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New Dimensions

The 20-second opening sequence at the beginning of Lionsgate films, which shows turning gears and doors opening to reveal the studio’s logo against a backdrop of clouds, was “rendered” through his company. That rendering – the final step in the process of creating a computer-generated image – required 50,000 processor hours and used all of the company’s 60 computers at the time for a period of more than a month, recalled Ruben Perez, founder and CEO of Render Rocket. “That was the first project that proved that our service was a viable business, not just some idea that was doomed to fail,” said Perez, who launched the company out of a friend’s second bedroom six years ago. Render Rocket now owns 120 servers- nearly 1,000 processors- and has provided rendering services for some 600 clients around the globe including TV producers, visual effects companies, film title producers, advertising agencies, as well as animation, video games, product design and photography studios. On the walls of Render Rocket’s small panoramic office overlooking the Sherman Oaks Galleria, are posters that tell the story of projects that have come through their machines: the logo and titles for the trailer of Spider Man 3; a sequence of flying planets in Superman Returns and the opening titles of Ant Bully, to name a few. “Render Rocket is the reliable default company to go to when we’re in a crunch,” said Brian Thombs, visual effects supervisor at Picture Mill, a small studio that created the opening titles for Ant Bully. “Here at our facility we have about 20 machines but sometimes we need more power,” said Thombs, who explained that rendering is an expensive, computationally intensive, time consuming process. It can sometimes take up to one hour to render a single frame in a sequence, and there are 24 frames in every second of footage. “We may have a project that will take 70 hours to render but we need to have it ready in 12, so that’s when Render Rocket comes in.” Render Rocket allows producers, computer animators, architects and the like to access 3D rendering services on demand through the Internet, said Perez. Users upload image files and remotely tap in to the company’s cluster of computers or “render farm” stored at a climate-controlled facility in Hawthorne. Smaller studios The service allows smaller studios such as Picture Mill, to be able to produce content that only the large studios had the capacity to produce before. “In a way this allows us to do similar work to what the big studios do without having to have thousands of computers,” said Thombs. “It allows us to keep our overhead and our computer equipment costs lower and leaner knowing that we can tap into a service like Render Rocket for added capacity when we need it.” Essentially, a guy with a laptop working from a coffee shop, can now have the same amount of computing power as a large studio by using Render Rocket, said Perez. The business is somewhat akin to owning a laundromat, a business Perez initially thought of purchasing, he said. Consisting of a cluster of machines, instead of laundry, users process their digital files and pay for it by the hour. “When I first heard about this service in the dot-com boom era, it seemed like a really good idea,” said the 39-year-old Perez, who along with a friend, took out second mortgages on their homes to finance the company at a time when their careers seemed everything but certain. Perez, who graduated from UCLA in 1993 with a degree in classical civilizations, had tried his luck in the entertainment industry working as a production assistant for several films and television shows before he got tired of working for other people. With a knack for computer programming which he self-taught, he launched Digital Genesis, a website design business that was later bought by a company that went public and subsequently collapsed during the dot com crash. Then he started adventure racing. Perez participated in the Eco-Challenge: Borneo, a reality TV show that premiered in 2001, in which teams raced non-stop, 24-hours a day, over a rugged 300-mile course, using jungle trekking, whitewater kayaking, caving, sea kayaking, scuba diving, mountaineering and mountain biking skills. Upon his return, Perez helped manage his father’s floor covering business and also worked for Kaiser Permanente as an outsourced software developer, before launching Render Rocket with a friend who was a computer animator. “That’s when we got this idea for our digital laundromat,” Perez jokes, referring to the combination of their interests in computers and technology and the desire to create an automated self-service business. Up until now, the deceptively small, four-person operation has been inching forward propelled largely through word of mouth, and an online presence that makes it look a lot larger than it is. “It always surprises people, our website makes it look like we’re this huge international media company, and that’s one thing we did right,” Perez said. “Even when we were working out of that second bedroom, our website made a huge difference in helping us attract larger customers even with them never coming to our office.” Doubling revenues Render Rocket has been doubling revenues consistently every year since it launched, with the exception of 2009. The company is projecting $1 million in revenue for 2010. In today’s’ world of better technology, faster connections and with cloud computing becoming more mainstream as businesses become more comfortable sending their secure files over the web, Render Rocket is preparing for a potential boom. “We’re still an early stage company but we’re nearing a period of potentially really high growth,” Perez said. “We have a big opportunity and if we don’t take it we’re probably going to lose it in the next couple of years as larger companies [seeing the potential] start jumping into the mix.” To help capture market share in what they believe will be a burgeoning field, the company recently added John Morales to the executive team. Morales, a former air force pilot, was working as project manager at an engineering firm, overseeing a $20 million project, before reuniting with his old high school friend at Render Rocket. “I came onboard to help build this company into something really big, to make this thing explode,” said Morales, who has spent the last few months studying market opportunities that have been missed in the past. Before he joined Render Rocket, the company had not put forth any substantial marketing efforts, which is something he intends to correct. “We need to strike when the iron is hot, now is the time to grow,” Morales said. Render Rocket FOUNDER: Ruben Perez Location: Sherman Oaks CORE OF BUSINESS: 3D rendering services NUmber of Employees: 4 Revenues in 2008: $450,000 Revenues in 2009: $400,000 Projected Revenues 2010: $1 Million

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