[Article was updated on 23.3.2020]
Are you frustrated with slow After Effects rendering times? I was and that is why I created this post.
To help you to speed up your content production and to show you what are the options out there, that will boost your After Effects rendering times.
If you are a video content creator, who likes to apply blockbuster like cinematic effects into your video shots After Effects is the best tool for this job.
But unlike industry-standard video editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro or DaVinci Resolve, After Effects requires a lot more computing power.
Why is rendering in after effects so slow?
So why is After Effects so much slower? One could argue, that it’s due to Adobe’s incompetence.
How else can you explain, that in the age of cheap mainstream 16 core, 32 multithread processors, Adobe decides to ignore all technology advancements and stick with single-core CPU computation?
No multicore processing
Yes, you heard me right. I would think, that using multiple cores or CPU threads is a no brainer nowadays.
However to give Adobe a credit, After Effects actually allowed using multi-core processing at one time in the past. But then they changed their mind and completely removed this feature.
The official reason is that using multiple cores messed up with the rendering process. And as a result, caused render to crash.
I don’t know about you, but I would be pissed, if my render, that already took 78 hours, crashed. All the time, energy and rendered footage wasted.
Imagine having a deadline, that is getting closer and closer. And you just pray that you didn’t make any mistake in your composition. And your render won’t crash because of it.
So it makes a total sense from Adobe’s perspective to make the choice for you and to protect you from their faulty feature.
Rendering frame by frame
Still, it doesn’t answer the question of why After Effects cannot utilize multiple cores properly.
If we dig deeper into how rendering video effects work, we realize, that using parallel processing is actually very hard.
In essence, behind every video effect is a simple math formula, that computes something. Like for example a position of a light particle depending on the dynamic variables in the scene like the sun.
Or imagine you have a scene with Superman flying in the sky and you want to add some effects, that would display how fast he is flying, like a white trail.
The white trail would have to be rendered frame by frame depending on the actual position of the Superman. After Effects has no way to know the current position of the object beforehand.
And if it does, the pre-rendering process of calculating preliminary variables would take the same time, if not more.
No GPU optimisation
There is a general knowledge, that After Effects relies on CPU and RAM instead of GPU for rendering.
In the past, they supported OpenGL standard and some certified graphic cards with Ray Tracing technology. But then they removed it due to unknown reasons.
GPUs are great for parallel simple float calculations and require the software to be optimized to use it to its full capacity. But as I explained above, neither calculation is simple nor software is optimized.
So what can we do about it to speed up our rendering process?
Buy a new rendering rig
The first and most obvious method is to buy a new computer built with rendering in mind.
If you have a lot of cash to burn, buy a new Mac Pro. I would say every wannabe video producing professional will get an iMac Pro or Mac Pro just for the show, regardless of its hefty price tag.
Although it doesn’t change the fact, that iMac Pro or Mac Pro are the beast and will be the fastest option available if your production flow uses the Mac OS ecosystem.
The cheaper, more cost-efficient option would be to go with a PC build and get a Ryzen processor with as many cores as possible.
Additionally include at least 32 GB to 64 GB of RAM to fully take advantage of the CPU. And lastly, throw in multiple fast SSD hard drives with the NVME interface. One for caching and other for rendering.
Speed up rendering by opening 2 and more after effects projects
The second and more complex method is to open multiple After Effects instances.
This works quite well if you have a multithread CPU and you want to maximize CPU utilization.
Each instance will use one CPU-thread. And so if you have for example an 8 core – 16 CPU-thread Ryzen, it is safe to say, that you can open N – 1 instance. In this case 15 After Effects simultaneously rendering at the same time.
There is some limitation though.
RAM capacity limitation
The first would be RAM capacity. Adobe’s minimum requirement is to have a 16 GM RAM.
Now imagine running 15 After Effects instances, each requiring at least 16 GB RAM. In total, you would need a PC with 240 GB RAM to render at full speed.
The second limitation would be a read-write speed of an SSD hard drive. SSD disks in 2019 are fast. They can write at 500 MB per second.
Now, one full HD frame can take up to 10 MB. A reasonably fast CPU like Ryzen 1600 can render 8 frames per second. That equals to 80 MB per second.
With 15 After Effects instances opened though, 1200 MB are rendered per second. So a standard SSD read-write speed will become a bottleneck.
On top of that, we are not taking into account having a disk cache on the same hard drive as our source footage and the output folder.
Unless you split each render into different SSD disks.
Render queues management complexity
Third is the complexity of the whole setup. Splitting render into two instances is complicated enough. Managing 15 renders manually is, on the whole, another level.
You have to split your project into multiple separated compositions. Open each composition in different After Effects instance. Setup render parameters and render the output into different folders.
Then the only way to put all renders back together is to use rendering into JPEG or PNG sequence. So your data is not lost in case After Effects crashes, which happens surprisingly often.
The overhead of joining image sequence together and remuxing it into Youtube ready format is not something to be underestimated.
The process can take from 2 to 10 hours depending on the length of the video and the CPU speed.
But what wouldn’t you do to catch the deadline, right?
How to open multiple after effect projects
Without further ado, here is the step by step process to open another After Effects instance in Windows.
So first you need to create a new After Effects shortcut. Simply go to the folder where After Effects is installed and find an AfterFx.exe file. Then right-click on the file and choose "create new shortcut" from the context menu. In the shortcut properties window edit target field by adding "-m" after the AfterFx.exe path. Then click OK to save the shortcut.
Now whenever you open After Effect with this new shortcut, a new instance is opened.
Then it is about setting up render queue so each instance renders different parts of the composition.
The process is very complicated, however, this method won’t cost you anything except your time and any tech-savvy individual can do it.
But don’t worry, I will show you a better method later in the post, that will help manage multiple renders for you.
My Experience With Having 5 After Effects Opened [23.03.2020 Update]
Right now, I settled with rendering having 4 or 5 After Effects instances opened. Enough to feed my 16-thread Ryzen 2700X, 64 GB RAM rendering rig.
Generally, it is recommended to have at least 8 GB of RAM per thread. This method, unfortunately, don’t utilize all thread available. It was a major let down for me.
One thread is consumed by originally opened After Effect Instance. But any additional instances, that are opened with this method, will share the same thread. At least this is my assumption.
When I look at the task manager, then I see 25% CPU utilization and maxed out RAM capacity. One thread display 100% utilization, while the rest hovers around 5-25%.
You might wonder how does this translate into rendering times. Well, In my experience a moderately difficult composition with a length of 95 minutes will take about 17 hours of rendering time considering having 5 instanced opened.
Not fast, but not terrible for a free method.
Sometimes one of the instances froze and I had to shut it down in task manager. I have not figure out yet what was the cause. So watch closely if render queues have any sign of activity.
Optimal settings and workflow for fast after effects render
Since we exhausted the most direct ways to render faster with After Effect, now is the time to explore more esoteric ways to make rendering as fast as possible before you even start to render.
Below are some known tricks, that may have an impact on rendering speed in theory.
The real question is. Is it worth the time it takes to prepare your project for the optimal rendering?
The benefits are questionable and not as straightforward as buying a new processor or using brute force methods to speed up the render, but I have to include them as well so you have the complete picture.
Render by using image sequences
The first time I rendered a one hour long video, that took more than 50 hours to render. I made a mistake to render it into mp4 format.
Sometime after the 40-hour mark, my render suddenly crashed. I lost whatever has been already rendered and I had to re-render everything from scratch again. 40 hours gone in a matter of seconds.
Due to this reason, professionals don’t render to movie format directly, but into image sequence instead. This way, when After Effect crashes, render queue will start to render again from the last image in the sequence it finds.
And will continue forward knowing where it stands and what has been already rendered.
The only downside is the time spent on joining images back into mp4 and syncing with an audio track.
From my experience with slow Intel core i3 processors, it adds up to 5 hours into my video production workflow.
Most of it is, fortunately, a machine time spent by encoding and joining image files. So luckily it does not involve any manual work from my side.
Simplify your composition
The next few tips are the most helpful, but the hardest to achieve. And it is to optimize your video composition.
First, delete any unused elements, compositions or effects from the scene.
Compress and minify composition elements
Then, if you can, lower the resolution of the final render and the source files. For example, scale down and compress any video from 4k to Full HD if your final output is in Full HD anyway.
And then you can further reduce computing time by optimizing every composition itself. So for example when I am using an image as a background, I will compress it first to reduce its size.
When every source file is optimized to the max, pre-render each sub composition if you can. But sometimes every part is dependent on each other so it is not always applicable. It really depends on your use case.
Also, I heard, that Motion blurs and high samples will slow down your comp, so turn it off as well.
Use Media Encoder instead of After Effects
Adobe Media Encoder is a separate app, that has one purpose and one purpose only. And it is to render your project into the format of your choice.
And legend says it is much faster than to render in After Effects directly. I never used Media Encoder, so I leave it to you to try.
Keep source footage on the local hard drive
Avoid working on files, that are laying somewhere on your WIFI or LAN network. Just copy all the files to the local SSD drive on your computer for the best performance.
Keep cache in a separate SSD disk
A separate fast SSD disk or a disk array to assign the disk cache folder is the best way to remove SSD disk as the bottleneck. Because After Effect not only write rendered result but also read and write into the cache folder simultaneously.
Transcode your source footage
The next tip is to convert your source footage into something more compressed.
My gut says it is because of the size of the RAW video files, which cause the caching to put more burden on RAM and SSD disk.
So when you convert the source footage to H264 MP4 format, then it takes less time to read and write during caching.
Render in After Effects without preview frames
This tip sounds logical, but I didn’t see any difference in practice.
You know, during rendering, After Effects shows you each rendered frame. And by all means, this step is totally unnecessary.
So to turn it off, have a caps lock key turned on. Which is totally inconvenient, because then you are unable to work on your machine, but whatever.
After Effect then won’t display the actual rendered frame and in theory, rendering should be faster by using all available computation power to render, instead of producing a composition preview.
Don’t use After Effects for editing
After Effects is usually used to create short clips. So when you try to render longer composition, something is wrong.
You either try to use After Effect as an editing software or you try to create a long visualization video.
If it’s the first case then try to break down your video into smaller chunks and work on it separately. I know it sounds like a huge hassle, but it will save you precious time. After all, it depends on your deadline.
If it is the second case, then there is not much you can do, except for using brute force to render faster.
Quick after effects rendering with render farms
The last but not least method to ultimately speed up After Effects render is to use render farms.
I discovered this method when all other tips failed. I didn’t have a budget to buy a new computer. Neither simplifying composition or applying magic settings helped me to reduce render time from tens of hours to something more reasonable.
Then I looked over the internet and found two software, that can deploy multiple After Effects renders at the same time.
They use some kind of interface provided by Adobe, that allows you to launch After Effect render script.
Both solutions are paid, unfortunately, but it is worth the price for the time and energy saved on each render.
Review of Render Garden
Render Garden was the only solution I tried myself. Because it had a free trial.
The setup is cumbersome and complex, but luckily they have video tutorials and you cannot fail if you follow them closely.
It is basically a bunch of python scripts that manage render queues for you with a basic user interface for managing render settings.
First, you have to install python yourselves.
The basic assumption is that you will render to an image sequence and each render will take care of different parts of the composition. This way, you can render in parallel using multiple Aerenders.
The biggest benefit I see is scalability. One computer with a Render garden installed can manage multiple other computers in the network.
And because it runs on Python, it is platform agnostic. It works on Windows and it will work on Mac as well.
Having a 4 thread Intel Core i3 processor, I configured Render Garden to use three threads, which reduced my render of a 1.5 long video from let’s say 100 hours to 30 hours.
It was that fast. Now imagine having multiple 8 core processors to play with.
Another positive fact is that you don’t have to have Adobe Cloud subscription to use Aerender. No strings attached.
After my trial ended, I never opted to buy a license though. Mainly because of the complexity and the obsolescence of my processor.
The price starts at 99USD for the lifetime license and it is definitely the cheapest option with the greatest benefit for the buck.
You buy once. Install it on the main machine and manage renders on an unlimited number of other slave machines. No hassle with multi-tiered pricing.
Just beware it is not suited for non-tech-savvy users.
I have to mention this as a con repeatedly because it oftentimes happened, that render failed without any warning.
Then I was lost. Not knowing what was going on and how to fix it. Since render is divided into multiple folders and batches, it was a nightmare to identify the source of the problem.
Another con is a non-existent user interface. The only indication of what’s going on are the logs printed into a command line. Those familiar with Python will know what I am talking about.
All in all, it somehow works after a fairly difficult setup. And if you can fix and manage the whole configuration by yourselves, then it is a viable option.
Preview of the Render Boss
Second, render farm software is called Render boss. I discovered this piece much later after googling for the Render garden alternatives.
Render Boss seems like a much more polished, user-friendly and in an overall more professional product. With a nice user interface and easy to understand configuration.
The biggest plus is in pricing variability. You can either pay monthly subscription starting from 5 USD a month. Or pay a one-time fee of 149 USD.
Monthly subscription scales up with a number of machines in the network. For example, rendering on two machines will cost you 10 USD a month.
I am actually thinking about buying Render Boss after I upgrade my desktop to newer hardware. In the meantime, I have to deal with slow single-core rendering.
The differences between Render Boss and Render Garden are practically in the pricing policy and the user-friendliness.
If I am a tech-savvy guy, who can operate with the command line and who wants the best value for my buck. Render Garden will win, period. It is not limited by any number of machines at all.
On the other hand, if I don’t want my hands to get dirty with configuration and cumbersome operation, I would choose Render Boss.
Stopping and resuming render is a matter of a single click in the interface. With render garden, you would have to use CTR-C shortcut to stop all python scripts.
Lastly, the biggest disadvantage of the Render Boss besides license limitations is the platform lock-in. It won’t work on Mac OS, which can be a deal-breaker for many of you.
Failed Render Boss Free Trial Review [23.03.2020 Update]
So as I built ma render rig, I immediately installed Render Boss free trial version. It was very convenient since free trial last two weeks and I just have a footage ready to be rendered. Plenty of time to consider if Render Boss was worth my money.
Installation was very easy as there are plenty of video resources on their homepage. I also didn’t have to fiddle with After Effects since the plugins installed itself automatically by the installer.
Everything went smoothly at first. I fired up Render Boss GUI and loaded my After Effects comp. Then I set the maximum CPU throttling, sit back and waited. I hoped Render Boss would utilize my 16 thread CPU to the max, but the thread counter stopped at 6.
According to the task manager, render eat up all my 64 GB of RAM. I guess rendering is all about memory access and less about CPU computing.
Then I decided to test the limits and overrode CPU cap and manually set thread counter to 14. And nothing happened. The estimate time to completion actually got worse by 2 hours.
Nevertheless, 12 hours of render time was still far better than having to wait two weeks with my old Core I3 and one render queue. I was happy and was ready to buy a license.
But then something unexpected happened. I had to stop render because I didn’t want to keep desktop on overnight. And when I tried to resume render the next morning, Render Boss refused to activate render threads.
I looked into logs and it said Aerender failed to run or something. I tried to reinstall the whole thing, clean up files and so on, but nothing really helped. Every time it failed on the same error. I lost probably three days troubleshooting.
In the end, I am glad the error appeared during the trial and I didn’t lose money by buying a faulty software. Maybe you will have a bit of better luck, but definitely try the trial first and contact the seller about refund possibilities.
So I hope, I helped you with those few tips and tricks on how to render faster with After Effect.
Let me know in the comment section below what helped you the most and see you in the next post.