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Know the Basics: Maya Part 10: Compositing & Render Setup

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Date Added: 13th February 2017
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In part ten of the Know the Basics: Maya 2017 series, Paul Hatton explains how to successfully composite and render a scene...


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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
Know the Basics: Maya Part 9: Arnold Rendering

Compositing in a visualisation workflow is usually considered as the process of rendering out your scene into a set of individual elements in such a way that it can easily be brought back together in a compositing application such as After Effects. You might wonder what the benefit of this is! In short it gives you a huge amount of flexibility for making adjustments to the images after the rendering has taken place. In this article we're going to delve into the 'Render Setup' workflow for Maya which was introduced in the 2nd Extension of 2016.

Step 1: What is the Render Setup

The new render setup (2016 Ext 2) lets you break down your scene into layers and collections which can then either be rendered or overridden with a series of property overrides. This system is quick, reliable and hugely helpful for either rendering multiple iterations of a shot or for rendering multiple passes for compositing. The types of overrides that can be created include shaders or even specific attributes of objects. Let's dive straight into how it works.

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The Render Setup gives you greater flexibility over how and what you want to render.

Step 2: Creating a new render setup layer

The first step for utilising this system is to create a render setup layer. You can do this by opening up the 'Render Setup' window. Notice that it is split into a 'Property Editor' section and then a layer list section. The latter section has an icon for creating a new layer. Click that and you'll see a new layer appear in the list. Double click on it and rename. Next to the layer there is an icon for being able to adjust the visibility of the render layer.

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Render Setup layers ensure that everything stays organised and manageable.

Step 3: Add a collection to the layer

One of the most powerful parts of this new Render Setup workflow is that every layer can contain one or more collections. Each collection can be controlled independently allowing for these to be stacked up on top of each other. This makes for a very powerful system. To create a collection simply right click on the layer and click 'Create Collection'. This collection will be a container for a set of objects which we want to associate it with.

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Collections give you an added stage of organisation.

Step 4: Add objects to the collection

There are two main ways to add objects to a collection. Firstly, you can simply drag and drop objects from the 'Outliner' into the 'include' section of the 'Property Editor'. This is easy enough but there is a much more powerful way for adding objects to collections and that is with expressions. Genius Maya, genius. In the property editor, by the include section you can type an expression such as 'screw*' and that will add all of the objects that have 'screw' in their name. Note that this expression will also apply to any objects that are created with that name after the expression has been created.

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Adding objects to collections refines which elements in your scene are affected.

Step 5: Moving between collections

In any scene, especially the more complex ones, the likelihood of having multiple collections is very likely. Each collection in the list is followed by a couple of icons which let you solo and mute each collection. These are common to a lot of pieces of software so hopefully you're relatively familiar with them. This flexibility is perfect because if you want to stack up a set of options for your client to see then you can just create them all and then toggle through them.

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Collections have visibility controls for enhanced customisation.

Step 6: Overrides

As previously mentioned, overrides are one of the most powerful parts of the new 'Render Setup' workflow. They let you override a whole host of attributes as well as even overriding whole shaders on objects. I've found this to be most helpful when setting up a series of render passes for later compositing as well as creating a series of iterative design options for considering by a client. In the next few steps we're going to take a look at a couple of override options.

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Overrides let you adjust scene attributes without affecting anything original.

Step 7: Shader Override

Firstly you need to create a collection of all the objects that you want to override their shader. Then right click on the collection and create a 'Shader Override'. In the 'Property Editor' click the checker box next to the 'Override Shader' slot. This process lets you specify and customise the override shader and is perfect for creating something like a depth pass.

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Shaders can be overridden to provide a series of textured options.

Step 8: Shader Attribute Override

This is very similar to the previous step but there will be times where you won't want to replace the whole shader but will rather just want to override a specific attribute of a shader. From the outliner simply drag and drop your materials into the Render Setup Property Editor. Just underneath the list you'll see an 'Add Override' drop down list. Select 'Absolute' from the list. Then you'll need to drag whatever attribute you want to override from the 'Attribute Editor' into the 'Property Editor'.

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Overriding scene attributes is easy with this quick and dependable workflow.

Step 9: Relative vs Absolute Override

There are two override types; relative and absolute. These control how the override affects the attribute it's overriding. If it's set to relative then the override adjustment will provide a relative change to whatever the attributes current value is. Alternatively, an absolute override will completely ignore the attributes current value and simply override with the new value. The use of each type will depend on your circumstances.

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Overrides can be either relative or absolute depending on your requirement.

Step 10: Using the output

The render setup layers can be rendered either individually or as a batch and then imported into your favourite compositing software. This is unfortunately out of the bounds of this series but there is plenty of information in the Maya help for bringing guidance to this part of the process.

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The output of the render setup workflow is perfect for creating a seamless compositing output.

Step 11: The End

We've finally come to the end of this 10 part series on the Maya basics. Hopefully this has been helpful for just giving a few tips and pointers towards picking Maya up as an absolute beginner. Your confidence should have grown throughout the weeks so that you're the learning curve became easier and easier. Maya is an immensely powerful piece of software and I hope that you find it a joy to work with. Until next time.

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Hope you've enjoyed it!

Top tip: Render Setup Templates

Render setups can be exported and imported using the increasingly popular .json format. This is a brilliant solution if you're working in a team context or if you want a quick workflow across multiple projects.

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Templates speed up the render setup process.

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
Know the Basics: Maya Part 9: Arnold Rendering

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