Tuesday, June 06, 2017

FAO CAA ALL YEARS: Changes to Maya on Computer Animation Arts

OK Everyone. There have been important changes to the way in which we are going to use Maya on Computer Animation Arts... 

As you are all aware, we (as a course) have stayed with Maya 2016 extension 2 this year instead of updating to Maya 2017. The reason for that is due to the change in ‘bundled renderer’ and licensing. However we are going to move a new system as of September. To explain why and what it means for you please read the following.

The Change: Mental Ray has been replaced by Arnold (by Solidangle) as Maya's ‘bundled render’ in version 2017. That change has come after 17 years of Maya and Mental being connected. 

Rendered using Arnold

It has been unclear until recently if Mental Ray would continue to be supported beyond the change and what using Arnold would mean for students learning Maya. Hence our 'hold off' period sticking with 2016 ext2. We didn't want to rob you of knowledge due to a abrupt software change. However, Nvidia, the owners of Mental Ray, have just released new versions for both Maya and 3D Max. That means support will continue for Mental Ray for now even though Arnold is rapidly becoming the standard.

Why the change: The main reason why Autodesk switched renderers is simply to do with what the market wants. That is rendering for 'reality' - Accurately depicting the real world using global illumination and linear work flow. 

You may have noticed over recent years that CG film elements are looking more realistic and accurate (Transformers, Marvel etc).  Even in animation 'reality' has become a viable way to render. Films such as ‘Rango, The Croods, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ all have a rendering / lighting style which is closer reality than cartoon stylisation. That is because they are being rendered using indirect lighting and light bounce systems (known as global illumination) alongside accurately mimicking how your eyes see the world (known as Linear Work Flow). Both Mental Ray and Arnold have the capacity to render using this technology. However, Arnold is ready to do that straight out of the box where as Mental Ray needs to be set up. Overall, Arnold is easier to use for that kind of rendering and produces better results (a simplification but generally considered to be the case). 

Throughout the course you have actually been using a ‘fake’ global illumination. Each time you have plugged in an Ambient Occlusion node into a shader it has been to fake global lighting. The results are not exactly the same as global illumination but produce a similar (but paired down) feel. In Mental Ray that kind of setup can be used to produce semi-realistic results or stylised renders. That is not the case in Arnold where realism is the ultimate goal.

Licensing Change: ‘Alias Wavefront’ originally owned Maya, before it was bought by Autodesk (via a pension company) back in the mid 2000’s. During that purchase, Mental Ray switched from being something extra that you paid for to something that came free with Maya - Originally you weren’t able to render with Mental Ray until you paid for a license. To a certain degree, this is true again now for both Arnold and Mental Ray after the switch. Arnold comes with Maya (including the student version) but you can’t batch render until you buy a license. Likewise, Mental Ray can be downloaded and installed for free but again you can’t batch render until you pay. Both allow you to render a still image though.

What all this means for the course and you: As of September 2017 we are going to switch to Maya 2017 (or 2018 if it is released in time) to make use of Maya's new features. We are also going to install Arnold and Mental Ray to ensure that you can benefit from both rendering technologies – Allowing you to use what you know (Mental Ray) and gain from new knowledge (Arnold). It will mean you will be able to render 'realistically' in Arnold and stylised / real in Mental Ray. The best of both worlds.

However, the new licensing structure means that any batch rendering will now need to be done through ‘garagefarm.net’. There are two reasons for that decision. Firstly, Garagefarm will have full licenses for Mental Ray and Arnold. Secondly, because rendering with Arnold (for realism) increases rendering times to a high degree (one frame can take anywhere from 10 - 45 minutes). A render farm is needed to cope with that. Overall, this will mean that you will find lighting easier (both in Arnold and Mental Ray) due to their new updates, you will get better and more realistic results (where appropriate), and be ready for a changing industry. 

There will of course be a cost to rendering through a render farm. We are working with garagefarm.net to hopefully minimise that cost as much as possible but it is a necessary part of the new systems and the way the industry is moving. We will  be installing the garagefarm.net ‘upload software’ on all of the computers. I will show how to use both rendering engines when you return and I will go over the options. 

I will keep you updated of any further changes but as it stands, we will be switching to Maya 2017 (or 2018 with Arnold), installing Mental Ray, and Garagefarm.net software for September. It would be a good idea for you to begin to do the same ready for when you come back. Finally, there is no reason why you can’t keep Maya 2016 ext2 on your computers too, but be mindful that you can’t go back a version once you started in the latest software. You can download Maya and Mental Ray 2017 here:

Autodesk Maya (with Arnold): Link
Mental Ray: Link

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