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My Ars Technica Article on Creating a Small Mixed-Platform Render Farm

I wrote an article that should appeal to a lot of my readers – it outlines how to make a render farm with relatively modest means and with an outline of how to do it with a mix of Mac, Windows and Linux platforms. Read on!

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Facer 3.2 Posted For Download

The 3.2 update to Facer is up on Creative Crash. The changelog:

  • Triangulate now works with multiple objects.
  • Delete Excess Vertices: Same as hitting delete key with vertex mode and all vertices selected.
  • Made the “3 length” normal button into 20 for viewport 2 since Maya 2015 defaults to viewport 2 and the normals are much shorter in viewport 2.
  • Now tags your last clicked button with a light purple and tags the second last clicked with a dimmer purple and the third-last with an even dimmer one so you can find recently-used button commands easier:
  • Added “Invert selection order” to scripts section. This reverses the order of your selection so that you can do things that require that first-selected objects be the source.
  • Make Shape Here script now has a planar sprite option for making planes that face the camera but that are positionally bound to geometry, for something like leaf cards.
  • Delete namespaces added to Clean-ups section. Deletes all namespaces.
  • NGon fast fix added to clean-ups. This is a workflow I use that extrudes the face and then merges all vertices of the extrusion. It’s good for stuff like poles:

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Two Simple Tips to Speed Up Work with Maya’s Node Editor

The Node Editor was one of the best things to get added to Maya in the past few years but I find that there are two things I usually do right away when using it for materials: expanding it to full mode and graphing the network, so here’s a simple tip to do both at once. Change your Node Editor Default node view mode prefs to “Full Mode” and then use this shelf command to load and graph selected objects when it opens:

NodeEditorWindow;
evalDeferred("NodeEditorGraphUpDownstream");

Then you’ll be ready to start piping stuff together without any added clicks:

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Be Careful With Those Maya FBX Exports

Yesterday I discovered a really nasty bug with Maya’s FBX export. If you export and overwrite a file but it crashes while attempting to save, it will simply zap your old file and save nothing in its place. Considering how much FBX export crashes Maya – sometimes I think it was a deal between Autodesk and fast SSD salesmen – that’s a huge problem. Most programs, including Maya’s save itself, are smart about avoiding this type of scenario and actually save a separate file and then move the other file into the place of the old one on successful write but this is an anomaly. I filed a bug report already. Hopefully it will be addressed soonish.

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Mari Me 2 – a Full-featured Python Script to Send Painted Meshes between Maya and Mari

Now that Mari 2.6 and Maya 2015 are out, I think it’s time to release Mari Me 2 that is a complete rewrite of the MEL version that is now much more powerful than that old script was. Aside from being able to send stuff from Maya to Mari, the new version has a ton of little goodies that aid working between Maya and Mari without the need to look at a single dialog box. Mari Me 2 can both send and receive objects to Mari, updating metadata-tagged materials for identification across sessions. It works great as a quick way to jump back and forth for stuff like Mari 2.6’s texture transfer feature that bakes textures between different mesh topologies or UV sets:


The transfer feature is better than it looks from those results – I was just kind of lazy about my alignment of the two different meshes in Maya. Mari Me also has a smart way to update your existing materials that is renderer agnostic. It doesn’t care what type of material is used on the mesh and will simply update it based on the channel name within Mari. If your material’s emissive channel in Maya is “blinn1.incandescence”, just name the channel “incandescence” in Mari and when you send it back to Maya, it will link up to that channel in the material:


That’s why I created a AddNewChannel-VRayMtl.txt setting preset for standard V-Ray Materials that you can paste into the channel presets section your Mari.ini file – those are pre-named to link up with the slots of a V-Ray Material and it would be very easy to make one for Arnold, RenderMan, etc that you could share on the Github page. If you send a texture to Maya from Mari without having sent anything from Maya to initiate those material metadata tags, it will just import the textures and you’ll see the file nodes in the Hypershade. Mari Me’s metadata tags don’t create any sort of plug-in dependency so nothing will break and you won’t receive any warnings if you send a scene to someone without it installed.

Automatic UDIM sending and loading
Mari Me 2 has robust support for UDIM-tiled textures:


If you are running Maya 2015 or above, that supports the UDIM file name variable, Mari Me will use that instead of importing and manually tiling all the UDIM textures. It will also recognize these 2015 UDIM names when you send tiled textures to Mari. It should also work fine with multiple meshes and a mix of tiled and non-tiled UV meshes. I tried to make it smart enough not to break with these production workflow variables but it’s possible stuff slipped through so let me know if you see anything and I’ll see if I can find some time to fix it in the near future.

Alembic support
Mari 2.6v1 got support for Alembic animated meshes and the Python import syntax is the same as importing OBJs so I added support for exporting animated meshes from Maya to Mari via Alembic:


Other stuff
As you can see in the interface, there are a bunch of other little tools and tricks in Mari Me 2:





There are no file format options so everything is sent back and forth as TIFF, since that format can accommodate all bit depths and all working files are in a projectpath/MariMe/ folder so there is no risk of clobbering your existing assets.

Released under a BSD3 license
I started the Python version of Mari Me as a “Pro” version that was going to be monetized but decided not to after getting a new job that I’ll get into later. Because I’m going to be super busy with this new gig, I’m going to have to release Mari Me as unsupported but I released it as open source under the BSD3 license for studios or individuals that want to change the code and use it for their own and they can decide whether or not they want to fork it or not on the Github page for Mari Me:

https://github.com/cgbeige/MariMe

The old MEL version is no longer on Creative Crash. Read the Read Me file because that explains the setup.

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the-mastrogoblin asked: Batchrender’s OS X Mavericks Issue; Reading your article I found really useful informations to how resolve the problem and render even with Mavericks, but I didn't understand where I have to use the code to batch render.. Please Im a student and I need to render with mental ray can you help me?

save the MEL script to any of your Maya script folders (~/Library/Preferences/Autodesk/maya/scripts being the one that is accessible to all versions) and then enter this in the MEL command line at the bottom left of the window and hit enter:

commandLinerMR;

That will initiate the batch render script. If you want to save a shelf item for it, look here: 

http://download.autodesk.com/global/docs/maya2014/en_us/index.html?url=files/PC_Add_a_tool_action_or_Maya_script_to_a_shelf.htm,topicNumber=d30e41147

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A Tip on Using Maya 2015’s Texture Deformer with Painted Masks

So Maya 2015 is out now on the subscription site and it gets a texture displacement deformer à la iDisplace, and I thought I’d show a quick workflow for using it with paint masking of deformer weights:

As you can see, it’s a great way to build procedural shapes with the friendliness of painted masking. If you’re using Maya 2014 or earlier, iDisplace is an essential (and free) plug-in that offers similar functionality, so go grab it.

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Invite for My Painting Show With Luc Paradis

Here’s the invite to my coming show with Luc Paradis, an exceptional artist and friend with whom I’ve always wanted to show.

If you’re in Montreal, swing by for the art and free booze. I’ll also be showing the interactive Oculus Rift/Unreal Editor 4 piece that I’ve been building for it.

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Nimble Tools Uninstancer Source Available on Github

If you work with particle animations, you probably know about Nimble Tools Uninstancer. It’s been around for years and unfortunately the developer stopped working in VFX but he posted the source scripts (the pre-built Python plug-in broke recently) but they have been updated and posted here:

https://github.com/redpawfx/uninstancer

It’s the best uninstancer around so look no further. Verified working in Maya 2014 and 2015 late beta.

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A Look at the Mac Version of Unreal Editor 4 

I’ve been working with the Mac version of Unreal Editor 4 for a week or so now and am really loving it. I had some experience using UDK3 found the workflow and interface less than great, and it seems they agreed with me because the changes in UE4, as far as workflow go, are almost perfect. And, even though there are a few bugs with the launch version that are being actively squished, the Mac version is no half-assed port. While gaming on the Mac will never replace gaming on the PC, Epic is clearly bullish on the future of Mac and iOS as gaming development and gaming platforms respectively.

Pretty much everything you want is there. Multithreaded light map baking, Matinee, Blueprints (the stuff that replaces Kismet), those GPU-accelerated particles with vector grid and collisions:

Performance looks worse in that video than it is due to a screencap / GPU combo.

You get that sweet shader editor:

Really nice Maya-to-Unreal material support so you can import one combined mesh into Unreal but still get all those unique shader references to edit or even replace:

Post-process volume with bokeh DOF and colour grading:

IES light profile support:

Global Illumination without tricks:

It all adds up to an impressive show considering they had to do this all for OpenGL:

The only noticeable omissions from what I can tell so far are:

- Displacement tessellation for OpenGL shaders
- Oculus Rift Mac Support (this is in Unity already so I hope this comes soon)
- The auto-UV reconstruction stuff isn’t ported yet

Edit: Unreal Me stuff removed
I took down the Unreal Me script because Unreal Engine now lets you import baked animation without bones with the following workflow:

1: Group your baked key animation objects in Maya.
2: Export to animated FBX 2013 with the group selected
3: Import the FBX with the following settings:

Make sure that Import Animation and Import Rigid Mesh is set. From then you’ll get your non-joint based animation imported correctly.

Oh, the joys of scripting for a program you’re still learning :p

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