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    Rendering Tutorial – Using Maya Software and AfterEffects

    2014 - 06.25

    Hello animators! So you’ve pushed your animation as far as you can, you’ve polished and polished and Polished until there’s not a single flat tangent in your graph editor. Congratulations! ….. now what? Send in your Reel right? Hold your horses there little feller. You’ve got to render it out.

    Granted, if you’re applying for an animator position they should just be looking at your animation. But I would be a fool to think that they don’t consider the overall presentation of your Reel. Its kind of like a cake that hasn’t been decorated yet. Yeah, it still has the same great taste but they’re not going to know that until you compel them to try a piece first. So here’s a quick tutorial on how to easily add some visual icing to your animation cake!

    Just a quick note before we get started. This is just a simple render technique that is meant for animators who have been pushing there work and want to just render it out quickly. In collaborative/ studio work, lighting and rendering your projects is WAY WAY WAY more complex than this.

    Step 1 of 8 – Setting your project.

    First you have to set your project. This is going to make it, so that your renders all go to one place and is easier to find later.

    In Maya go to File>Project Window

    Then click New. Then click the little folder Icon under New. Now just name and pick where you want the project to be saved in. This is going to create a bunch of subfolders that say Sound, Images, Movies, etc.

    Now move your Animation Scene into the Scenes folder.

    Next go to File>Set Project and look for your Project. SINGLE click it. Then click on the bottom where it says Set.

    Next go to File>Open Scene. If you did the steps correctly, your Animation Scene should be right there. Just SINGLE click it and click Open.

    Now your scene should be ready to go and the renders will be easy to find!


    Step 2 of 8 – Adding the lights and shadows

    Now for the fun part, adding lights and shadows! I’ll go through setting up an Ambient Light and a Spot Light, but feel free to add more if you like.

    Go to Create>Lights>Ambient Light. This adds just that little bit of light so that you’re not in complete darkness. Then move the light to where you want it and set the Intensity to 0.8. Now for the Spot Light.

    Go to Create>Lights>Spot Light. I would suggest creating at least two of these.

    First move the light to where you want it. I like pressing T on the keyboard. This makes two different cursors pop up so that it’s easier for you to point the light exactly where you want it.

    Next you have to adjust your settings on the Spot Light. Feel free to make your own adjustments to achieve the look you are going for, but here are the settings I used for this particular scene.

    First go to Decay Rate and set it to Quadratic.

    Next go to Intensity and set it to 60,000.

    Then go to Cone Angle and Penumbra Angle and set those to 50.

    Now go to Shadows and check the box that says Use Depth Map Shadows. Then crank the Resolution up to 7500 or more. This will help the shadows not look so pixelated.


    Step 3 of 8 – Render Settings

    Once you have all the lights you want, it’s time to fine tune it in the Render settings and get it ready to Batch Render.

    Go to your Render Settings by going through the menu or clicking the little Render Settings Icon.

    Now click on the Maya Software tab. Then, where it says Quality, change it to Production Quality. Now render right quick and see if you need to make any adjustments to the lighting. Once you’re ready you should get something like this.


    It looks a little flat right now but that’s ok. We will fix that in AfterEffects. For now just make sure that there is enough light and that the shadows are not that harsh of pixelated. Now it’s time to set up the Batch Render.

    In the Render Settings click on the Common tab.

    Where it says Image Format, set it to Targa.

    Under that where it says Frame/Animation ext:, set it to name.#.ext

    Next change the Frame Padding to 3.

    Now under Frame Range make sure to include all the frames you want rendered. In this example I wanted to render out frames 620 – 652. So in the Start Frame: I put 620 and in the End Frame: I put 652.

    Finally, under Renderable Camera make sure you choose the camera you made for your animation. In this case, I created a camera called ShotCam. So it is set to ShotCam.


    Step 4 of 8 – Batch Render

    Almost there, now you just need to Batch Render. Just a suggestion, if you want to make sure everything is set up right, try rendering out only 5 frames and make sure they are being sent where they are supposed to. In your project, you should be able to find the renders under the Images subfolder. It’s important to make sure you did it right because rendering takes a long time.

    So once you’re confident that everything is setup right, it’s time to Batch Render.

    In the Rendering menu go to Render>Batch Render. That’s it. Now you just have to wait till it’s done doing its thing. If you want to see how far along it’s coming, just click on the Script Editor icon. A window will pop up telling you how close to done the renders are. It’ll say something like Rendering frame 1 of 200, then 2 of 200, etc. Once it’s done, it’ll say Rendering Complete.


    Step 5 of 8 – Importing to AfterEffects

    Were almost done, just have to make it watchable for everyone!

    In AfterEffects go to File>Import>File

    Navigate to where your renders are (They should be in your Project folder in the Images subfolder) and click on the first Render. In this case its Shot09_Final.620. Then make sure that Targa Sequence is checked, then click Import.

    Another window will pop up. Just check Straight – Unmatted and click OK.


    Step 6 of 8 – Interpreting the Footage

    THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT STEP!!! If you skip this step, your animation will look different. It might look slower or faster.

    In the Project window Right click the footage. Then go to Interpret Footage>Main.

    In this window, change the frame rate to whatever frame rate you chose to do your animation in. In my case, I animated at 24 FPS, so I changed the frame rate to 24. Hit Enter. If you did it right the number next to your footage in the project window should be at the correct frame rate.


    Next drag the footage down into the Composition.


    Step 7 of 8 – Color Correction

    Now comes the part where we fix the flatness that we talked about earlier.

    Select your footage, then go to Effects>Color Correction>Levels.

    Now in the Effects window, move the top two sliders around. One slider is for the darks and the other for the lights. What you want to do is make the darks a little darker and the lights a little lighter. This will add some contrast and make the footage really stand out.

    From here you can add more colors or effects to whatever works best for your animation. In my case I added a Ramp effects and some Calculations.


    Finally we can make the .mov file.


    Step 8 of 8 – Exporting the .mov file

    Once you’re happy with the way it looks, go to Composition>Add to Render Queue.

    In the Render Queue window, click on Lossless.

    Then change the Format to Quicktime.

    Next click on Format Options. In here, you can choose whatever compression format you like. In my case, I like using Sorenson Video 3.

    Now click on the file name next to Output To:

    Then name your file and choose where to save it.

    Finally, click Render. Yay, were done!


    Thank You

    I hope this tutorial helped you to put that extra icing on your cake. If you have any questions or anything was unclear, feel free to comment below or email me. HAVE A GREAT DAY!!! :D