Let’s begin with a fact — did you know some of the frames in the black hole scene in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (2014) took 100 hours to render? Because of its intense graphics, the scene took a long time to look realistic enough before an audience.
So is this what rendering is in video editing? Hours upon hours of waiting for a computer to process data until the final video is presentable? Well, yes and no. Rendering is a somewhat confusing concept that often gets interchanged with other processes.
But here, we clarify when, how, and where rendering takes place in the magical work of video editing, as well as the other processes it gets lumped in with.
What Does Rendering Mean in Video Editing?
Rendering can mean various things, depending on the context in which you’re using the term. In digital art, it could mean turning 3D data into 2D images artists and editors employ in either an animated movie or a video game. In website development, it means displaying graphics in real-time — they don’t exist on your screen until you visit the site.
But in the context of video editing, rendering is the process of merging media files into a single file. These media files could be audio, images, raw footage, and even visual effects.
So instead of converting 3D data into 2D images or processing graphics in front of a user, rendering in video editing makes seamless the interwoven media elements in an editor’s timeline, ready to be previewed without lag or disjointedness.
However, we should distinguish the term rendering from exporting, as they tend to be interchanged and because video editing applications are particular about how they use the word. In Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro, as with any video editing software, the purpose of rendering is for a video editor to play a preview of the timeline they put together.
On the other hand, converting this timeline — or the assortment of media files — into video format is exporting. Online resource TechTerms makes a helpful analogy, likening exporting to the command “Save As”.
Essentially, what rendering does is provide a seamless playback or preview of the entire video project before exporting. Exporting turns the assemblage into a video file.
Common Rendering Terms in Video Editing & Animation
Over the years, rendering has undergone several changes, mainly in terms of hardware. Below is a short catalog of rendering terms that will give you a glimpse into the world of video editing and animation.
The term “render times” refers to different things in video production and animation. In video production, rendering means the length of time it would take for a video or an animated piece to be previewed. In animation, it generally refers to the time it would take to convert 3D information into a series of 2D images. Some of the factors that would affect render times include the length of the piece, its pixels, and the hardware.
A render farm is a system of computers programmed to render graphics and moving images simultaneously. Having a render farm is common practice among big productions like movies heavy in computer-generated imagery (CGI). This cuts down the amount of time it would take to render a piece of graphically demanding work.
GPU and CPU
In a video, content creator Ben G Kaiser says that the CPU and GPU work hand-in-hand to render a video. The GPU offloads some of the processing work the CPU needs to do, which will help the CPU continue performing the tasks that don’t involve a lot of media files, like rendering. The quality and RAM of both GPU and CPU may affect render times.
Resolution and assets
These factors will increase your render time, too. The higher the resolution needed for your video, the longer the render time will be. Likewise, having multiple assets, such as effects and text, will also slow down render times.
A video’s frame rate refers to the number of frames it shows every second, hence the unit FPS or frames per second. Videos, live or animated, are made up of still images woven together to give an illusion of movement. The more frames a video shows in a second, the more fluid its movement. It’s important to determine your video’s frame rate before rendering and exporting so you don’t spend an unnecessary amount of time re-rendering and re-exporting your final output.
Rendering 3D Art & Animation: Is It the Same as That in Video Editing?
Rendering 3D art and animation and rendering videos are not all that different. When rendering 3D art, the software transforms the three-dimensional elements of a scene into a 2D image with the intended lighting, texture, and appearance of depth.
In 3D animation, it’s practically the same as rendering in the video editing sense. Once the artist has attached the rigs to characters and has transformed minuscule movements into a series of images or frames, animation can then take place. These images can be used in a video game, a movie, or other types of video content.
So you can see how animation and video editing have similar rendering processes. In both cases, rendering is the act of stitching together elements, images, or frames into a coherent piece. Exporting these assets is what turns them into usable files.
But the two greatly differ in the time required to fulfill this process. For an hour-long video, render time could total between an hour and eight hours, depending on the video’s complexity and the hardware being used.
But for a CGI-heavy movie like Shrek, render time could take 5,000,000 hours, which was actually the case for the Pixar movie. That’s equivalent to roughly 571 years. And without a rendering farm, we probably wouldn’t have seen the endearing green ogre on the big screen.
What makes rendering 3D animation so slow is the rendering of frames or images from a 3D scene to a 2D image, according to Pixar.
That said, you’re probably wondering whether the same applies to videos with mainly raw footage as its building blocks. We answer this in the next section.
Is It Necessary to Render Your Video After Editing?
If exporting is what turns media files into a single video file, is rendering even needed after editing a video? Surprisingly, no. While rendering is a commonly used term in video editing, several video editing applications, such as Premiere Pro, don’t require it before exporting.
So why do video editors still render their work? We asked our video editors whether they think rendering is a vital step in the video editing process, and of course, their opinions varied.
One editor said it’s important for him to render their work first as they’re able to better check the flow of the video. Another editor does it differently, exporting their output at a low resolution first for reviewing purposes.
Every editor has a unique way of approaching their work in the same way an artist approaches their canvas differently. Ultimately, every style arrives at the same conclusion — to produce work that’s as good as magic.
What is rendering in video editing? Often, when people talk about rendering, they’re actually talking about turning media files into one usable video file, which is essentially exporting. The two get mistaken for each other a lot, and that’s generally okay.
However, if you really want to get technical about it, rendering in video editing simply benefits playback; whereas, exporting refers to the actual conversion of the media files into one you can watch.
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