Dave Girard's 101 Autodesk® Maya® Tips is now available in Kindle, interactive iPad edition and DRM-free EPUB/PDF editions. Work faster, cry less. Read more about the ebook.

Follow cgbeige on Twitter

Topics by tag:

Recently published articles by Dave G:

Free downloads by Dave G:

Mac OS X-only downloads:

My Article on the Demise of QuarkXPress

I got my graphics start as a print art director and, when I started, Quark was king. Read my piece about how they completely blew their monopoly. Good reading for nostalgic graphics nerds or business people alike.

2 notes | Permalink

A Guide to Optimum Minimum Memory Amounts for Graphics, 3D and Video Work

I’ve worked in a variety of computer graphics fields and RAM has always had a big effect on all of them. My first photo-retouching job had a highly exotic Mac PowerPC 8100 with 144MB of RAM – that memory cost well over $10,000 at the time. While it may sound less crazy to people who worked on old render farms, it was alarming for a desktop computer and I went home to my still-expensive 16MB of RAM machine. Thankfully, RAM no longer costs $60 a megabyte but confusion around optimal RAM configuration still abounds. You see a lot of people asking about optimal RAM configs for their design or 3D box or laptop, and the general rule of thumb is “the more, the better.” But when you get into limited budgets, limited laptop RAM slots and the need to match RAM in sets of three for triple-channel memory for Nehalem systems or sets of four for the quad-channel memory of Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge computers, things get more complicated. So here is a brief guide to the best amount from my experience as a Photoshop retoucher, print art director and 3D artist who has done his share of motion graphics, NLE work and video compositing.

Optimal base RAM for 2D artists

I art direct magazines and do all my own retouching for the mags, and work on some pretty large images for my canvas art prints and other photographers’ work. When working in a design context, I’ll have Indesign, Illustrator and Photoshop open with the usual mail/browser/iTunes running and usually safely under 8GB, unless I’m working on a very large image with a ton of layers in the now-64-bit Photoshop. With the OS X memory overhead (Mac OS X and Windows are pretty similar now in this regard), an ideal amount is about 12GB from casually monitoring my memory throughout the years. Obviously 12GB is a weird one to buy, so 16GB is the safer bet but 8GB is fine if you’re just doing web design on smaller images or print layout and logo design. 16GB is better for a lot of layered Photoshop work but, if you are stuck with an 8GB machine and have a huge 16-bit multi-layered image, just make sure your PS scratch disk is a fast one.

Optimal base RAM for 3D artists

3D work is a lot more demanding of memory than desktop publishing is, so 16GB is the bare minimum you should have for a 3D system. Modern laptops should all be able to stock this amount and, for desktops, it’s really the lowest bar to set. There are ways of conserving memory when doing rendering (render proxies, instances, etc.) but memory can vary wildly depending on your scenes. Since I render and composite 32-bit images that are upwards of 16-megapixel print-resolution, I frequently have Nuke, Photoshop and Maya open and, on my 16GB MacBook Pro, it is still very comfortable with a minimum of virtual memory paging. But I often need more than that so my desktop 3D machines always have 24GB as a base RAM amount. For a triple channel memory like the Nehalem Mac Pro, this worked out well – six sticks of 4GB. For current-gen Sandy/Ivy Bridge desktops, you need to install memory in sets of four to get optimal RAM speeds, so my optimal RAM amount jumps up to 32GB (eight sticks of 4GB or four sticks of 8GB). That’s for working machines – for my headless Linux render boxes, they have 16GB and don’t need more since my typical 3D scenes aren’t massive.

If you work on very large visualizations or animations with 50+ million polygons, jump up to something safer like 48GB or 64GB as a minimum for Sandy/Ivy Bridge hardware. But, if you’re just a student learning with some simpler Maya, Max or Cinema4D projects, 16GB of RAM will do fine. Keep in mind that these multiples of four are for Sandy/Ivy Bridge machines and they will fluctuate for newer hardware that will come out and have different configurations of memory sets, so research what is best for those newer machines.

Optimal base RAM for video artists

Video is the field I know the least about but I still know a fair bit about it since I toyed around with motion graphics before deciding it wasn’t for me. I used After Effects but I now use Nuke for my compositing for video. I’ve used Final Cut Pre-X and now use Premiere Pro CS6 for my basic NLE needs. Based on this experience, I’d say that 16GB is a bare minimum for simpler NLE work on HD footage and, if you’re compositing 32-bit multi-pass HD-res EXRs in Nuke, you might be fine with that but you probably want to go slightly higher. After Effects seems to have a render bug that gobbles and doesn’t release RAM so, whether or not you want to feed that bug is up to you.

Monitoring your RAM usage

These numbers are based on my varied experience and monitoring of my memory usage with OS X menu bar utilities like iStat Menus (shareware) or atMonitor (free). I use iStat Menus and it’s pretty handy:

There are memory monitoring tools built into all OSes and I use top or htop over ssh to monitor my Linux machine CPU usage, but I like to have CPU load, network data and memory usage immediately visible on my working machine. There are plenty of these for the Windows taskbar but I’m not the best personal to ask about those so Google around to see which is best if you’re looking for one.

Hope this info helps some people.

6 notes | Permalink

Latest 3D illustration: Family Finances concept and design by me. Only the wicker basket is stock. Click for high-res.

Latest 3D illustration: Family Finances concept and design by me. Only the wicker basket is stock. Click for high-res.

0 notes | Permalink

101 Autodesk Maya Tips - My Ebook of Maya Power Tips

It’s up! My 101 Autodesk Maya Tips ebook has been published on the Amazon Kindle store for English markets and is also available on the European stores (Germany, Italy, France). For people who don’t own a Kindle, it’s also available in a wide variety of electronic formats on Smashwords, where you can get DRM-free EPUB, PDF, HTML, Mobi and RTF versions. The ebook includes links to some free scripts, which are available here if you’re just looking for something free to download. Here’s the cover design:

You can sample the first few pages of the book on the Amazon or Smashwords purchase pages. I’m working on an iPad edition with videos, but the static edition has plenty of images and a logical flow that make it easy to follow.

Don’t call me “broad”

The included tips and techniques are meant to appeal to a variety of Maya users – from amateurs to professionals. You’re probably wondering “how can you make something that appeals to such a broad spectrum of people using such a huge application?” It wasn’t easy, but this is a well-honed list of tips and tricks that I’ve been building while working over the past year, always keeping that varied audience in mind. Over the past couple months I’ve been putting the final touches on it, making sure the tips work across OS X, Windows and Linux machines (some tips like Put your machine to sleep after a render involve OS-level commands), building the layout, having it proofread (thanks again to Eric Regener for that), and testing it on a variety of devices. The initial reviews seem to echo that I’ve done a good job of appealing to Maya users across all platforms and fields (animation, lighting, visualization, games, etc). Some of the tips are available on my blog – Force plug-ins to load at startup, Interacting with maya in headless modes, Keep displacement maps correct after scaling objects, Vary the accuracy of interactive translations, for example – but most are unique to the ebook. Also, many people wanted something they could use as a reference, so that’s why this was created.

Some examples from the ebook

If you’re wondering what kind of things are included, here are some of the tips: Get up and running with command line renders, Cloud-syncing your scripts folder with Dropbox and symlinks, Removing “unknown nodes” warnings so you can save as a different format, Opening files written from crashes without digging through folders, Fixing corrupt Maya prefs without deleting all your settings, Pause renders, Shortcut to show the material attributes for selected object, Maya 2012 SAP/Maya 2013 Node Editor tips, Using the Maya ASCII format creatively, Get rid of Maya 2011 and 2012 lags, Let the Channel Box do the math for you, and many more. For $2.99, everyone I’ve spoken to who’s read it agreed that it was a great price for all the things they learned, and some of these people have been using Maya for many years in Hollywood film VFX production.

So, what about your blog?

The blog is still going to be chock full of useful information, tips and tricks. Because the ebook is tailored to Maya users of all stripes, I don’t get into the nitty-gritty of V-Ray, ZBrush, creative workflows or compositing in external app like Photoshop or Nuke. Now that I’m finished the ebook, it will also give me more time to focus on the blog, so I’m happy about that.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy 101 Autodesk Maya Tips and appreciate your reviews on the purchase sites.

Update: the interactive iPad edition has been published (Direct link to iTunes store).

6 notes | Permalink

OS X 10.7 Lion and 3D/2D apps: What’s New, What Works and What’s Broke

So OS X 10.7 is almost out and a lot of 3D/2D people (2D people look funny) are asking me for advice on whether they should jump in right away or wait. I’ve been running the developer previews and now the golden master (GM) build for a while now and doing my work on it (yes, I’m dumb that way but I can’t turn away something shiny if it works). Many Maya users saw this post from Autodesk about the official Maya support and 10.7, which says that 10.7 is not officially supported yet, due to some problems:

  • Installing Maya on Mac OS X 10.7 may cause the installer to hang.
  • Operating Maya on Mac OS X 10.7 may cause stability issues.
  • When submitting a crash report while operating Maya on Mac OS X 10.7, may cause the crash error reporting system to hang.

The first problem is that the installer might fail to exit gracefully, even though everything is actually installed fine. I have had to force quit the installer at the end but everything is fine. Activation runs smoothly and you’re not going to have any problems with that. The second point sounds like a dug up reason to make the case not to install. I haven’t had a single kernel panic with Maya and it runs just as smoothly (and unsmoothly - this is Maya after all) as usual. It’s actually more stable thanks to Apple’s GL fixes. The Radeon cards kernel panic with Maya 2012’s Viewport 2 Depth of Field is fixed and Mudbox’s kernel panics with the Quadro 4000 Mac edition are gone. The last point about the crash report didn’t seem to affect Maya in my experience. I did notice that Mudbox’s error reporting could hang, so if you get a crash with Mudbox, you might end up with a stuck senddmp process in Activity Monitor, which you need to force quit. I’m not sure that this isn’t a problem in 10.6.8 but anyway, it doesn’t seem to affect Maya. Maya runs flawlessly for me and I can understand Autodesk’s apprehension about certifying 10.7 since there is the issue with the installer but it’s scarier looking than the actual problem (a stuck finished installer).

Otherwise, what works?:

Pretty much everything. I’ve been using it extensively with everything in my day-to-day production for both 3D and design and all these work flawlessly, from what I can tell:

3D apps:
  • Maya 2012 x64 and all my renderers (mental ray, V-Ray 2, Maxwell)
  • Mudbox 2012 SP2
  • ZBrush 4
  • Topogun 1 and 2 beta
  • Octane Render with CUDA 4.0.17 and the Quadro 4000 Mac Edition
  • CrazyBump Mac beta
  • Realflow 5
  • 3D-Coat (tried briefly - works)

2D and Design Apps:

  • All Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 apps (Photoshop, Indesign, Illustrator, Acrobat Pro used most)
  • Adobe Lightroom 3.4.1
  • Expression Media
  • Photozoom Pro 4
  • Painter 12
  • FontExplorer X font manager
  • Screenflow 2.1.9 
  • Spamsieve (awesome spam filter for Mail.app)
  • Things
  • CodeBox
  • BBEdit
  • Toast Titanium (burnt DVDs and Blu-ray disks no problem)
  • Handbrake
  • iKey
  • Parallels Desktop 6 (no crashes, all virtual machines working fine with 3D support in Windows 7)
  • PS3 Media Player (once you download the Java runtime, which OS X downloads when it detects you want to run a Java app)
  • BetterZip
  • Built-in Cisco VPN works fine (use it for magazine client)
  • Photostickies
  • DragThing
  • Alfred
  • Default Folder X (get this if you’re not using it)
  • Pages/iWork
  • VLC
  • Harmony Remote
  • 1Password and all browser plug-ins

In other words, you’d have a hard time finding a common app that doesn’t work with 10.7

  • Wacom Intuos 3
  • Epson Perfection 4990 Photo Scanner
  • Epson R1900

I found that restored startup states in 10.7 can leave your Wacom driver unloaded until the end of restoring the state, which seems to be slower than it should be (up to 20 seconds on a 6GB/sec SSD). It’s a great feature but I think the kinks aren’t completely worked out.

What doesn’t work:
  • Headus UV Layout (Update: now works as of 2011-07-31)
  • OpenCL with the Quadro 4000 Mac Edition is still AWOL (blame Apple for this)
  • Houdini Apprentice (and presumably Master) doesn’t launch. It just crashes.(Update: now works as of builds 11.0.797)
  • Nuke 6.2v4 64-bit. 32-bit working fine but 64-bit crashes at launch. (Update: 64-bit now works fine as of Nuke 6.3v2)

I mentioned in a previous post that the ~/Library folder is now hidden. See the post for the tip to unhide it.


Overall, it’s rock solid. I think I might have had one kernel panic during the earlier dev builds but I haven’t had one on any of the later or GM builds with either the Radeon 5870 or Quadro 4000 Mac edition installed. Considering that I was running things like games in Parallels Desktop and Maya at the same time, we can assume this thing is solid. I’ve noticed a few bugs in the GM and logged them. Some Automator actions with shell scripts don’t work. Because of Lion’s new authentication system for VNC, my iTeleport iOS VNC client isn’t able to get past the login screen so if you depend on VNC, don’t upgrade until you know this is addressed by your client app. The Colorsync Profiles folder has bad permissions so calibrating my NEC Spectraviews failed because it couldn’t write the ICC profile:

That was easily fixed with these shell commands:

sudo chmod 777 ~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/

sudo chmod 777 /Library/ColorSync/Profiles/

After that, the calibration worked fine and the ICC profile was written for both my Spectraview displays.

So, what’s new for graphics people in 10.7? With all the hype about Back to Mac, some things are getting lost in the PR. There are some cool additions, a few of which I’ll cover here.

OpenGL 3.2:

Maybe we’ll finally see Mari for OS X now that this requirement for the app is filled. I know The Foundry had internal builds for OS X that were waiting on this so it’s not far fetched. Still would likely require a Mac Quadro though, if it came.

Finder additions:

Collect multiple selected items to a single folder:

Terminal.app now has a Service for opening man pages for the selected text:

That’s much better than using it inside a shell, since that window has a friendly scroll bar.

Resize windows from all sides.

This is one of those things that I’ve wanted for a long time and all apps now get this for free in OS X 10.7:

Spotlight Improvements

Image or document preview in Spotlight menu:


This is like a versioning system like Git but done locally. For Cocoa apps that support it, you can go back to previous saved versions of the file, interactively going back in time similar to Time Machine but much more granular (not based on hourly backups):

Click for full size. I can’t wait for this in BBEdit or TextMate (feature fight!).

Mission Control

Updated Spaces multiple desktops. Maya floating over apps while processing something? Just drag it to another space:

If you grab the icon for the app, you can drag all its windows to the other space at once.

Anyway, keep your eyes peeled for John Siracusa’s always-epic OS X review of 10.7 on Ars Technica in the coming weeks for a full run-through of what’s new in Lion.

3 notes | Permalink

CD Digipack Cover With Mix of Photo and V-Ray

I was given this cover photo to use (clients often force you to deal with something you wouldn’t have done yourself) and found a good way to use V-Ray to play up the DoF from the background for effect elsewhere.

The only part that’s a photo is the bottom right panel and the cutout portion in the top left.

The only tricky part about this was the linear workflow and the background, which was sRGB. I used a gamma corrected V-Ray background override texture and then added a gamma correction to it so it rendered properly in linear space:

That is one of the things that isn’t automatically corrected when you use the Enable Linear Workflow setting. The top image and the viewport look at little different because there was some further colour correction that was done after in Photoshop.

0 notes | Permalink

Let’s talk about CMYK, baby – part 2: controlling contrast and saturation

Few things in digital imagery, whether 2D or 3D, are as confusing as colour management can be. The idea is simple, but what makes it complex is similar to what makes a giant audio mixing desk – with it’s myriad inputs, outputs and gear attached – can be brutal to wrap your head around. More often than not, when you first start thinking about colour calibration, linear workflows (in 3D), and all the software and OS involved, you suffer a massive brain fart and just give up. The other confusing part when dealing with gamma, colour profiles and curves is that it’s not usually clear what is a rule and what is really up to the individual to adjust for creativity. The problem is that curves and gamma play too big a part in the final result of creative imagery to be ignored. This is especially true for CMYK conversion in Photoshop.

Without understanding the curve that handles RGB to CMYK conversion in Photoshop, you are left with the default setting, which can often produce good results, but it is an average for all scenarios, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not always the right way to handle things where quality and colour are concerned. How do you know if you need to tweak the defaults? It’s pretty easy: if you convert an image that has a lot of saturation in the darks, and find the colour gets sapped badly, then you should probably consider a custom CMYK black generation curve. This is accessible from the Color Settings dialog under the Edit menu:

The part that interests us today is the CMYK setting under Working Spaces:

The default setting is Medium and a literal translation of the curve reads like this: “Everything in your channels, up until 25% saturation will be done in CMY, and once the saturation starts to go above that, black kicks in and slowly takes over the proportion until you reach 100% darkness.” (Yes, I know K stands for “key” – thanks, design students.) This is a good scenario for images that are concentrated in the mid-tones, but it’s not good for images that are heavily balanced towards the blacks because, once you get over the 80% saturation threshold, black is making up a large proportion of the mix, sapping saturation. Most print people know that a 100% red is made with 100% magenta and 100% yellow – but notice how little yellow and magenta are at the full saturation end of the Medium black generation curve. Here’s an example of how that would affect a photo with a saturated red-to-black transition:

That’s the RGB original.

That’s the default Medium CMYK conversion. Notice how washed out it is and how the colour is not reaching the darker portion. The hue shift is just the colour being brought in-gamut for CMYK.

For this reason, I keep my black generation settings on Light:

The difference in translation is immediately different just by looking at the curve: “Use CMY all the way up to almost 50% saturation and then start to use black.” You can see that the ink total also increases even though we haven’t touched the ink limit. Here’s how it affects the conversion above:

It is noticeably better. There is no distinct edge to the colour falloff. But read on to see how I make a better curve for this.

You’re probably wondering “why not just make the total ink 400% (all CMYK plates at 100%) and never have to worry about this balance again?” This is the first thing print newbs do and it’s a problem for press printing. Paper on a web press breaks if you add too much ink and it also increases drying time, so it will smudge. Don’t mess with the total ink, unless you have received a total value from your press. The number goes higher as the paper weight goes up, it’s lower for web press/higher for sheet-feed presses, higher still for cover stock (typically I set cover stock ink limit at 320%). It’s a good idea to get this from the press you’re dealing with because a higher number means you have more colour to play with, meaning more saturation.

Pro technique: Mixing CMYK conversions for optimal final images.

By now, you’re probably itching to see some real-world examples of how this affects images and I have an “Extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeme to the Max!” example for when a mix of two conversions is actually best.

Yes, I know the image is noisy – it’s not a final processed shot, just a pic my girlfriend took of me in Mexico that I thought fit the bill nicely for this post. I should have used a Light conversion (instead of medium) as my baseline CMYK top layer but I wanted to show how the default settings completely wash out details in the eyes due to the muddy, even mix of the four plates. If I was doing a final retouched image, I’d be mixing and blurring these two layers more and brushing in a bit of faked colour where needed. But this is a solid start.

Black and White images: when black-heavy generation is needed.

When I am dealing with black and white fashion photography or something with greys, I set it to Heavy, since having too much CMY in your greyscale conversions is problematic to manage on press. If you’ve ever been to a press check, you know how much of a nightmare it can be to get the colours to match the colour proof, so letting black handle more of the greyscale balance means you have less potential for shifting colour values when the press man invariably screws everything up until half way through the print run. This is why it’s also essential to send an approved colour proof (not any old inkjet) to your press to use as a match if you get something done on a press. Without this in front of them, all the expensive colour calibrators and 30-bit monitors in your office won’t make any difference – you’ll get something with colours guessed by the people on press and no recourse when you say get 50,000 books that look terrible. It’s $50 well spent.

2 notes | Permalink

Accounting for Bleed When Rendering for Print

I do most of my 3D work for stills and print in magazines so I need to often account for the bleed and trim factors. For those unfamiliar with these print terms, a bleed is the area outside the page margins that are cropped out when printing (this crop is the trim dimension). When you do illustration that going to go to the edge of the page, you must also add the bleed to the edges that crop or else you will get hairlines of white when the pages invariably shift on press. Most magazine bleeds are 0.125” on all outside edges (unless they are on a really bad press, in which case it might be 0.25”). For metric folks, 0.125” is 3.175 millimetres.

When working in Maya, I often use the image plane as a visual block for my bleed area since looking at an image without the crop is misleading. You’ll often find you have the perfect image but then once it’s cropped for the bleed, it looks terrible. Sometimes, it’s easy to use the clone tool in Photoshop (or the amazing content-aware fill tool) to extend the border but I’m going to be dealing with complex halftone effects that aren’t going to clone easily. So, in these cases, I make a masked RGB image that blocks out the area that’s reserved for bleed. That way, all my renders and my viewport show me the scene “as trimmed.”) The workflow is easy: find out your illustration dimensions, add the bleed to the relevant edges and then make an alpha channel with the bleed masked in white. Import the image as the camera’s Environment Image Plane and you’re set.

Once you are confident with the composition and want the final image with bleed, just remove the Image Plane and render the final. The only drawback to this approach (other than having your Image Plane occupied), is that you are effectively looking at everything through an alpha mapped image, which might slow your scene drawing down while working. So I suggest only using it when you need to plan composition or for pre-final renderings (and make the image as low resolution as possible to save texture memory). There’s an easy way to toggle the plane only during render times, by adding a pre- and post-render MEL command:

Pre (show it):

setAttr imagePlane1.displayMode 3;

Post (hide it again):

setAttr imagePlane1.displayMode 0;

Update: Just got an email from Michele De Pascalis who had a tip for using the Connection Editor or Node Editor to hook up multiple image planes to one camera. This really helps solve teh only major issue with this image plane bleed workflow. Thanks, Michele.

0 notes | Permalink

Using 3D in Photoshop for scene mockups

Here’s a quick example of why Photoshop’s 3D features are great for design mockups. Doing this kind of thing in a 3D app would be a lot more time consuming and you can add motion blur as a reminder to do it in post.

3 notes | Permalink