Reducing Memory Usage To Render A Memory Hungry Scene
By Neil Blevins
Created On: May 19th 2006
Updated On: June 3rd 2014

Go here to read this tutorial in Russian.

Here are a few tips to help you render a really large scene, or to render a really large bitmap of your scene in 3dstudio max. It's quite common to work on a scene for quite some time, doing 640x480 test renders, and then reaching a point where you want to render the scene at 2048 pixels or higher. You hit render, and bam, you get the out of memory error, and max crashes. Here's a few things to try:

Your Computer:

1) Reboot: Before doing a new render, reboot your system, to purge all those extra processes that accumulate in ram as you use your computer.

2) Close all other applications: Seems obvious, but it's surprising how much RAM other small applications can take up. For example, iTunes seems to gobble up about 0.1 of a Gig of RAM, even though common sense seems to suggest it wouldn't take up too much memory.

3) Upgrade to 64bit max: Starting with max9, max now comes in two flavors, 32bit and 64bit. To use the 64bit version of max, you'll need a 64bit compliant computer and a 64bit OS like winXP64 or Windows Vista 64. This version of max can use way more ram than a conventional 32bit system. So you can add 4 Gigs, 8 Gigs, pretty much however much RAM you need for your scene, rather than the standard 2 Gigs that 32bit systems generally max out at. One note, many plugins compiled for 32bit max have not been compiled for 64bit max yet, although this will change as time progresses, so before making the switch, make sure all the plugins you need have 64bit versions as well.

Rendering Options:

4) Turn off the vfb: The "Virtual Frame Buffer" (vfb) which is now called the "Rendered Frame Window" takes up a lot of memory. So for the privilege of seeing a preview of your render, you're giving up potentially 200 to 300 meg of RAM, especially if you're rendering a 2k or 3k image. Go to the renderer options and uncheck the Rendered Frame Window Checkbox. If using a 3rd party renderer like Brazil, make sure you turn off it's frame buffer as well. Then set the renderer to save the result as a file in the Render Output section. This will save you tons of RAM.

5) Do a netrender: Even for still frames, even if you only have one computer, using backburner or a different netrenderer can save tons of RAM, because it doesn't need to fully load max to render your scene. So I usually set up my home computer as both the manager and the server, I go into max, I set off a netrender, making sure I have the "Initially Suspended" checkbox checked, then close max, then go into the Monitor and initialize the job (if you forget to submit the job uninitialized, your computer will try and load 2 copies of the scene, one in the netrender, and the copy of the scene that's already open in max, and that's a very bad thing). Check the manual for more info on using backburner, or whatever network renderer you choose.

6) Command Line Rendering: You can also use command line rendering to render your file. Just look up Command Line Rendering in the help file.

7) Turn On Conserve Memory: If rendering in Scanline renderer, go to the Render dialog, Renderer, Memory Management, and check "Conserve Memory" The help file is kinda vague about this feature, but it claims "When on, rendering uses less memory at a slight cost of memory time. Memory saved is in the range of 15 to 25 percent. The time cost is about four percent."

8) Bitmap Pager: Go to Customize, Preferences, Rendering, Bitmap Pager, turn it on, and play with the settings. It can drastically reduce the amount of memory necessary for scenes with large bitmaps, or for rendering very large images. The settings can sometimes seem like black magic (and I think they are), but here's some basic information I've found after doing a bunch of tests and speaking to some knowledgeable people. Lets say you have a scene with 100 bitmaps in it. The bitmaps all vary in resolution and disk size, say between 100k and 11,000k on your disk. Now lets say your goal is to use the least amount of memory possible (although note that the less memory you use, the slower the render will go).    

Also of note, it seems that changing your settings requires a restart. So if you change your settings, you then need to save your file, and restart max to have those settings take effect.

9) Smaller Buckets: If using a bucket based renderer such as Brazil, Vray or Mentalray, try reducing the bucket size. A smaller bucket size will mean less stuff needs to be in memory to render that bucket. This should render slightly slower, but can reduce the memory requirements, especially if you're using high sample rates.

10) Strips Setup Dialog: This feature lets you render your image in chunks, and is useful for rendering very large bitmaps. First, do a netrender, and when the Network Job Assignment dialog comes up, check Options -> Split Scan Lines, then click Define to set it up. Do a search for "Strips Setup Dialog" in the help file for more information on how this feature works.

Scene Objects:

11) Reduce Poly Count: Now might also be a good time to ask yourself if you've optimized your polycount. I know you had tons of fun modeling every tiny detail on that car, but do you ever actually see that bolt you modeled in the shot? Do you really need a 30 sided cylinder for that object in the far distance that's 2 pixels tall? Take a moment to go through your scene and see if you can be a bit more economical, you'd be surprised what you may find.

12) Reduce Object Count: In general, the more objects in your scene, the more memory is taken up as well. See if some objects can be combined into a single object using the Attach function.


13) Turn off bitmaps displayed in the viewport: This doesn't reduce memory for a netrender, but if you want to do an interactive render inside max, it's quite possible that a bunch of your memory is being eaten up displaying maps in your scene in the viewport (I was surprised the other day when I found out about half a GIG of RAM was being used up displaying a bunch of large maps in the viewport). Just go to the Views Menu and click on the "Deactivate All Maps" option. Note: In max 2008, this feature has been changed, now go to Views, Show Materials In Viewports As, Standard Display.

14) Reduce Bitmap Size: In the same spirit as #12, do you really need a 4k map for an object that's 10 pixels tall on the screen? Always keep your original highres map backed up, you never know when you may need it, but instead of reading in the full 4k map in max, try making a 1k of 512 pixel version of the same map, see if you notice a difference. You'll certainly notice a difference in memory usage.

15) Remove Unneeded Mapping Coordinates: UVs take up RAM, so if you have a 10,000 poly object with 3 or 4 UV sets (i.e., you've applied a number of UVWMapping or UVWUnwrap modifiers set to a number of map channels), but the material assigned to the object doesn't require UVs, you're wasting a lot of memory. Use the Remove UVs Utility to kill those unused mapping coordinates and save memory.

16) Change Bitmap Filtering Type: On the bitmaps in your scene you have choices on filtering type. "None" takes up the least memory but the bitmap is likely to look really aliased, the default of "Pyramidal" requires the program to allocate memory equal to approx 133% of the size of the bitmap. And "Summed Area" requires the program to allocate approx 400% of the size of the bitmap. Summed Area does look better in many cases (especially if your bitmap is on a flat plane parallel to the camera direction), but reserve it only for special situations, since it eats up so much memory.

17) Tiled Mipmaps: If using a renderer like Vray, you can convert your bitmaps to tiled mipmaps, which are then read into the Vray bitmap loader (called VrayHDRI). These will render smaller less memory intensive maps for stuff that's smaller on the screen, and will put only part of a bitmap in memory if only a small portion of the bitmap is on the screen. Can save a lot of memory.

Hopefully some of these tips will help you render those hard to render scenes.

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