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Cross-Platform After Effects Rendering

Make your Macs And PCs work together (for a change) By Kevin Schmitt
You all remember Mad Libs, that wacky, nutty book game where you filled in words to make the story as humorous as possible, right? I don't think I've even seen a book of Mad Libs since the fifth grade, and at that time it took all of about thirty seconds before my friends and I, for added fun, would forego all semblance of originality and creativity and head straight for the naughty words. Anyway, wouldn't it be nice if we played a quick game of Mad Libs before we moved on to the actual informative portion of this article? Feel free to print this out and actually write in the words. I assume we're all adults here, so please, keep it clean:

Pat is an __________ (motion graphics program made by Adobe that starts with "A" and ends with "s") user. Pat uses this program primarily on his/her __________ (operating system made by either Apple or Microsoft) -based computer. Pat has a whole bunch of other __________ (whichever operating system made by either Apple or Microsoft you didn't use in the last blank) -based computers lying around and is wondering if he/she can also use them for rendering his/her __________ (motion graphics program made by Adobe that starts with "A" and ends with "s") projects.

Gee, wasn't that fun? And we have some good news for Pat: he or she can, in fact, set up a cross-platform render farm for his or her After Effects rendering! Isn't that great?

All right, enough about Pat. Let's worry about setting up our own cross-platform After Effects render farm. I hate to start the festivities out on a potentially sour note, but you'll need a few things to make this a reality:

1. More than one computer, and for the purposes of this discussion, at least one of the secondary systems should be running a different OS than your primary machine.
2. Some method of getting these machines to talk to each other (more on this later).
3. A full, licensed version of the After Effects Production Bundle for Macintosh.
4. A full, licensed version of the After Effects Production Bundle for Windows.

If you only have the first three (or even 1, 2, and 4), you're not completely out of luck. In the next section I'm going to go over how to set up an After Effects render farm, which you can use to set up rendering between multiple machines running the same OS. However, if you happen to have all four ingredients mentioned above, then you can go all the way and put those other allegedly "incompatible" computers hanging around the office to work for you.

Setting up After Effects multiple-machine rendering
Since version 4.1, After Effects has had the ability (in the Production Bundle only, sadly) to set up different machines as nodes to help out with rendering over a network. Now that After Effects has grown up to version 5, I imagine that the concept of distributed rendering is nothing new to a lot of you, so if you're already familiar with setting up render nodes and watch folders, please feel free to skip ahead to the cross-platform tips. However, if you need a refresher course?it's all ball bearings nowadays?or you never had a reason until now to set up a render farm, here is the process for setting up multiple-machine rendering.

1. Create a shared folder to use as your watch folder, accessible to each machine you have installed the render engine on, and give it the incredibly imaginative name "Watch_Folder." This folder can either be on any of the machines you plan to use or on a central network server. In Mac OS 9, make sure File Sharing is enabled in the File Sharing control panel, and the folder you plan to share has sharing turned on through the Sharing tab of the Get Info panel (Command-I). On Windows, you need to make sure File and Folder Sharing is enabled. In 9X/ME, right-click on the Network Neighborhood and click Properties to get to the Network control panel, where you'll find the Enable File and Folder Sharing option. In NT/2000/XP, it should already be installed and active; double-check that File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks is checked in the Network control panel. Then you can right-click on the folder you want to share, select Sharing, and give it a name. If you have trouble, give your friendly neighborhood Network Administrator a jingle for the ins and outs of your particular network setup.

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