Saturday, 19 August 2017

Blender Cycles: 12 Ways to Reduce Render Time

Recently my challenge was to produce 2000 x 3 frames for the production of three holograms. At 50 minutes per frame, 6000 frames would have taken a frightful 208.333333 days to render out on one already relatively speedy laptop. On the slowest mechanised computating potato in the household (5+ year old Macbook Pro), it would have taken several hours. But the real issue was not the complexity of the scene, but the way in which I had initially constructed the scene, and the necessary render settings.

After several weeks of editing (and frantically googling "HOW TO REDUCE RENDER TIME"), here is a compilation of ways that I used to reduce my render time (CPU) for a single frame from a horrible 50 minutes to 1-2 minutes. Its not an exhaustive list, but I thought it would be useful to WRITE IT ALL DOWN NOW in case the Future Debbie completely forgets everything after the hard slog of trial and error of the last few weeks..

1. Duplicate Linked Object Instances the right way




This may seem pretty obvious but I think it needs to be on the top of every list. The right shortcut to duplicate an instance of an object is ALT-D not SHIFT-D. SHIFT-D produces a completely new object with no reference back to the data of the original object. A linked object shares the same object data, so any edits you make to the first object will make all the other linked objects change as well. When you're in a hurry it is easy to accidentally type Shift-D instead of Alt-D, but this has the potential to make a serious impact on render time.

2. Link Object Data




Let's say you completely can't recall if you used Shift-D or Alt-D to duplicate your objects. If you go to Mesh you'll be able to see how many linked objects are currently using the same data. If your mesh is unique and unlinked, first select what is going to be the master, then all the other objects you want to have using its data, and press Ctrl-L whilst the mouse is over the 3D view. You'll get the "Make Links" dropdown menu and you should select Object Data to link the objects. Other links for materials, groups, etc can also be made using this shortcut.



Note that if for some reason you do accidentally select different objects which aren't at all similar, note that all the latter objects will be changed to have the object data of the master object anyway...



In general, I personally found it useful to assign my materials really crazy colours in the viewport so that I could see at a glance which objects were the same and which were not.

3. Clamp Direct and Indirect




Usually you end up turning up the samples for a scene because there are too many 'fireflies' and noise, but clamping values can quickly remove these stray white dots which appear on the render. Clamping sets the very lightest (brightest) samples to a maximum value so it removes those stray white fireflies, but in the process, it will reduce the bright "pop" or light sheen that you might have wanted to achieve with certain glossy materials.

If you set Clamp too low, it will also cause the ENTIRE scene to be too dark/dimly lit, especially if you are using HDR for Environmental Lighting, so don't set the Clamp too low. The general advice is to start from a high number like about 10 and then work your way down to see what works for your scene. I was able to set Clamp Direct to about 4 and Clamp Indirect to about 6 and still achieve acceptable results. As for the overall "dimming" effect the Clamp will have on the scene, you can simply increase scene brightness through the compositor with a Color Balance node, or you can simply do it in post.

4. Subdivision surface




Subdivision surface is a modifier commonly used to create a smooth surface mesh from a blocky linear polygon mesh. It is done by splitting up the faces of the mesh into even smaller faces in a way that gives it a smooth appearance.

It is worth checking if you have stupidly set a subdivision surface of VERY MANY iterations for something incredibly trivial, tiny but also incidentally heavily duplicated in the scene...

5. Decimate






Did you subdivide your terrain into unwisely tiny bits and then handsculpt it with a 5px clay brush?? If there is complex modelling or you've applied Subdivision Surface to a mesh and are now regretting it, you can undo your CPU-killing subdiv-happy ways by decimating the meshes that you don't need smoothing on! Add the Decimate modifier to reduce number of faces.

6. Simplify




Let's say you're just rendering a preview for yourself and its not the final render. You can quickly set the global max Subdivision Surface and Child Particle number here under Scene > Simplify. Just remember to uncheck the Simplify box when you're producing the final render.

7. Delete unnecessary terrain




Set up Blender so that you can see several angles of your scene at the same time, along with the timeline if you need to scrub through it quickly. Go into Edit mode (Wireframe) and highlight the excess terrain that never appears in Camera view for the entire timeline using either B (to draw a box) or C (to paint it with a circular brush). Make sure you're viewing in the Wireframe mode though, because if you're viewing in Solid you'll only be able to select the vertices that you can see, rather than all the vertices in that area regardless of whether you can see them or not.

The most handy shortcuts in 3D view are the 0 and 7 button:
0 is Camera View
7 is Top view
5 to toggle between Perspective view and Orthographic view



The resultant landscape will look a bit weird like this but you'll save time not rendering all the bits. But do keep the bits which you'll need for the light bouncing off to produce a realistic scene.

8. CPU/GPU Compute and Tile Size




If you have a Nvidia graphics card, you'll still need to enable it in Blender's User Preferences in order to use GPU, which can drastically cut down your render time. When GPU works, its like magic. GPU can be dramatically faster than CPU but is also limited by the total amount of VRAM on the card - so once it hits that limit the rendering process will simply fail (memory error). Also I had to dramatically rein in my expectations - I have always insisted on using desktop replacement laptops rather than a desktop for portability (especially for my kind of work) - but one has to consider that laptop GPUs generally aren't as powerful as the ones in desktop GPUs in terms of VRAM, No. of CUDA cores, and overall speed.



It is generally said that the tile size should either be a perfect squares or factors (ie: divisible fraction) of the final resolution (having smaller bits of tiles left over is wasteful) but I think a lot more testing would be required to determine for the type of scene and type of CPU/GPU. Generally, if you reduce tile size too small, it incurs more overheads of switching between tiles. You should experiment with the numbers and see what works for you...

What worked for my scenes (Intel Core i7-7700HQ @ 2.80GHz / Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB GDDR5):
For CPU an ideal Tile size seems to be around 16x16 or 32x32
For GPU an ideal Tile size seems to be 312x312

9. Number of AA Samples / Progressive Refine


The number of AA (Anti Aliasing) samples will increase render time exponentially, and this was largely why my first renders were taking 50 MINUTES PER FRAME even on the best laptop in the entire household! How many samples are enough samples? How do you find out how many samples are good enough for you, visually?

Under Performance, there's an option for Progressive Refine which will progressively show you the overall image at each sampling level. It can be slower to have to complete the entire image together but you can also stop it when you think the image is good enough. Its useful to eyeball it until you find out what number of samples you are happy with, then just use that number and uncheck progressive refine so it will be faster.

10. Resolution, Output File Location, and Output Quality




When you "double" the size of the image, you're actually making it four times as large and your image will take 4 times the CPU/GPU to compute! When making a preview and not the final render, you can set resolution to 50%. But don't forget to uncheck it when you are doing the final render!!! (ARGH!!!)



Make sure that you have set the correct Output file location. If you are opening the blend file for the first time on a new computer, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE RESET THIS. Blender does this thing where it doesn't tell you the output folder/drive doesn't exist - it will happily render but only tell you at the end of the process that it had no place to save the file.

Below that there's also the compression/quality setting for it. For a preview you can set it lower but remember to set it back to 100% for the final render.

11. Selective Render / Animated Render Border




Whilst in Camera view (Shortcut Num-0) within 3D view, if you use the shortcut CTRL-B, you can demarcate the "Selective Render" border (which appears as a red dotted line) in camera view. To release this Selective Render Border, its CTRL-ALT-B.

Ray Mairlot's extremely useful Animated Render Border allows you to selective render an object moving through a scene, or to even create an animated border that can be keyframed.

When using this add-on, the final output is a frame that will still be the size of the entire render resolution, but only the selective render area will have an image and the rest will be alpha transparent.

12. Use a Render Farm


Ok so after I shaved scores of minutes off the render time to 2 minutes per full resolution frame, I realised that 2 minutes x 6000 = 8.33333333 days - and that was 8.33333333 days that I certainly did not have! There are limits to what a great laptop with a good graphics card can do. When the computer is rendering - you can't really use anything else that taxes the graphic card or processor when its rendering, so it basically disables the computer for the duration of the render.

So.. there was no other way around this - I had to use and pay for a render farm. I tried out Render Street, TurboRender and Foxrenderfarm as they were the farms which came up when you search for Blender Render Farms.

The basic process for all of them is:



- Pack external data into blend file (tick the option to automatically pack)
- Upload a zipped copy of the blend file
- Choose your render settings
- Pay the render farm some money (for slower render) or LOTS OF MONEY (for faster render)
- Monitor render progress and render quality through web interface
- Magically download completed rendered files in record time

[Do however note that the Animated Render Border add-on mentioned above in this list will not work with the render farms, but you can write to most of these render farms regarding desired plugins and they will let you know if the add-ons and plugins can or cannot be installed]

A more comprehensive review of render farms coming up in the next post...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Render Farms: Which Blender render farm is the fastest and most intuitive?

There comes a time when you can no longer delude yourself over the notion that your trusty personal computer will be able to render your frames for you within this lifetime. You can't wait half a year to finish rendering your Blender Showreel. You can't wait 8 days to finish a render that you need tomorrow. And you've also got no time, money or space to build your own render farm. So you'll just have to pack up your work, hand over the files to a render farm, and fork out all that cash...

...AND THEN GET READY TO BE AMAZED AT HOW IT WILL CHANGE YOUR VIEW OF 3D WORK WHEN YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU CAN RENDER ANYTHING INSTANTLY!!!

MORE TIME BLENDING, LESS LAGGING!! Yes, there's a likelihood that your wallet might be crying after this, but your time and CPU-time savings will probably be worth every penny that you pay the render farm. It means less of "rendering for 8 hours overnight and only then discovering you have some BIG FAT PINK MISSING TEXTURE in the middle of your render and realising you'll have to wait for ANOTHER 8 HOURS as your computer turns into an overheated whirring pumpkin again"! It means you can be more experimental in your 3D modelling work since you know you can just generate a test preview cheaply and quickly. It means that you can have all of the frames for your animation rendered out without you feeling tempted to be stingy on the number of frames, quality, or resolution.

Here are some notes of my attempts to find a decent render farm - and to get up and running with that render farm in the shortest amount of time possible. I think that the factor of "BEING ABLE TO RENDER IN SHORTEST AMOUNT OF TIME WITHOUT GETTING LOST IN A WEBSITE" is pretty important. And having NEVER used a render farm before until this point, I signed up to RenderStreet, TurboRender, and Foxrenderfarm simultaneously and sought to find out which would reveal itself to be (1) the most intuitive to use and (2) the quickest to deliver the renders.



RenderStreet




RenderStreet is a Bucharest-based render farm with a deceptively simple interface that doesn't look slick but... IT WORKS. They focus on just Blender and Modo unike the other render farms which also cater to 3DSMax and a whole range of other archivis as well as video rendering. RenderStreet's services come in two modes: On Demand which is charged at $3/CPU Hr, and One which is a flat $50/mth for CPU only rendering (which is actually extremely reasonable). The Render.st One plan is clearly very good for everyday jobs which are not rushed but they have a limit on the total render time for a frame - which is 1 hour (take note that they won't reject your job until the actual render time runs to 1 hr, so once you see that your render exceeds an hour it is best to cancel it and save yourself the weight). I was flabbergasted at the speeds provided with the On Demand version but the costs can quickly stack up. I also liked how they render frames from an animation sequentially so if you stop, you can easily just pick things up again from that specific frame. I also really LOVE their video preview feature which allows you to preview and download your rendered frames in MP4 video format which I find very useful in checking animation output.

Debbie's review: Would definitely use again for professional work if I had the budget.
Impressively fast renders, generates automatic video previews, also has an affordable "everyday plan" option.


TurboRender




TurboRender is a Russian render farm with a clean and logical interface, with very prominently located live chat which is useful for when you have to ask them stupid questions like "is Frame Pitch the same as Frame Step" (answer: yes it is). I really liked that there were humans replying to me (as first time user) over every question I had on the process. Their price point seems lower than Render.st's On Demand, and their speed is decent but not blindingly fast (obviously in this cpu/gpu game the speed is money). They're probably a good intermediate render farm to go to for everyday jobs that aren't rushed, as their rates are very affordable. They divide your frames into blocks and task different servers with different 100 frame blocks. The issue with this is that unlike Render.st you won't be able to preview your rendered frames sequentially along the way, as the different servers take different amounts of time to finish their individual blocks of 100 frames. But when the job is done they will email you and you can download it all. However in terms of feedback their website has the best. You can see a panel with the progress of your files on every server, and I think it was a good part of their design to include the live chat agent with a real human on every single page. It can be a little hard to stop or edit a process once it has been started though - and you might have to use the chat agent to ask someone to help you, but their staff are very responsive (instant response).

Debbie's review: Would definitely use again for personal work as it seems incredibly affordable.
Great and reassuring live feedback on progress of job, and very responsive staff on live chat.


FoxRenderFarm




FoxRenderFarm is a Chinese Shenzhen-based render farm with a plain interface that is a little more tricky than the previous two render farms (Confusingly, some error messages may be in Chinese). I did a small test render with them but didn't continue after a while because I was won over by Render.st. However its clear that in a pinch they would also do the job, but their interface is significantly less intuitive than Render.st and TurboRender. You'll also need to chat with the service agents to understand if you're doing it right or wrong. Someone from FoxRenderFarm also did drop me an email a day later to ask me if I needed help in resuming the job.

Debbie's review: Requires more than just intuition to figure out how to use the site unlike the prior two.
Would need to speak to helpdesk to get started.




See also:
Blender Cycles: 12 Ways to Reduce Render Time

Friday, 21 July 2017

Foods of the Baltic: Kvass/Gira, Pelmeni, Cepelinai (Zeppelin), Pelēkie zirņi ar speķi (Grey Peas with Speck), and Beaver Stew

A quick compendium of notable foods consumed on a brief working trip to Lithuania and Latvia. Alright, let's be practical, chances are that the 5 people who still read this blog will probably never ever go to Lithuania or Latvia but yet I will say - IF YOU EVER DO, then these following foods are very much recommended.

1. KVASS / GIRA

Fermented Black Ryebread Cocktail

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Gira/Kvass from Forto Dvaras (Kaunas Old Town, Lithuania)

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Gira/Kvass from Zalias Ratas (Kaunas, Lithuania)

You may be wondering why would you drink this fermented non-alcoholic drink when you could drink a fermented alcoholic drink (BEER?) but the simple answer is that: it is super delicious. Like liquid bread candy. Like summery caramel raisin juice. As strangely and inexplicably addictive as Club Mate.

I had become really excited to try the Kvass after watching Life of Boris aka KVASSMAN demonstrate how to make it and all I can say is that... its indeed probably the best drink you can get in Lithuania and Latvia.



In the case of Latvia, if you are travelling in Riga... IT IS EVEN WORTH GOING TO RIGA AIRPORT 2 HOURS EARLY TO LEISURELY DRINK MORE KVASS AT THE LIDO. (There are Lidos all over Riga but having reached the airport means you can actually sit back in the Lido (the "Wetherspoons" of Latvia) and relax with your Kvass.

2. PELMENI

Tiny Slavic Ravioli

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XL Pelmeni in the morning

"What food is still available at this hour?" I asked a waitress at 11pm in Riga. She said, "well at this house there is only the McDonalds, Kebabs, or.... Pelmeni?" - with the Pelmeni being the only true 'local' option. So at almost midnight in Riga, I found myself at XL PELMENI, a curious buffet style fast food dumpling house with tacky plastic cave wall features, easy wipe-clean tables bolted to the floor, and an interesting mix of clientele. From families with young children, to young men wolfing down huge mountains of cheese dumplings, middle aged couples eating dumplings along with a bottle of wine, and old men nursing their beers alone in the corner with a tiny dill covered salad. Its young staff loitered around bored and uneasy, wearing generic hats and aprons.

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I was very confused as nothing was in English, but it appears that you simply pick up a series of tiny bowls on plastic trays and fill up your bowls with what looks like tiny white geometric tchotchkes, filled with rather delicious mystery meats (there were labels, but I couldn't read them).

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The Pelmeni is basically a very tiny ravoli made with a thin skin of white unleavened dough, very similar to the wonton or jiaozi or gyoza or mandu or pierogi or varenyky depending on where you're from. Garnish with white creamy substance (sour cream? kefir? yoghurt? mayonez??? help what is going on?) and let the dill rain from heaven. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of the pelmeni but you can see some of them in the top of this menu... that's what it looks like inside the pot!

3. ZEPPELIN / CEPELINAI

Lithuanian Potato Meat Blimp Sailing straight into your Mouth

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Named after the zeppelin airships, this is actually nothing like its floating namesake, and more like a dense bullet of pure plastinated potato. Sometimes served with a side of magic fat gravy. They mash the potato, then boil it into this ultra dense format with a thick layer of potato covering a delicious meat filling.

On a side note, in some strange ways it is reminiscent of the format of the traditional Hokchew (Foochow Chinese) ball if you replaced fish and flour with POTATO.

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If they give you an option to have a half portion, restrain yourself and order the half portion because they are basically SOLID POTATO BLIMPS and the average human adult can only realstically consume one of these zeppelins at a time. (For your reference a "debbieportion" is actually 1/2 OF AVERAGE LITHUANIAN ZEPPELIN)

4. GREY PEAS WITH SPECK / PELĒKIE ZIRŅI AR SPEĶI

Most Latvian Food according to random young Latvian boy at Lido

"What is your most Latvian food???" I asked the young server at the Lido.
He pointed to a mountain of peas. "Peas are very Latvian."
So here is an unfeasibly huge plate of Grey Peas that I ate at a Lido in Riga Old Town.

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They're not very grey actually.



BONUS: "Food from the Nobleman's Table"


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Menu at Zalias Ratas (Kaunas, Lithuania)

Often in the menus you will see the mention of "food from the peasant's table" vs "food from the nobleman's table"
All the potato-based foods I have listed above are typically classed as 'peasant food', although today there's hardly any real distinction between the two. For the most part, eating out (and eating well) in Lithuania seems exceedingly affordable.

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Menu at Restaurant Lokys (Vilnius, Lithuania)

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In Vilnius, I decided to go to one of these "Nobleman's Restaurant" to try Beaver Stew. Apparently beaver was historically quite commonly eaten by noblemen who went hunting; more than a hundred thousand beavers live in the Lithuanian forest and Lithuania and Latvia are probably the two countries in the world with the biggest numbers of Eurasian Beavers. (FYI: Beavers are actually completely vegetarian and their big teeth are only used to eat twigs and bark)

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Lokys means "bear" so there are huge wooden bears everywhere in Restaurant Lokys. In case one cannot travel all the way to Lithuania to eat Lithuanian Beaver Stew but still wishes to cook a Beaver (assuming one has already caught a beaver???) here is a recipe for Beaver that I found in the Kaunas Town Hall:

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Gero apetito / Labu apetīti!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

A Visit to Geola: General Optics Laboratory - Pulsed Laser Holography

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When I was in Canberra as artist-in-residence with the Australian War Memorial I managed to see some really amazing holograms (with many thanks to the Australian War Memorial for arranging this and National Gallery of Australia for allowing me to see their collections!). Thus I began hatching a crazy plan to make some holograms, which led me to travel to Vilnius to visit Geola ("General Optics Laboratory"), a company which has been producing analogue holography as well as developing a really interesting technique of digital holography using pulsed lasers. Geola's pioneering holography techniques had also been mentioned by a number of Australian fine art holographers such as Paula Dawson.

(It is always worth noting that for a moment in time, the hologram had really seemed poised to be the successor to the photograph, with many fine art holography programmes developed in universities around the world including in Australia and UK between the 1970s and 1990s - even the RCA used to have a holography department)

Untitled Untitled Untitled

Margaret Benyon's Totem (1979)
National Gallery of Australia - Accession No: NGA 2009.46
Materials & Technique: photographs, reflection hologram, ink, gouache, feather on paper
Dimensions: printed image 25.4 h x 20.3 w cm / Produced in Australia
Notice how the hologram actually remains a secret if the work is not lit or viewed from the right direction.

Untitled

Hologram made by Andrea Wise to test conservation techniques for holographic plates
Canberra, April 2017

I think what interested me most was how Geola had interpreted the method of digital holography into holopixels. One of the senior conservators at the National Gallery of Australia, Andrea Wise (who also had a passion for understanding how holography worked), told me of a useful way of thinking about holograms: if you break a corner off a hologram, that corner itself will already contain the data of the entire image. The concept of the holopixel then makes this fragment-whole relationship evidently clear: each holopixel is a separate element but each of the holopixels contains ALL of the image data at the same time - they are optical elements that when properly illuminated and viewed from different angles, will be perceived as a specific colour dot. When we view all the colour dots as a whole, it becomes interpreted by the eye and brain as an image that changes when viewed from different angles. (Viewing it with two eyes completes the illusion of our perception of the image as a three-dimensional scene).

Although the underlying physics is well-known and widely understood by scientists and students of science alike, the hologram somehow remains largely misunderstood by the average layman. Since the hologram exists as a physical photographic plate, it is sometimes confused as an extension of photography, although a hologram is not at all like a photograph because a photograph is an image but the hologram is a lens. Furthermore, today the word “hologram” is very loosely used to describe so many optical illusions (eg: pepper’s ghost, rear projection, volumetric projection, lenticular prints, virtual reality) to the point that most people may may not know what a hologram really is. When I tried to talk about my plans for the project to other friends, quite often a friend might say "Oh! Holograms! I've seen/made some before!" only for us to discover later on that what they thought was a hologram was not actually a hologram...

Even American electrical engineering professor Emmeth Leith, the co-inventor of three-dimensional holography, described his holograms as a “grin without a cheshire cat”. Over the years, three-dimensionality and then imagery was successively compromised, largely leaving only movement and colour behind. Technical limitations in holographic image production as well as certain cultural and commercial conditions have led to the overall flattening of the holographic image on both physical and symbolic level, resulting in total collapse of the holographic image to the image plane – to the point that today we mainly see the hologram in flattened embossed forms, in small particles...



Google Image Search: "Holographic"

As hologram retailers struggled to build a consumer market they began aligning themselves with science museums and technology centres to try to capture national audiences on a mass consumption level. Ultimately this distanced the hologram further and further away from being a medium for narrative. Despite having a premature demise in a commercial sense, the hologram still entered cultural consciousness as a medium designed for future mass consumption, in its general disappearance from the public eye it transformed into a staple of science fiction films and the imagination. But it is not just in people's imagination that the hologram has been changing. Holographic techniques have also been continuously developing! You might be surprised to know that today you can produce holograms from moving images, and that they can be in full colour today!

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On an unexpectedly normal and ordinary street on the other side of the world, sits the rather nondescript office of the lab called Geola.

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It used to be that analogue holography had to be on in labs which were completely free of vibrations - so the labs would involve huge concrete tables and had to be far away from civilisation and all the vibrations from cars and noises. But Geola has devised a pulsed laser system which has no such vibration problems! (Cars are running on the roads outside! You can walk in the room with the printer inside it!)

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This was a room that had to be seen in person.

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Despite its similarity to a photo plate, a hologram is nothing at all like a photo, and there's also no way for me to adequately represent it in photo alone.

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This is the printer. The holopixels in this digital holograph are recorded onto photosensitive media using two pulsed laser beams - one is spatially modulated by using LCD display and focused into a 1.6mm x 1.6mm square acts as the object beam, another laser beam acts as the reference beam. The modulation is done such that the object beam at the point of interference with the reference beam contains the same information that would have come to this point from a real object (except that here we might be using film footage or 3D rendered scenes as the source). The reference beam interferes with the modulated object beam, recording the hologram of the image on the photosensitive media.

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After exposure the holographic photoplate is processed using a conventional photographic process.

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After chemical processing the photoplate is dried and then the holographic photoemulsion is protected by lamination of black self-adhesive film and acrylic sheet using a standard cold lamination machine.

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Real 3D Scene shot from a drone

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Virtual 3D Scene (as evidenced by designer who forgot to connect trees to ground)

See the video documentation here:



Thank you to Ramunas for showing me around Geola!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Kaunas: Ninth Fort Museum

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Due to the recent closure of Vilnius Airport for the reconstruction of its runway, I was forced to travel to Vilnius via Kaunas, and I also decided to make it a little more interesting by returning to London via Riga. And since I was already going to travel so far, I decided to make a plan to see the museums in each place.

Kaunas: Ninth Fort Museum
Vilnius: A Visit to Geola
Vilnius: Museum of Genocide Victims in former KGB Building
Riga: Museum of the Occupation of Latvia
& an obligatory food tour of the Baltics!

So how does one get to the Ninth Fort? From Kaunas Old Town, you can take bus 23, which runs along "K. Donelaičio g." which is one of the major streets in the old town. A single ride on the bus costs 80 euro cents which you pay to the driver directly, and it takes around 20 minutes to get to the stop "9-ojo forto muziejus". (Bus 23 also takes you back to Kaunas Old Town - just make sure that you're on the 23 bound for "Domeikava" when going to the Ninth Fort and the 23 bound for "Rokai" when you're returning to "Kaunas centras").

A small note on how to read road names in Lithuania: A lot of the roads are named after historically prominent Lithuanians - cultural luminaries, poets, writers, pioneers of industry, revolutionary thinkers, etc. However they all have very long names, so they shorten the first name to just the initial (very wisely, for brevity's sake). For example, Kristijonas Donelaitis lends his name to K. Donelaičio g. - and the g stands for gatvė (street).

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From the bus stop you walk through the suburban neighbourhood and take a small dirt path that leads to an underpass that brings you to the front doors of the museum.

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For 3 euros (adult) or 1.50 euros (student) you get a ticket to see all of the Ninth Fort museum and also walk into the fort itself. The building of the museum is also a monument, with stained glass memorials and sculptures built into the building.

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The museum does not shy away from showing very graphic images of death. I was not sure if I should reproduce this images here on my own blog here, but I think that we can't afford to shy away from the truth of the brutality that was senselessly inflicted by humans upon other humans - the images of Soviet atrocities and the Nazi genocide are in this exposition to remind us of why we cannot tolerate racism or fascism within society - we must not forget that it has been used to justify such horrific crimes against humanity.

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I noticed a word that was frequently used in the exhibition text - "exposed".

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Another example here - "exposured".

It initially seemed an unusual choice of word. I know it must be because an exhibition is so commonly translated to "exposition" in Lithuania, but when I'm looking at the photos, I think about the exposure as it relates to photography and the exposed photo plate that captures the image, allowing it to be preserved and reproduced; I also think of the action of "exposing" a utterly hideous crime against humanity that the Nazis tried to cover up in this very site.

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On the other end of the museum, there's a section telling the story of Romas Kalanta, a high school student who publicly committed suicide by setting himself on fire in protest of the Soviet regime in Lithuania (in 1972), triggering the largest post-war riots in the 1970s and becoming a symbol of Lithuanian anti-russification resistance.

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He left a note which said "Dėl mano mirties kaltinkite tik santvarką" (Blame only the regime for my death).

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Remains of Romas Kalanta's clothes from the self-immolation site

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When you get to the end of the exposition, the eagle-eyed staff will come over and open the door for you. "PLEASE TO CONTINUE TO FORT!" said the lady and I was abruptly turfed out of the building and into the open grass (and funny enough, I heard her noisily locking the door behind me).

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In the distance, the massive monument stands next to the fort itself.

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Erected in 1984, the monument is 105 feet (32 m) high. The mass burial place of the victims of the massacres carried out in the fort is a grass field, marked by a simple yet frankly worded memorial written in several languages. It reads, "This is the place where Nazis and their assistants killed more than 30,000 Jews from Lithuania and other European countries

The memorial was erected in memory of victims of Nazi massacres. From 1941 until 1944 more than 50,000 people of different nations (amongst them more than 30,000 Jewish poles, lithuanians, and germans), inhabitants of Kaunas, prisoners of the Kaunas Ghetto and 20,000 other Lithuanian people and foreigners were killed at this spot. The Nazis also tried to evade responsibility by covering up the true number of murders by forcing Jewish prisoners (imprisoned at the Ninth Fort) to excavate and burn the corpses. This unreal 32-metre tall memorial was designed by sculptor A. Ambraziunas and constructed in 1984 over the mass burial site.

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A short distance away there are many different memorial plaques arranged around the monument.

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I walked down a slope into the beautiful grassy hill that gently covered the Ninth Fort.

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Funny enough, there were these lookout bunkers embedded into the landscape - so strikingly similar to the image I was working on at the moment for my holograms.

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This is what it looks like from the inside of the bunker.

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The next building in the fort has an unimaginably gruesome history. Not only had the Nazi killed so many Jews and Soviet Prisoners-of-war, they also cruelly imprisoned some of the Jews here and forced them to excavate the bodies from the mass murders and then burn the corpses in order to cover up the extent of Nazi war crimes (the Nazis having already come to the conclusion at some point that they would lose the war and would be asked to take responsibility for all the murders). Those who refused were killed.

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On 25 December 1943, a number of prisoners escaped from the fort and the escapees were forced to go into hiding for years in extreme conditions until after the war ended - before they could finally manage to testify to the war crimes tribunal to expose the Nazi's cover-up operation.

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There's part of a room on Chiune "Sempo" Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who was at the time of the outbreak of war (in 1940) the Vice Consul for the Japanese Empire in Lithuania. Immediately after the outbreak of war several thousand Jewish refugees came to the Japanese Consulate to ask for a Japanese visa that would allow them to obtain Japanese transit visas. He sent a cable to his superiors to ask if he could do so, and although he was specifically ordered not to do so, he wrote them anyway, and singlehandedly saved 5500+ Jewish refugees from German-occupied Western Poland and Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland as well as many residents of Lithuania by issuing them visas so they could escape the Nazis by obtaining a Japanese visa. As this was a time before computers, as the consul he had to HANDWRITE every single visa!

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The threat to the Jewish refugees became so urgent that he apparently wrote nothing but visas for over 20 hours a day - and it got to the point that he even went to the station and simply threw the blank visa papers into the windows of leaving trains at Kaunas Train Station - so they could escape as soon as possible with the needed papers (even then, some did not manage to leave in time and were captured and killed by the Nazis).

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A pile of eye glasses and a pile of emptied cartridges is all that remains.

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Here is the word "exposed" again.

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How surreal that such a beautiful landscape completely conceals within itself such a traumatic history; the only visible sign left being the huge man-made concrete sculpture that erupts from the earth.