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Know the Basics: Maya Part 9: Rendering

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Date Added: 30th January 2017
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In part nine of the Know the Basics: Maya 2017 series, Paul Hatton explores the rendering options with Maya's default renderer, Arnold...


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Previous tutorials

Know the Basics: Maya Part 1: Interface
Know the Basics: Maya Part 2: Viewports and Navigation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 3: Modelling
Know the Basics: Maya Part 4: Organisation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 5: Animating
Know the Basics: Maya Part 6: Motion Graphics
Know the Basics: Maya Part 7: Shaders & Textures
Know the Basics: Maya Part 8: Arnold Lighting

A renderer does all the behind the scene maths to convert your models, materials and lights into a rendered image. It therefore creates, in an image format, the equivalent of all that you've created in terms of models and attributes. As you can imagine that maths is insanely complex and rather impressive. Thankfully, for my brain, we're not going to be covering the theory of rendering but will instead be looking at how we can set up the basics of rendering. To do this we're going to be using the built in (as of 2017) Arnold renderer.


Step 1: Installing Arnold

You can download Arnold Maya MtoA plugin free of charge. Autodesk say that it ships with Arnold but I had to install it to get it working. Once you've downloaded it and run the file you'll need to go to 'Window' -> 'Settings/Preferences' -> 'Plug-in Manager'. Make sure 'mtoa.mll' is ticked for both loaded and auto load.

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Download and install the free plugin of Arnold for Maya.

Step 2: Render Settings

No matter what renderer you are using you'll find all the settings for that particular renderer in the 'Render Settings' dialogue box. This is really handy as a 3D artist. There is always a 'Common' tab as the first tab which is specific to Maya and it contains settings such as image size and where to save the render. We'll look at some of those settings in the next step. After the 'Common' tab you'll see a whole host of different tabs specific to the renderer you are using. Make sure the renderer set to 'Arnold'.

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The render settings window is split into a series of tabs for easier access of settings.

Step 3: Saving your render

Before we look at rendering an image I want to briefly cover saving the image. You can do this by going to the 'Common' tab and the 'File Output' rollout. You are given a series of options including the format and the name as well as some compression settings. If you want the image compressed then you'll probably want to go for a Jpeg. Alternatively, if you want to keep as much data in the file as possible to increase editing possibilities in post-production then go for an EXR file instead.

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Save your image using the 'File Output' rollout in the 'Common' tab.

Step 4: Our first render

We're going to go ahead and create our first render using all of the default settings. Click the 'Render View' button and see that a whole new window appears before you. This is the window where your rendering will appear. The window also has a whole host of menus and render related buttons. On the left hand side there will be a 'Render current frame' button which will process the rendering for you.

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Render your scene using the default settings.

Step 5: Image Size

You'll notice that the rendering has been created at a specific size. Depending on the project you will want the flexibility to be able to adjust the pixel dimensions of the width and height. Do this by going back in to the 'Render Settings' window and making sure the 'Common' tab is selected. Scroll down to the 'image Size' rollout and you'll see a selection of options. Feel free to use one of the presets or alternatively you can manually set the width and height.

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Customise your image size. Rendering with a lower resolution for draft renders is sensible.

Step 6: Matching render size to the viewport

When setting up your camera and your render settings it'll be important to get visual feedback as to what part of the camera view you'll actually be rendering. This is obviously dependent upon the image size aspect ratio that you've chosen. To view the render frame inside of your viewport simply go to the 'View' menu and choose 'Camera Settings' followed by ticking 'Resolution Gate'. Your viewport should now only show you what will be rendered.

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Seeing your render size in the viewport lets you frame your shot more effectively.

Step 7: Arnold and sampling

Let's now dive into some Arnold specific settings. Open the 'Render Settings' window and go to the 'Arnold Renderer' tab. This is where most of the hard work is done with regards to the rendering process. There are a series of rollouts and we'll look at just a couple. The first is the 'Sampling' rollout which controls the number of samples that are used for each part of the rendering process. Naturally the more samples the longer the rendering time (In general). So if you want better glossy reflections then you'll need to increase the sampling for that setting.

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Use the sampling sliders to control the quality of your image.

Step 8: Ray Depth

The other rollout in the 'Arnold Renderer' tab that I think it'll be helpful to look at is 'Ray Depth'. Once again there are specific ray settings for a variety of different parts of the rendering process. Let's take a reflection ray as an example. The ray will reflect off of a surface and then head towards another surface which it'll bounce off again. The ray depth controls the number of times that a ray is allowed to bounce around the scene before it is killed off. Obviously the higher these numbers the longer the rendering takes to complete.

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Ray depth controls the number of bounces a ray can make.

Step 9: Diagnostics

There are a few other tabs in 'Render Settings' for Arnold but one of the more helpful ones is the 'Diagnostics' tab. This lets you turn on and off different elements of your rendering to suit your needs. I find this most helpful for test rendering when I'm wanting to focus on a specific part of the rendering and don't care about other parts which take ages to render. An example would be turning the bump calculations off or shadows. By doing this you can speed up the rendering.

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Use the override checkboxes to turn on and off different parts of the rendering process.

Step 10: Live Rendering

Before we wrap up this article on rendering I just wanted to mention Arnold Render View. This is the real time interactive render view which gives you instant feedback on what your render looks like. It is quick, efficient and accurate and it's completely usable within a texturing/lighting workflow as well as even for some final renders. You can access it from the main 'Arnold' menu item at the top of the Maya interface. Launch it and enjoy!

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Arnold RenderView gives you instant feedback about what your render will look like.

Top tip: Anti-Aliasing

In the render settings under sampling there is an option for 'Camera (AA)'. The AA stands for anti-aliasing and this particular control handles the lights, depth of field and motion blur. Adjust the slider to get better results on any of these 3 items.

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Use the AA sampling property to adjust the quality of lights, DOF and motion blur.

Related links


Related links
For more from Paul Hatton, check out C A Design Services
Download Maya 2017
Check out Maya 2017 on Twitter
Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Character Creation in Maya
Know the Basics: Maya Part 1: Interface
Know the Basics: Maya Part 2: Viewports and Navigation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 3: Modelling
Know the Basics: Maya Part 4: Organisation
Know the Basics: Maya Part 5: Animating
Know the Basics: Maya Part 6: Motion Graphics
Know the Basics: Maya Part 7: Shaders & Textures
Know the Basics: Maya Part 8: Arnold Lighting

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