Business In Archviz

By Simon Oudiette

The invincible freelancer setup

As you may know, I like optimization. 
I spent a good deal of time writing scripts, organizing references, streamlining process so that all the menial tasks are down to a few minutes per projects, thus maximizing the time I can dedicate to more creative stuff (or sleeping). 
One aspect that is worth optimizing for too, is your actual setup : your workstation(s). 
This topic becomes even more critical if you're a freelancer, because the only person you can really rely on, is yourself. 
I already had a decently organized setup, but earlier this year I went for a few months to São Paulo and still needed to operate my business from over there, which lead me to dig back into setup optimization. 
In this article I want to cover a bit this topic in order to give some guidelines to starting artists that might be a bit lost, and also to just generate some interests to artists that might think this is a superfluous topic. 

What do you need as a freelancer

Freelancing has a lot of upsides, and some downsides. I would say the typical downsides are getting smaller and smaller. But there is one aspect of freelancing that will never go away : everything is up to you, and you only. 
Considering archviz is entirely done through the use of your workstation(s) (maybe in a few years we'll be able to do that from a smartphone and a VR headset, but not yet), this means that accessing a powerful enough workstation to work is your first and foremost priority for your business to be able to operate. 
No computer = no way to work on the deliverables = no business
So what does a freelancer actually need, constantly? 
  • Their workstation(s)
  • An internet connection
  • A direct access to their assets library and projects files
I think this is the bare minimum one would need to operate efficiently. 
With no workstation, well. There is nothing. 
With no internet connection, you can't send stuff to client, can't download any thing, and also might have issues with some licenses that need constant internet connection.
With no access to your assets library and project files, well you have nothing to work on and work with. 
Now this can seem like a no brainer, I'm currently typing on a keyboard on my computer, everything is working nicely, what can really happen that could cause any trouble leading me to not be able to deliver the projects I'm currently working on? 
Well, many things can happen...

What can happen and what are typical solutions? 

  • No internet
    • Consequence
      • We're used to having constant and reliable internet. Thing is, it can happen that it just randomly stops working. Can be an issue on the side of your ISP, can be some workers on the street that randomly cut all your internet cables by mistake
    • Solution
      • Can work locally and use 4G temporarily from your phone
      • Rely on satellite internet if you're eligible
  • No electricity
    • Consequence
      • Again, electricity is a no brainer nowadays. It's cool. But you feel particularly stupid when suddenly your building (or flat, or office space) is out of power. And you then discover how much you rely on electricity for everything in your life
    • Solution
      • Move your computer to a place where there is electricity. This can range from easily doable (if for some reason you have enough power in a laptop), to completely non doable (if you have a huge workstation, and potentially some slave workstations you usually render on)
      • Need to access another back-up computer remotely by going to another location where there is electricty and internet
      • Have a backup generator (paradoxically easily manageable if you're not in a big city)
  • No nothing (you got robbed)
    • Consequence
      • You have nothing. Your computer is gone, even the photo of your favourite pet, proudly standing on your desk, is gone. Bummer. 
    • Solution
      • Need to access another backup, off-site, computer remotely
      • Buy a new computer and have a back-up ready to install to get up to speed
  • Computer system disk failed
    • Consequence 
      • Sometimes 3ds max is not even the reason your day is turning to crap. Windows can do a great job at it too. 
      • If your main system drive is corrupted and fail to boot, you can basically say bye bye to using your workstation.
    • Solution
      • Need a quick backup cloned disk to boot from. Just need to swap them
      • Have an image ready and you just need to buy a new hard drive
  • Computer secondary disk failed
    • Consequence
      • Generally you will have all your assets, or even projects files, on a secondary disk that is not your main system disk. If you don't, well, that's bad management and you're more prone to disruption in your work. 
    • Solutions
      • Need a quick backup drive to sync files on from your cloud service (if you have one). You can use any average dump drive you have available. 
  • Computer other component failed and can't be fixed
    • Consequence
      • Sometimes you can have another component failing randomly, although it is pretty rare I have to admit. Can be some RAM kit failing, can be your graphic card dying, and if you're really unlucky it can be your whole mobo just giving up on you. 
    • Solution
      • Need access to another backup computer remotely
      • Change the faulty parts
As one can see, there are a lot of moving pieces in operating something as simple as a freelancing gig in archviz, and many of those pieces are potential failure points in operating the business. Failure points that you really can't afford to not address, except if you're keen on having conversations with your clients on why you couldn't deliver on time.

My setup

In order to give a basic, yet practical, solution, here is my current setup, how it works and how it addresses the different points of failures. Bear in mind this setup was far from what I started with and has been built over time so that the upfront cost has been greatly minimized (few people can put 15k in starting a business on day one). 
Workstations
  • Main workstation (custom built)
    • location : where I work
    • purpose
      • main workstation I use on a daily basis 
      • local renderings 
    • configuration :
      • 32-core Threadripper CPU
      • 3090 RTX graphic card
      • 256Go of RAM 
      • 1to SSD system drive
      • 8To SSD asset drive synced on the cloud
      • 10To HDD dump drive 
  • Second workstation (custom built)
    • location : where I work
    • purpose :
      • render slave
      • can use as a back up computer if main workstation suddenly fails for whatever reason
    • configuration :
      • 16-core Ryzen CPU
      • 2070 RTX graphic card
      • 128Go of RAM
      • 1To SSD system drive
      • 10To HDD asset drive mirrored synced on the cloud
  • Third workstation (custom built)
    • location : another office location in the city
    • purpose :
      • remote render slave
      • can use as a back up computer if main and secondary workstation suddenly fails for whatever reason
    • configuration :
      • 16-core Ryzen CPU
      • 2070 RTX graphic card
      • 128Go of RAM
      • 1To SSD system drive
      • 10To HDD asset drive mirrored synced on the cloud
  • MiniPC (Minisforum UM590)
    • location : where I work, and take it with me when I travel for extended periods of time
    • purpose :
      • access remotely one of the three workstations
      • turn on and off remote workstations through WOL 
      • do some simple editing and business management locally
    • configuration :
      • 8-core 5900HX Ryzen CPU
      • 32Go of RAM
      • 1To SSD system and asset drive synced on the cloud
  • Laptop (Macbook Air)
    • location : where I work, and take it when I'm not at work and need to work, or when I travel for short periodes of time
    • purpose :
      • access remotely one of the three workstations
      • do some simple editing and business management locally
    • configuration
      • 8-core M1 CPU
      • 16Go of RAM
      • 512Go SSD synced on the cloud
Images & backups
  • All the custom built workstations have either an available image of their system drive that can readily be copied onto a new drive, or an actual ready-to-use system drive that can be swapped with. 
  • All workstations are working with files that are continuously synced on the cloud 
  • All workstations are backing up their asset drives on the dump drives on a regular basis
Folder access
  • 99% of the data I work with are synced on the cloud with Dropbox. While I would love to create my own cloud, for now it seems like a lot of work to get the same amount of features and security. 
  • Every file has a history available that enables to restore older versions in the click of a button which has proven very helpful in many occurences over the past few years. 
  • As stated earlier, everything is backed up locally on a regular basis as well on mirrored HDD's so that the asset library and projects are available at all time. 
Cloud rendering & license
  • Cloud rendering is an important part of failproofing your workflow. I personally use Chaos Cloud as it's directly integrated within the Chaos environment, and is pretty affordable. I also sometimes rely on Helio which is directly integrated into Scene Manager.
  • When it comes to license, having floating license helps in moving from one computer to another, as I never actively need two licenses at the same time. Additional workstations do have render slave license so that I can render remotely if necessary though. But I tend to just send them to the cloud to be honest. 

Practical setup and automation

  • Regular backup
    • As mentioned earlier, there are regular maintenance done automatically on all the computers consisting of at least turning itself on every other day or week to have Dropbox syncing the newest files locally making sure that they are up to speed should I need to use them. Also every month there will be a whole backup from one main drive to the dump drive. 
  • Remote access
    • The whole point of all this setup was to be able to work remotely efficiently. Having different failsafes mean even when I'm away I always have at least one computer I can access in order to work. 
    • The access itself is done through a mix of smart plugs to turn on the computer and/or WoL parameters, then Google Remote Desktop to log in, then Parsec to actually use the computer lag-free. This will be done either from the mini-PC or my laptop. 

Isn't all this overkill?

After reading all this you might be thinking "isn't all this a bit too much?". Well, yes and no. 
Yes it might feel like a little bit of a headache to think about all this. Again, remember that all this is a setup that has been developing over several years. The one thing though that I had in place on the very first day was that everything was backed up on Dropbox. 
The overall idea is basically to repurpose optimally the different upgrades of your workstation you'll do over the years. 
Is this overkill? No. I very rarely rely on using one of the secondary workstations I have, though I often do some remote access. But even if it's just helpful for one contract per year, this justifies the whole setup. Because failling to deliver one contract with one client, is basically killing the trust they have in you, and killing the potential for them to refer you to other future clients. So spending some hours organizing and optimizing all this is definitely worthe the peace of mind it brings both to you and your client (if they ever ask about your setup)

So, that's pretty much it for the topic. Anything technical can quickly become a rabbithole, so I'm trying to stay a bit shallow in this article, just to raise the awareness on why this matters if you're working alone, give some simple solutions and setups and things to think about. By no means should you copy all this. It works for me and seems pretty sensible to me, but there are probably many other ways to organize yourself. Only thing I would focus on as a rule, is to be able to access the three pillars : a powerful enough workstation, an internet connection, your asset library and projects files. At all time. From everywhere.
Hope you found it useful :)

Cheers

Simon

Want to learn more about what matters in the field of archviz? Check out my full course From The Ground Up
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About this article

When working alone you can’t leave the smooth functioning of your practice to chance. In this article I cover the main pillars that need to be addressed if you want to be a reliable partner for your clients.

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About the author

Simon Oudiette

Founder at Horoma

placeSofia, BG