Simple character test

Egads, a post on my website!

First Character Test from Jared Martin on Vimeo.
A friend and I are attempting to create a simple, animated short film. Will we finish? I hope so! But at least we’ve started. This was just a quick character test to flesh out an idea and also for me to see whether rendering it with Octane Render will be a good option. It seems it could well be! We’re also thinking of creating it using a combo of Blender and Flash, two programs I have limited experience with. So I’m learning new things!

Mental Core v1 launch

Now available for purchase at, Mental Core is a great re-integration of many mental ray features in Maya, including features currently not made available in the UI by Autodesk at all. I’ve been using the beta versions fairly regularly and have found it excellent! A much nicer passes system, new shaders, cleaner linear workflow and many other offerings make this an excellent workflow enhancer. Check out a bunch of YouTube clips covering the whole system.

Introductory pricing lasts until the 15th of January and I’ll be picking up a copy myself!

Elemental Ray – Great new blog!

It seems a bit strange that here I am trying to get my own blog going again, when I actually don’t follow that many blogs (at least industry related ones) myself. I’ll have to look around a bit more!

One new blog surprisingly appearing in the title of this post, is Elemental Ray and it’s already a winner. Created by David Hackett and Brenton Rayner (two people worth listening to) it covers various mental ray features and techniques and how they can be used in Maya. They have deep technical knowldge of mental ray (and rendering in general) due to their professional and educational backgrounds, so they are able to present things such as a Primer on Unified Sampling in a very informative and easy to understand way. They have since posted even more info on Unified Sampling.

I’ve learnt some useful stuff already!

Maxwell Render 2.6 released!

Yes… so I’m a bit late in posting this as it has been a few weeks since the new version went live, flew the coop, hit the streets of render town etc.

For those who don’t stalk me enough, I love Maxwell Render. I’ve been using it since the beta days and was lucky enough to get myself onto the testing team. I feel particularly satisfied with this release as I was able to commit a lot more time to testing it than usual, and it was a lot of fun coming up with ideas for the Maya integration in particular. The guys at Next Limit (the developers) are really nice and really do try to think of everything and make each release great. Their Maya plugin developer is doing a fantastic job as I’m sure the other plugin devs are. Some highlights of this release are:

  • Better antialising with added control. I never had any aliasing issues before but now it’s been further improved and you can adjust how sharp or soft the filtering is on the fly while rendering, or before/afterwards.
  • MUCH better motion blur! It’s freaking great. It’s really fast, you can set the number of motion segments (up to very high numbers) and you can adjust the timing of the shutter so that the blur occurs at different points along the exposure. Now, those features aren’t particularly new for other renderers however with Maxwell’s implementation you can achieve effects associated with long exposure, both for stills and for animations. It’s quite easy to achieve motion trails and timelapse effects. In fact one of my test animations has ended up in the new online help system for it!:

(essentially a bunch of object lights attached to a character rig)

  • Hair rendering! It uses it’s own new hair primitive, supporting many popular hair systems. In Maya this includes Maya Hair and Shave & A Haircut. The same great Maxwell Material system is used for the hair, so it’s very flexible. It also supports a number of Colour Per Vertex features so that shading can be inherited from Maya Hair or Shave’s own shading system. Here’s a quick example, I just imported one of the super stylish Maya Hair presets and assigned a shader:

hairstyleA super cool added bonus for Maya users is that because Maya Hair uses Paint Effects strokes to render, Maxwell is actually rendering those Paint Effects strokes as hair… meaning this extends to other Paint Effects uses too! Here’s an example from my testing (a WIP scene basically):

flamingo(click for larger)

The grass, bushes (not very good…) and spikey plant are Maya Hair while the entire flamingo structure and the vines on the wall are Paint Effects. The Paint Effects support is limited at this point to only one level of growth I believe, as in you can’t have a tree with branches and leaves. It’s a great start though and renders fast with no need to do any conversion to polygons.

  • Native particle rendering. Where before you needed to instance objects to your particles to render them, now it will essentially create little spheres for particles by default which is great. None of my particle tests were particularly interesting but there are some good examples around, such as these clips on YouTube:

  • New displacement method. Maxwell has always had really great displacement that could be incredibly detailed without any real memory increase, however depending on how much detail you wanted it could slow things down a lot. We now have the option for pretessellated displacement that will add to the memory cost but render much faster.

There’s lots of other new features and tons of fixes and tweaks, but those are the main ones I can think of! I use mental ray and Maxwell about evenly these days and there’s a lot to like about both of them. In terms of unbiased renderers, I don’t think I’ll be switching from Maxwell anytime soon!

Wom area light tip

Funnily enough, not long after I posted my riveting summary of the Wom Archlight, a friend of mine using the light in production ran across an oddity and asked me about it. As it turns out it’s easy to fix, so I thought I’d post about it here. When using the Wom light shader attached to an area light he noticed that it didn’t behave as you’d expect. I give you exhibit 49f:

Default Area WomI’ve set the light to be visible in order to show the ‘problem’. The light is shining out of both sides of the rectangular area light! This is not the normal behaviour of a flat area light such as the rectangular and disc shapes. Generally you only want lighting coming out of the ‘front’ side that is represented with a little line, so you can light specific areas of a large object or perhaps just one of many objects and not those behind the light. Luckily this is as easy to fix as checking a checkbox. Because that’s what you do.

Cosine DistributionAhh, good old ‘Cosine Distribution’! What? There’s quite a good technical explanation in the PDF manual supplied with the shader, but basically it tells the light to drop off it’s intensity as you reach perpendicular to the light’s surface. In a physically based way of course. The related attribute, ‘Cosine Exponent’ affects how quickly this falloff occurs:

Cosine Exponent Values

So there you go! Quite useful for more precisely directing your light, a bit like an area spotlight but.. not. I imagine the Cosine Distribution attribute is off by default so that you can use spherical area lights with a light profile attached, which I know a lot of people in archvis use. The more adventurous among you could quite easily modify the AE Template script for this shader to enable it by default if you wished. I haven’t decided yet!

Peace out, light distributors!

TIL: The ‘Wom Archlight’

The ‘Wom’ as it’s called is a fantastic light shader for mental ray in Maya (and also XSI). Created by ‘wombat778’, I essentially use this light shader on all my lights, all the time. There’s a long running thread on CGTalk about this shader here where it can also be downloaded along with a PDF manual. It is also available on Creative Crash here.

So what’s so good about it? Well, here’s a screenshot of the settings…

Wom Light Attributes…divided into 3 columns as there’s a lot of them! If it looks scary and very different to what you use normally, don’t worry it’s actually not that complicated I swear. Not to mention it’s very useful to understand how more complex lighting like this works and what it can achieve for you.

This mental ray shader can be used in Maya as both a light shader and photon shader simultaneously, which means that if you want to create GI or caustic effects this light can automatically generate photons that are the correct colour and intensity for the light. This is unlike most Maya lighting where you have to manually type in an intensity value, which for me is a bit too arbitrary and inaccurate. You connect this light shader up to your point/spot/area light like this:

Wom Light ConnectionsIf you aren’t going to use GI or caustics, obviously you don’t have to plug it in as a Photon Emitter. Now, in that screenshot you can see there’s an empty Light Profile slot where you could potentially attach a shader to utilize an IES or Eulumdat light profile (giving your light a realistic falloff shape based on real, measured lightbulb data). In this case these effects are handled within the Wom shader itself, so you don’t need to plug anything in there separately.

I won’t go into everything the Wom light can do, because the post would be very long and there’s already a good manual for it. The reasons I use it though, are:

  • It has physically based falloff, adjustable to fit the scale of your scene units.
  • You can use real light units such as Watts, Lumen, Candela etc.
  • It works well with the Mia Photographic Lens shader and Sun/Sky system.
  • It has a bunch of settings for the visible rendering of an area light, not just on/off.
  • Has light presets such as a 40 Watt bulb, and can take it’s colour from the correct light temperature.
  • Makes using light profiles easy.
Honestly, I just find it to be a quicker and more reliable way to achieve photographic results in mental ray. I love it! There are studios here in Australia using it daily now too.

Tools I Like (TIL)

Maya is like a giant paddock full of sheep. The goal is to get the sheep to go where you want them to go. By default you are given a sheppard’s staff, a sheep dog, perhaps a horse and a megaphone. There is a lot you can achieve with these things already, but better yet there are lots and lots of other sheppards out there creating new and strange tools to help you out. Of course you can make your own, too! I find a wolf costume to be particularly effective, others a bazooka. What is the point of all this? I don’t really know.

As the first post category of this revived website, I’m going to go over some of my favourite 3rd party tools for Maya, and just like Oprah’s favourite things I’m giving them away to my entire audience for free. Mainly because they aren’t mine and were already free to begin with. I hereby dub this series of posts TIL, for ‘Tools I Like’.