Every business has its own specific tools and gadgets. When it comes to animation production, we depend heavily on the workstations or PCs. This is because most of the animation software need to carry multiple CPU and GPU intensive calculations to create the visuals. More and more technologies are being introduced in the animation industry (e.g VR, AR etc) that require stronger computers to handle the tasks. So, as animators, we find ourselves in the battle against time to be up-to-date and stay ahead of the advancement in the industry. If we don’t, we simply can’t even open the software as their hardware requirements are increasing with every new version released.
So, here is the thousand dollars questions, what is the best PC spec for animation production?
To answer that, we’d have to narrow down to specific types of animation. For example, 2D & 2.5D animation production require a different spec of computer as compared to 3D animation production.
PC for 2D & 2.5D Animation Production
This type of animation is generally made in a few famous software such as Adobe After Effects. You would want to focus on the following parts when building a PC for 2D / 2.5D animation (or compositing):
RAM & CPU
After Effects uses high amount of RAM and CPU to perform your tasks. So, you’d generally want to get the best RAM & CPU that money can buy for your PC if you are using Adobe After Effects. My recommendation is at least 64 Gig of fast DDR4 Ram in the range of 3600 MHz – 4000 MHz. This recommendation comes at the time of writing this article. If there are newer and faster models, go for it!
GPU (Graphic Card)
GPU is handy when playing with 3D objects inside After Effects. It is used for previewing and rendering. It also uses GPU for rendering your animation (output) which can be specifically selected in Adobe Encoder. However, After Effects is not taking the full advantage of GPU rendering just yet. I assume this will change in the upcoming releases and the rendering speed will increase significantly as compared to what it is now.
Nvidia is better supported with After Effects due to the CUDA system at the time of writing this article, so you’d want to purchase a graphic card from this brand. RTX3060 and above are recommended but be prepared to pay a premium for it due to the shortage of RTX cards around the world (hopefully it will be resolved in the near future).
Hard Drive (HDD)
As an animator, you will be dealing with lots of project files and renders. Majority of these files are large and your hard drive can get filled pretty quickly, especially if you do large scale projects.
To avoid that, you’d want to go for the largest size of HDD storage that your budget allows. An equally important thing is the speed of read and write that comes with the HDD.
First, I’d recommend choosing SSD drive. There are different types of SSDs such as SATA, PCIe, NVMe, U.2, mSATA, SATA Express. We use NVMe and SATA drives for our own computers currently.
Having a fast hard drive will save you lots of time and hassle. Your files get copied quicker onto the hard drive while rendering which will impact your rendering time positively.
Motherboard is not directly involved in your animation or compositing software but since Ram, CPU and graphic cards are mounted to it, the faster is the speed of the connectors on your motherboard, the better performance you can get from the abovementioned parts. That is why if your budget allows, go for the fast yet compatible motherboards.
3D Animation Production PC
There are a couple of software and rendering engines out there. Recently the demand for GPU-based renderers has been on the rise and for a good reason. They are fast and perform real-time renders. There are CPU-based renderers (e.g V-Ray) but they are not being used as widely anymore. Even V-Ray company Chaos Group came up with a GPU-based rendering engine lately to catch up with the competition.
Assuming that you will be using a GPU based renderer, I will suggest to focus on the following parts of your PC for a good 3D performance:
RAM & CPU
While 3D software does not heavily rely on these, RAM and CPU play an important role in loading files into your graphic card and the overall 3D software performance. To be on the safe side, you’d want to bump up your RAM as much as you can and probably get an Intel i9 CPU (or equivalent AMD). As for the RAM, a minimum of 32 Gig is recommended.
GPU (Graphic Card)
This is a very important piece of hardware for your 3D animation production. The better your graphic card is, the less crashes happen when working in 3D software and the faster your renders will be done. So, I’d suggest spending your top dollars on this one. Especially if you are using GPU render engines such as Octane, RedShift and Arnold. My favourite graphic cards in the market are RTX 3070, RTX 3080 and RTX 3090. We use RTX3090 in our studio for rendering. It is super fast as it features a staggering 24 GB of G6X memory. But lower RTX models are pretty good too and should float your boat well.
Hard Drive (HDD)
It is a very important piece for reading and writing files from your 3D software. The faster your hard drive is, the less time your PC requires to save your 3D renders. So naturally you’d want to go for a SSD drive and the fastest in the market. As mentioned in the 2D /2.5D section, there are a range of SSD drives available in the market.
PSU / Power
This part of your PC becomes important when you are using a high-end graphic card such as Nvidia RTX series. These cards are power hungry and require a very strong PSU to supply enough power for the entire PC as well as the card itself. To be safe, I’d suggest to go for 800W to 1200W depending on the graphic card model. Just to give you an idea of how much power these graphic cards consume, a RTX 3090 at its peak consumes around ~360 Watts. So, your PC will need at least a 800W PSU.
To run a good CPU and GPU, your motherboard needs to be equally fast and premium. This should be recommended by your PC specialist depending on the type of CPU and graphic card that you will be using. For example, motherboards for AMD CPUs are not compatible with Intel CPUs. Do your research on this before picking a brand or model.
Cooling & Fans
Having high speed CPU and Graphic cards come at a price (other than purchase price). They are hot and get hotter as they run longer hours. And the hotter they get, the shorter their life expectancy is. To avoid that, we want to make sure these components are always at optimum temperature and stay cool.
Water cooling is a great option for CPU.
As for the GPU, water cooling is trickier and the costs can go quite high. It also involved opening your graphic cards and installing the cooler on top of the board which voids the graphic card warranty. Something I wouldn’t do unless I have no other option. Plan ahead and make sure there are enough fans in your PC case. I’d say you will need 6 to 10 fans to have a cool environment for new RTX or Radeon cards. Another option would be to buy a hybrid RTX card. Brands like EVGA offer such products.
There are tons of products out there and making the wrong purchase can drain an animator’s budget significantly. We all want to avoid that so doing a thorough research is very much needed before any PC assembly. I hope the above information helps in your search for the right animation production workstation. I also recommend checking the latest developments and products with your PC builder. The market is changing fast, and we can’t afford to miss it!