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Advice on NAS for AE

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Theo Buchinskas
Advice on NAS for AE
on Feb 28, 2020 at 9:15:36 pm

So, I am thinking of adding NAS to my workflow, but I am looking for advice on whether it is really worth the cost, especially for a small-scale freelance individual like myself.

My current setup - most work is done on an imac 5K, 4.2ghz i7, 64GB RAM. (by next year this will be upgraded to either an imac Pro or Mac Pro) Typically projects are kept on the local drive then moved to external drives after for cold-storage (that I rarely need to re-visit). I also have a Macbook Pro 16, 2.4ghz i9, 64gb RAM, and an Asus Predator i7 2.6ghz 32 gb ram. There's also a couple other older macs kicking about, and occasionally I put them all to use together when rendering an intensive C4D scene. (a rare occurrence for me) Man I wish AE had a render farm capability comparable to C4D - setting that up is so easy!

For the most part, everything is done on the iMac, and it is enough to handle my projects. I do, however get occasional projects with tight deadlines and a large amount of content to render out, so I am considering setting up a NAS so I can do networked renders, if not with a proper watch folder, than by at least splitting up files across multiple machines. This would of course be a lot easier if I first didn't have to copy the entire project to every machine, and a NAS looks to be a good solution for keeping projects and files in a central location. I also work from the road a lot, and I like the idea of being able to access any active project file from the cloud, especially now that Apple has taken away 'back to my mac'... There's also the fact that Adobe took away being able to use a machine as a render node, so realistically I can only be running AE on two machines anyway. Once again, I really wish Adobe would focus on making using a render farm easier, but I digress.

In the research I have done, it looks like if I want to see any benefit, I would need to set up a 10gbE network and NAS. Not super cheap on options, that is for sure. But I don't need a huge amount of space - I am not an editor, mostly 2D AE motion graphics, and have no requirement for high speed archives, so I can save a bit on that.
My biggest worry and deciding factor - is if this will at all slow down my current workflow. If renders take longer from the NAS at all, it won't be worth it for 95% of my projects. If I can maintain the same speeds as I currently have or faster, and open up the freedom to do networked renders easily, as well as having a cloud server, then it might be worth spending a few grand.
I would love to hear some input from people on if you think it's really necessary for my setup, and if so, what NAS solution might be best suited, given my needs.

Thanks!


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Jim Scott
Re: Advice on NAS for AE
on Feb 28, 2020 at 11:45:51 pm

I have no experience with NAS, but have you tried Render Garden? Many people have found it very useful.

https://www.toolfarm.com/buy/rendergarden/


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Theo Buchinskas
Re: Advice on NAS for AE
on Feb 29, 2020 at 12:08:33 am

Yeah I have looked at it as an option - I really like to use Media Encoder for large batch exports though, and render garden seems to only work within the AE renderer. I know, I know, better workflow is to always render out of AE first then encode, but when I have to fire off 50 previews to my client overnight, they render straight to media encoder and mp4 output.
It does look like it's gotten simpler to use than it used to though, I think I will give it a go before dropping bank on a NAS.


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Eric Santiago
Re: Advice on NAS for AE
on Feb 29, 2020 at 1:00:35 am

NAS is overkill if you are solo but heck I would welcome it at home.
I use a Synology NAS 24TB at work but thats shared with a dozen graphics, motion, etc...
Anything video (4K mostly) is local and that's what I have at home.
A slew of RAIDs that work great with After Effects, FCPX, Premiere, Resolve, Maya, Avid and Pro Tools.
Cant go wrong either way but again if you are solo not sure if you need NAS.


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Theo Buchinskas
Re: Advice on NAS for AE
on Feb 29, 2020 at 6:27:59 pm

Just wanted to follow up on the Render Garden suggestion in case someone else reads this - I tried it out last night, and was largely impressed. Basically allows me to do a similar type render farm to the way C4D does, with each node rendering a section of the file. Most impressive was the way I could use it to unlock cores and use my main machine to the fullest - which even just using my local machine resulted in render in less than half the time of AE renderer. Definitely is a tool I will use. It is shocking that AE doesn't do something like this automatically!

There is definitely some serious limitations though - it is really finicky when using multiple machines, the only way I could get it to work properly was using an image sequence, trying to do direct to animation or prores resulted in weird problems with with the segmentation. Some further experimentation will help, but the whole thing was pretty buggy to figure out. Also the ffmpeg post export to mp4 was garbage, which is unfortunate as that is my primary format for delivering previews to clients. As it stands, to get to mp4, I would need to render as an image sequence, then bring back into AE, then go to ME. Taking an image sequence direct to ME gives it a heart attack and encoding it was painfully slow. Taking the extra step through AE worked, but it's an extra step...

I did some benchmarks, and encoded a large file typical of my workflow - 10800 x 1080 px, with some Element, Particular effects, and a bunch of 2D animation. Element caused major problems, (which is a major point against, I use Element a lot) and I had to pre-render that first to get it to work at all. Once I did, AE renderer direct to ProRes was just over 10 min, Render garden local to prores was just under 5. For an image sequence on multiple machines, cut time down to less than 3 min, but of course added time getting into a useable container. Direct render to H265 through ME was 21 min. Direct render to Prores in ME was pretty much the same as the AE engine, around 10 min.

I also couldn't get render garden to work on multiple machines without having a separate external drive specific for its render. Funnily enough I think render garden would perform really well on a NAS - where every node machine had access to the main drive and files, and mounts it in the exact same path (this is key to render garden success). So while it is a good tool, and I will use it for some things, I think I might still benefit from a NAS. Render garden is powerful, but is super buggy still. I couldn't rely on it during a major project delivery pipeline. Reminded me a lot of working on PCs - powerful, but you spend most of your time trying to get them to work properly.


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Jim Scott
Re: Advice on NAS for AE
on Feb 29, 2020 at 7:03:03 pm

Thanks for the follow-up Theo. Some good info there.


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