ExperienceMachStudio Pro: User Interface is simple and it works - adjustment time was non-existent in both cases
The very first thing that you notice is a simplistic interface. Scene manager is on the left and it lists all the imported objects, cameras, lights, environment, custom layers, fog and ambient occlusion. Expanding the object from the list brings up Object Properties Panel on the right. Here, you can access its material, surface and controls. To be honest, this is where you will spend most of your time, adjusting the shaders and lights.
On the bottom left side, you see Render Preferences, while on the right there is Driver Properties.
Just below the 3D viewport, you can see the Time Slider - control to animate/tweak the timeline/curve. First off, in order to optimize your speed you might want to disable Ambient Occlusion pass [Render Preferences] where all the passes are listed and checkable. While AO is fantastic, it slowed things down no matter what GPU we threw it at and more importantly - you don't need it in the first stage while you're busy exporting/importing and task-switching from your 3d app to MSP.Sgpu Export inside Autodesk 3ds Max 2010
In order to work inside Mach Studio Pro, you need to import scenes from your favorite 3D application. In our case, we tried Autodesk 3ds Max 2010 and Google SketchUp Pro. Exporting is done by installing an exporter plug-in in your 3d application. We have to admit, this is a very simple operation and we didn't experience hassle with it - exporting the scene was as simple as selecting the objects, clicking the export button and choosing what you want to be exported [just the models, vertex animation with or without geometry, camera animation or particles].
In our experience, we loved how simple it is because there are situations where you have to do a lot of exporting again and again and again [until you get the desired scene], especially if you make some changes to the model or animation in the 3d app. Exporting it again isn't much of a problem and doesn't eat up a lot of precious time. This workflow is painless in big productions given that many studios often use one app for animation and the other for rendering. Adding MSP to your app as a mighty GPU-based renderer plugin ends with awesome results. :)
Given the early stage of this application, we did notice that sometimes - objects or textures weren't updated so we had to reopen the scene. The only thing we didn't manage to get to work is exporting the geometry as a subdivision surface. In short, the exporter will bake every subdivision surface you have in the scene, making it a very heavy model to work with once inside MSP. According to MPS user guide, a simple tag should be written in object's properties letting MSP know that the tagged object must be treated as a subD [subdivision] surface with 1 level of subdivision. We did try that on many attempts but didn't succeed, so I ended up working with baked hipoly meshes, some of them having up to three levels of subdivision. MSP didn't crash but of course - the playback was choppy. This could simply be avoided by generating proxy objects to stand in while you work just as it's often done in other apps. We certainly hope this next version will offer better levels of integration, adding extra controls in the exporter to deal with subD surfaces to avoid generating large amount of data that takes some time to export. This is especially true for animated objects that are baked vertex per frame.
Regardless of this tiny glitch the amount of polygons MSP was able to take care of was impressive. Most of the time, you don't actually need a real time playback because the animations are already imported. Except the lighting or material properties, of course. By working in this application, we didn't really feel like animating things in MSP if you can do it in the app you're already accustomed to. Switching the workflow load into MSP could offer significant time savings, though - but it does require that you re-think the stages of your project.
Material Editor is quite simple and easy to work with. The first thing that you notice is the old-school appearance. True, I did expect a powerful node based UT-like editor, but MachStudio Pro Material Editor reminds us of 3ds max or early Maya, way before acquisition by Autodesk. Truth to be told, we're not much of a nodes fan anyways. In MSP, you get what you want without much hassle with trees of nodes. Experience: Shaders
Cel-Shading in MachStudio Pro - easy, fast and good looking
You can choose between simple shaders like phong and blinn or really cool ones like cartoon [Cel-shader
, carpaint or SSS [Sub-Surface Scattering
Now, the SSS shader is fast and looks darn good. Beside the translucency maps, it has a lot of others maps to fill. Micro-normal map lets you apply a tiled map on top of your main normal map, making the model appear a lot more detailed. This is quite useful and we're curious why this micro-normal/normal map is not present in any other shader.Tessellated object shows much more details than the regular one, but you have to have Tessellation in mind while creating the character, so that you don't overdetail the object in 3D app, but wait until render time.
Yes, this is where the hardware tessellation
jumps in, you can get the hipoly geometry that main normal map used to fake, and apply a tiled normal to act as a micro map. This was also the clearest differentiator between AMD and nVidia hardware. With nVidia's current hardware not supporting Tessellation, you have no other choice but to resort to old-school gaming development tricks [performance-wise, we might argue that the "trick" is faster, Ed.].Wireframe of our Tessellated character reveals the level of geometry - just nuts.
On AMD's hardware, you have Tessellation and no need for tricks but again, it's not that AMD's FirePro card was any slower doing micro-normal/normal map in SSS. Working with this app and the speed of SSS shader, we just feel that this is a really quick and more interactive way to get something you previously had to spend a lot of time rendering displaced geometry using the CPU-based renderers. Subsurface Scattering is easy to work with
In that perspective Mach Studio Pro and GPU-acceleration are awesome. At first, we had some problems getting it right but then I discovered it works a whole lot better when you use a 32-bit format just as mental ray
would. Cubemap/Planar reflections/refractions work nice: they can be dynamic, blurred and affected by normal maps. Fresnel function
should be a lot more flexible, though. Artists use ramp/falloff/fresnel shaders a lot to mask maps according to angle or distance. Also the procedural shaders are most welcome. For future versions, adding at least a simple noise or cellular map would be great for adding additional bumps and colors to the scene.
Even though the 3ds max Material Editor is not node based either, you can do a lot of experimenting, blending, masking, animating or playing with vertex colors. This is not the case with Mach Studio Pro –you are limited to adjusting the sliders and adding maps to the slots. One thing that helps is that most of the UI sliders can go negative or beyond the given limit - makes no sense but just type in the desired number next to the slider and it works. True, I do think simple spinners would be more useful then.
Most of the time you will be very satisfied with the given shaders and their results - but sometimes you just need more space to experiment, especially if you're working on a realistic kind of render. StudioGPU has announced a better and more flexible editor in later versions and I believe artist will have more control over their shaders then. Lighting
Scene lighting is done in real time using environment lights, point lights and projected lights. Projected light can use a bitmap to project color and cast shadows - with surprisingly good results, with no or very few artifacts that are known to appear in games that use this technique. Each light can have different shadow settings, color, softness or bias that work very well. In our test and production scenes, it was quite comfortable to work with this kind of shadows - they perform great for cartoony renders. If you are gunning for realism, it is possible to achieve realistic shadows by clever usage of multiple lights. However in commercial production, this simply isn't good enough to stand up to raytraced area shadows generated by CPU-based renderers. This is a very large field where MachStudio Pro can improve - Area Shadows and Global Illumination
shoud be either faked or GPU-accelerated in near future. If that part is resolved, the end result in photorealistic renderer would certainly make CPU renderers cry. But for not, photo realism will remain in the domain of conventional CPU renderers.
Environment and camera settings offer interesting post-effects such as Bloom
and DOF [Depth of Field
] that you would usually do in other compositing software. Frankly, we like the quality and performance of DOF/Bloom in MSP. You can also add fog and it can be consisted out of multiple layers. Once you completed the scene, you can add Ambient Occlusion - in the end it looks excellent, with lots of controls to adjust and make it just as you want it. The final image renders out in a matter of seconds per frame in full HD resolution with Anti-Aliasing turned on. All we did afterwards is use Adobe's After Effects to add some contrast curves / sharpen filter and the video was done. We hope that StudioGPU will add Motion Blur effect
in later versions. Naturally, the images can be rendered in multiple passes like depth buffer, shadows, normals or velocity...
The scenes we tested with rendered anywhere between 10 and 20 times faster than on our powerful quad-core/octa-thread processors. Do note that if we would really push the details into overdrive, we would get a single 1080p frame in 10 seconds on bundled FirePro V8750, while 3.33 GHz CPU would probably take 20-30 minutes per single frame. This is quite an advantage from business perspective, as you can offer your client final-quality looking video in a matter of minutes rather than having your client being forced to wait or ultimately deciding to go to another studio that has more workstations.
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