
machine_file (containing all ip’s in the farm) ssh’s into each system and starts the renderer as a background process, and another to ssh into all machines and stop the current render.
The render job on each node outputs to a unique binary
partials file every 10 samples per pixel (at 4k resolution) to a common network directory, overwriting the files previous values. This file contains three int’s containing
samples respectively; followed by
(width * height * 3) double precision numbers representing the row-column pixel data stored in
The data in the file represents the average luminance of each pixel in HDR. A second utility program can be run at a later time to process all compatible partials files in the same directory and turn them into a single image. Which is then properly tone mapped, gamma corrected, and saved as a
.bmp file. To combine two partials, the utility program simply performs the following equation for each pixel:
P_1,2 = ((P_1 * S_1) + (P_2 * S_2)) / (S_1 + S_2)
By repeating this process one by one (each partial file can be > 500MB) all partials in a directory can be aggregated together into a single consistent and unbiased image.