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Mac 3D Toolkit: Pixar’s Tractor

An introduction to Pixar’s Tractor 1.0


As we head into SIGGRAPH 2011 coverage in the coming month we thought it would be useful to introduce some new or new-ish software tools that many in the 3D community may not yet know about–especially those (perhaps?) on the Mac side of the equation.

Pixar is famous for its movies and its RenderMan software. Those in the know, have known for quite some time now that Pixar’s RenderMan is back on the Mac in a big way but the company continues to develop software (most of it for exclusive internal use) and some of it is for distribution.

Pixar Tractor

One such piece of software is Pixar’s Tractor. Tractor 1.0 is Pixar’s totally new, next-generation, distributed processing rendering solution. In other words, it is a network-intensive application for distributing software rendering tasks.

What makes Tractor special is that it is specifically engineered for extreme scalability and performance, ideal for multi-core networks with upwards of tens of thousands of processors–perhaps a hundred thousand processors or more.

Tractor is designed to replace Pixar’s Alfred and Alfserver, which are network rendering tools which are still in production. Both will be phased out over a term ending in June of 2012.

Tractor Parts

Tractor 1.0 has three parts. The Tractor-Engine maintains the central job queue and dispatch of tasks. Tractor-Blade is a Python based execution server running on each remote node. Finally, Tractor-Dashboard is a customizable web browser user interface providing centralized control of the Tractor-Engine.

Tractor 1.0 is based on a streamlined architecture designed for rapid deployment. The licensing model is simplified compared to Pixar’s Alfred products. Performance-wise it can deliver over 500 tasks per second to the queuing engine.

Tractor Details

Tractor is extendable to non-rendering applications, such as compositing or physics simulations. A single license of Tractor 1.0 comes with each single license (or seat) of RenderMan Studio. No licenses come with RenderMan Pro Server. With this initial release Tractor 1.0 is intended to appeal to mid-sized to large installations of RenderMan.

Both RenderMan Studio and RenderMan for Autodesk Maya have full support for Tractor 1.0. Tractor is of course a multi-threaded application coded in C++ and responds to HTTP transaction requests and maintains a database of spooled jobs as a shallow (flat) hiearchy of files on desk.

Tractor 1.0 today is planned for dispatching RenderMan Pro Server tasks, but because of its extensibility will support plugins in the future for integration with other CG applications.

System Compatibility

Pixar remains very committed to Apple’s UNIX-based Mac OS X platform and as such Tractor 1.0 today supports just 32-bit Linux and 64-bit Mac OS X. The Tractor-Blade and Dashboard are compatible with Mac, Linux and Windows in various flavors.

The Tractor-Engine will support Windows in the next major release. Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6 are supported today.

To learn more about Pixar’s Tractor 1.0 go here.

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