In the following video, I will be going over the mib_fast_occlusion shader. Using this, instead of the traditional mib_amb_occlusion shader, can help speed up renders.

How did you find out about referencing? Did you ask someone about it?

I actually read it in a book my good friend Edward Taylor let me borrow. It’s called How to Cheat in Maya 2010 by Eric Luhta. It’s full of neat little tips and tricks and I highly recommend it for anybody who is interested in animating. I also learned a little bit more about it from Edward Whetstone, and we have since implemented it into the Cauldron Bubbles project.

What are some frequent problems you run into (related to rendering)?

Mainly, low memory. When a computer is rendering a few hundred frames all night at full capacity, what tends to happen during rendering is that renders tend to be dropped and will not be fully developed when compositors get it to composite. It is always a big pain when a computer has just finished 36 hours rendering 500 frames only for 50 frames to not show up or show up all black. And it isn’t always a chunk of frames which haven’t been rendered, it will sometimes be sporadic and random and everywhere. So that is a real problem every renderer will encounter at one point in their career.

How do you fix/avoid them? (You don’t have to be too detailed.)

The solution is actually very simple. Restart the computer after every batch render to allow for the computer to clear out all of the ram data it had from the last batch render. Then check all the frames from the last batch render in Fcheck and record frames if they are missing. Then re-render if needed.

Have any general advice for people wanting to optimize rendering AND keep quality?

Keep file sizes small. Keep only objects which are only going to be in frame. Delete unnecessary geometry, double check your render settings, double check your renders with FCheck, and always stay organized. Getting into the habit of doing these small simple steps ahead of time and having a game plan will save you a lot of time later with rendering.

Dan Trinh is a student studying Arts and Technology at The University of Texas at Dallas. Questions and answers were sent through email.

What are some projects (related to animation) that you’ve worked on, and what was your role?

In Bloom

Last summer I was involved in the “In Bloom” project, where a class of students had 11 weeks to produce 1 animated short. For the project, I was an animator working with a team under Ken Kanipe. I was responsible for Shot 3 and 5. I also went on to be a part of the rendering team under Divya Ghatrazu, setting up renders, troubleshooting renders, pulling them off the computers, and organizing them to be composited later.

Cauldron Bubbles

This semester I am working on my capstone with 15 other individuals to create a longer animated short named “Cauldron Bubbles”. I am the Lead Animator working with 4 other talented animators for a 2-4 minute short. The project is bigger, the team is smaller, but it’ll rock.

What are some ways you decrease render times?

Organization

One way I have found to be useful in decreasing render times is being organized. Carefully planned documentation of which computers are rendering, which frames they are rendering and what they are rendering is extremely useful. Without it renderers and compositors can easily lose track of what they are working with. Files get lost, and may have to be started over again on a different computer, rather than just retrieved from one computer. So a well-kept documentation on what computer each computer is rendering will immensely help when it comes time to retrieve rendered images.

Referencing

Another great method for decreasing render times is to use references. References are files which Maya loads into memory, but not the actual scene file itself. Users can reference in objects, lights, rigs, even animations into a master file to be rendered, all the while the actual file itself has no original objects, light, etc itself. This helps keeps files sizes down and will improve rendering by not cluttering up the scene with thousands of polygons, lights, and rigs.

Hi, I’m Ed Whetstone, a lighting/compositing artist at ReelFX Creative Studios. If you’re curious about my work, I have a website at http://www.whetstonevfx.com/ that requires updating woefully.

For the last several years I’ve been fighting with mental ray, and I’ve learned one important lesson.

Don’t fight, and you’ll get along fine.

mental ray can get you great photorealistic results, and it’s very fast if you learn to play by its rules. In order to help you speed up your renders, I’m going to offer a few guidelines to make your life easier as an artist.

1. Fake Everything You Can

“Never use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do” – Mark Twain

If you can get away with it, then fake as much as possible in your scenes. In fact, mental ray is *built* expecting you to fake things. For example…

If you have a scene with a ton of reflections, you’ll be effectively doubling or tripling your render time on each reflective pixel. If you can get away with using a faked environment, then do it. If you can create “reflect only” proxies of your objects, then do it.

2. Avoid Global Illumination if Possible

GI (Photons, energy transport, importons) is really only useful if you’re doing some serious high-end architectural visualization. If you can’t fake the GI with lighting or AO, then you’ve got a solution called Final Gather which is not quite as accurate, FG is plenty good for most applications.

3. Don’t Use Default Values

The default mental ray settings in Maya are pretty awful. As an example, Final Gather defaults to a “quality” (meaning number of rays) of 500. A value of 100 will work just fine for most applications. Don’t rely on quality presets, and experiment to see what you can get away with.

4. Use mia_material_x

mental ray ships with its own “mental images architectural shader” which you can use to simulate almost any hard surface. The shader is self-contained, accurate, and capable. Best of all, it’s optimized to play nice with mental ray and speeds up scene translation for shaders. In Maya, the shader is called “mia_material_x” or “mia_material_x_passes”.

That’s all the time I’ve got right now, kiddos, but if you have any questions, you can find my contact info on my website.

Hi, I’m Ed Whetstone, a lighting/compositing artist at ReelFX Creative Studios. If you’re curious about my work, I have a website at http://www.whetstonevfx.com/ that requires updating woefully.

For the last several years I’ve been fighting with mental ray, and I’ve learned one important lesson.

Don’t fight, and you’ll get along fine.

mental ray can get you great photorealistic results, and it’s very fast if you learn to play by its rules. In order to help you speed up your renders, I’m going to offer a few guidelines to make your life easier as an artist.

1. Fake Everything You Can

“Never use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do” – Mark Twain

If you can get away with it, then fake as much as possible in your scenes. In fact, mental ray is *built* expecting you to fake things. For example…

If you have a scene with a ton of reflections, you’ll be effectively doubling or tripling your render time on each reflective pixel. If you can get away with using a faked environment, then do it. If you can create “reflect only” proxies of your objects, then do it.

2. Global Illumination is Mostly Useless

GI (Photons, energy transport, importons) is really only useful if you’re doing some serious high-end architectural visualization. If you can’t fake the GI with lighting or AO, then you’ve got a solution called Final Gather which is not quite as accurate, FG is plenty good for most applications.

3. Default Values Suck

The default mental ray settings in Maya are pretty awful. As an example, Final Gather defaults to a “quality” (meaning number of rays) of 500. A value of 100 will work just fine for most applications. Don’t rely on quality presets, and experiment to see what you can get away with.

4. mia_material_x

mental ray ships with its own “mental images architectural shader” which you can use to simulate almost any hard surface. The shader is self-contained, accurate, and capable. Best of all, it’s optimized to play nice with mental ray and speeds up scene translation for shaders. In Maya, the shader is called “mia_material_x” or “mia_material_x_passes”.

That’s all the time I’ve got right now, kiddos, but if you have any questions, you can find my contact info on my website.

Hi, I’m Ed Whetstone, a lighting/compositing artist at ReelFX Creative Studios. If you’re curious about my work, I have a website at http://www.whetstonevfx.com/ that requires updating woefully.

For the last several years I’ve been fighting with mental ray, and I’ve learned one important lesson.

Don’t fight, and you’ll get along fine.

mental ray can get you great photorealistic results, and it’s very fast if you learn to play by its rules. In order to help you speed up your renders, I’m going to offer a few guidelines to make your life easier as an artist.

1. Fake Everything You Can

“Never use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do” – Mark Twain

If you can get away with it, then fake as much as possible in your scenes. In fact, mental ray is *built* expecting you to fake things. For example…

If you have a scene with a ton of reflections, you’ll be effectively doubling or tripling your render time on each reflective pixel. If you can get away with using a faked environment, then do it. If you can create “reflect only” proxies of your objects, then do it.

2. Global Illumination is Mostly Useless

GI (Photons, energy transport, importons) is really only useful if you’re doing some serious high-end architectural visualization. If you can’t fake the GI with lighting or AO, then you’ve got a solution called Final Gather which is not quite as accurate, FG is plenty good for most applications.

3. Default Values Suck

The default mental ray settings in Maya are pretty awful. As an example, Final Gather defaults to a “quality” (meaning number of rays) of 500. A value of 100 will work just fine for most applications. Don’t rely on quality presets, and experiment to see what you can get away with.

4. mia_material_x

mental ray ships with its own “mental images architectural shader” which you can use to simulate almost any hard surface. The shader is self-contained, accurate, and capable. Best of all, it’s optimized to play nice with mental ray and speeds up scene translation for shaders. In Maya, the shader is called “mia_material_x” or “mia_material_x_passes”.

That’s all the time I’ve got right now, kiddos, but if you have any questions, you can find my contact info on my website.

Divya Ghatrazu is a student studying Arts and Technology at The University of Texas at Dallas. Questions and answers were sent through email.

What are some projects (related to animation) that you’ve worked on, and what was your role?

In Bloom – Summer animation 2010. I was the Lighting and Compositing lead. We produced an animated short from start to finish.

Campus Animation – Lighting/Texturing and Compositing artist. We finished the 3d rendering of the UTD campus.

Cauldron Bubbles – Lighting/Texturing and Compositing artist. We are currently working on an animated short. Its still in progress.

Not to mention a bunch of independent  personal projects.

Why is thinking/planning about rendering at an early stage of production so important?

Rendering is a huge part of any project.  It’s really important to keep rendering and compositing in mind throughout the project in order to make sure the production pipeline runs smoothly. You might run into unforeseen problems during rendering whose solutions can make or break a project. So, it’s really essential to keep it in mind from a very early stage.

What are some ways you decrease render times?

Good planning: its probably the best way to decrease render times. If your pipeline is clean then that leaves room to tackle other problems.

Clean geometry and clean texture files decrease render times.

Breaking up your scene into render layers, render passes and pass contributions maps can deal with render times.

The biggest thing that saves render times is using the right tools (including render settings) in combination with each other to get the optimum results, and that really depends on your project.

What are some frequent problems you run into (related to rendering)?

So many! There’s no saying what will go wrong during rendering. It could be memory low errors, dropped textures, software crashing, color/alpha channel troubles, render passes issues, geometry issues and last but not least human errors (believe it or not it’s more common than you think!).

You name it, It might break during rendering. Thankfully, there are several ways to get around these issues. It’s just the matter of taking the time to fix the troubled spots properly, so it doesn’t happen again.

How do you fix/avoid them? (You don’t have to be too detailed.)

Most of the time, the best solution is to re-render.  Fix whatever is broken like dropped textures, crashes or memory low errors, and re-render the bad frames.

You really have to hunt down where the trouble is and find ways to fix it.

For example, some render layers have a default of 3 channels and the alpha channel doesn’t render out so you have to manually set the channels to include the alpha. (I had to learn this the hard way.)

It really depends on what is giving you trouble so you can go fix it and re-render it.

Would you recommend using these practices in the industry? Why?

Yes. A good pipeline practice goes a long way and the industry runs into problems just like we do so problem-solving skills come real handy.

1. What are some projects (related to animation) that you’ve worked on, and what was your role?

In Bloom – Summer animation 2010. I was the Lighting and compositing lead. We produced an animated short from start to finish.

Campus Animation – Lighting/Texturing and Compositing artist. We finished the 3d rendering of the UTD campus.

Cauldron Bubbles: Lighitng/Texturing and Compositing artist. We are currently working on an animated short. Its still in progress J

Not to mention a bunch of independent  personal projects.

2. Why is thinking/planning about rendering at an early stage of production so important?

Rendering is a huge part of any project.  It’s really important to keep rendering and compositing in mind throughout the project in order to make sure the production pipeline runs smoothly. You might run into unforeseen problems during rendering whose solutions can make or break a project. So, it’s really essential to keep it in mind from a very early stage.

3. What are some ways you decrease render times?

Good planning: its probably the best way to decrease render times. If your pipeline is clean then that leaves room to tackle other problems.

Clean geometry and clean texture files decrease render times.

Breaking up your scene into render layers and render passes and pass contributions maps can deal with render times.

The biggest thing that saves render times are using the right tools (including render settings) in combination with each other to get the optimum results and that really depends on your project.

4. What are some frequent problems you run into (related to rendering)?

So many! There’s no saying what will go wrong during rendering. It could be memory low errors, dropped textures, software crashing, color/alpha channel troubles, render passes issues, geometry issues and last but not least human errors (believe it or not it’s more common than you think!).

You name it, It might break during rendering. Thankfully there are several ways to get around these issues. It’s just the matter of taking the time to fix the troubled spots properly so it doesn’t happen again.

5. How do you fix/avoid them? (You don’t have to be too detailed.)

Most of the time, the best solution is to re-render.  Fix whatever is broken like dropped textures, crashes or memory low errors, and re render the bad frames.

You really have to hunt down where the trouble is and find ways to fix it.

For example, some render layers have a default of 3 channels and the alpha channel doesn’t render out so you have to manually set the channels to include the alpha. (I had to learn this the hard way)

It really depends on what is giving you trouble so you can go fix it and re render it.

6. Would you recommend using these practices in the industry? Why?

1.       What are some projects (related to animation) that you’ve worked on, and what was your role?

In Bloom – Summer animation 2010. I was the Lighting and compositing lead. We produced an animated short from start to finish.

Campus Animation – Lighting/Texturing and Compositing artist. We finished the 3d rendering of the UTD campus.

Cauldron Bubbles: Lighitng/Texturing and Compositing artist. We are currently working on an animated short. Its still in progress J

Not to mention a bunch of independent  personal projects.

2.       Why is thinking/planning about rendering at an early stage of production so important?

Rendering is a huge part of any project.  It’s really important to keep rendering and compositing in mind throughout the project in order to make sure the production pipeline runs smoothly. You might run into unforeseen problems during rendering whose solutions can make or break a project. So, it’s really essential to keep it in mind from a very early stage.

3.       What are some ways you decrease render times?

Good planning: its probably the best way to decrease render times. If your pipeline is clean then that leaves room to tackle other problems.

Clean geometry and clean texture files decrease render times.

Breaking up your scene into render layers and render passes and pass contributions maps can deal with render times.

The biggest thing that saves render times are using the right tools (including render settings) in combination with each other to get the optimum results and that really depends on your project.

4.       What are some frequent problems you run into (related to rendering)?

So many! There’s no saying what will go wrong during rendering. It could be memory low errors, dropped textures, software crashing, color/alpha channel troubles, render passes issues, geometry issues and last but not least human errors (believe it or not it’s more common than you think!).

You name it, It might break during rendering. Thankfully there are several ways to get around these issues. It’s just the matter of taking the time to fix the troubled spots properly so it doesn’t happen again.

5.       How do you fix/avoid them? (You don’t have to be too detailed.)

Most of the time, the best solution is to re-render.  Fix whatever is broken like dropped textures, crashes or memory low errors, and re render the bad frames.

You really have to hunt down where the trouble is and find ways to fix it.

For example, some render layers have a default of 3 channels and the alpha channel doesn’t render out so you have to manually set the channels to include the alpha. (I had to learn this the hard way)

It really depends on what is giving you trouble so you can go fix it and re render it.

6.       Would you recommend using these practices in the industry? Why?

Yes and Yes. A good pipeline practice goes a long way and the industry runs into problems just like we do so problem-solving skills come real handy.

Yes and Yes. A good pipeline practice goes a long way and the industry runs into problems just like we do so problem-solving skills come real handy.

First Post is Published

February 23, 2011–The introductory post for Renderfaster4maya is published.

Renderfaster4maya is a blog that provides techniques to reduce render times for Autodesk Maya users. In addition, the blog takes a deeper look into the concept of rendering through research, interviews, and a historical perspective.

The research explores rendering as a process that improves as technology improves. The process itself is also detailed in simplified steps. The research also takes a glimpse into the animation industry and its outlook on some rendering techniques.

Interviews, with professionals and students, offer different perspectives helpful for a deeper understanding of rendering. They share their experiences and some techniques they use personally.

The history section discusses the beginnings of rendering in the 1960s, and tracks its development over three decades.

Contact Blogger:

Vincent Lo
renderfaster4maya@gmail.com

(My questions were sent and received through email on March 24, 2011.)

Where are some places you’ve worked? And what did you do?

My first job was at DNA Productions where I worked on The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius tv series, and The Ant Bully feature film. I started as a modeler/rigger and moved on to become Head of Environment Modeling. I have also worked for Element X Creative on various direct to video, commercial and web-based projects. In addition I have been a freelance artist for 5 years working for clients like Ember, Reel FX, and others.

About how far into a project does thinking about rendering become important?

Rendering is thought about from the very beginning of any project. All departments have to take into account how file size/poly counts/camera moves/etc all will affect lighting and compositing, which are directly tied to rendering.

What are some ways you decrease render times?

Efficient workflows, eliminate unseen objects, manageable texture map sizes/resolutions, limiting the number of lights/using lights in a cost effective manner/and many, many more.

How often do you find yourself using these methods?

Constantly. Even when working on a modeling freelance job I have to know how they intend to render/texture and object so that what I give them will work in their pipeline.

Which method do you find yourself using the most?

There is no one magic bullet. You have to pick and choose based on each project and their unique demands.

What are some frequent problems you run into (related to rendering)?

Anything and everything. Textures will drop image maps. Frames will time out when memory runs low. The software will crash. Render out the wrong camera by accident. Whatever can go wrong usually will. That is why Render Wrangling is a full time job.

How do you fix them? (You don’t have to be too detailed.)

You have to be able to work backwards and diagnose the issues. Sometimes they are simple fixes, other times you need to completely rework a file or create test files to find out why something is not functioning as you think it should.

While in the industry, did you find yourself less worried about optimization since there are powerful renderfarms available?

No. Most studios, even the small ones, must focus on optimization at all times, on all projects. Every project has a schedule and a budget. If you fail to meet either one the studio is responsible and takes the hit. Many studios fail because of this. As demand for quality/detail levels  increase, optimization only becomes more key. Adding render farm nodes can help, but the only reason this usually happens is because a studio has to increase their capabilities to take on a project they cannot currently handle/render.

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