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Domemaster3D adds mental ray 3.14 for Maya 2017 Support

Domemaster3D v2.2 is now Available for Maya 2017

The latest Domemaster3D lens shaders installer is now available for Windows, macOS, and Linux systems. This toolset is used to create panoramic 360° renderings that are used in planetariums and in the pre-rendered cinematic VR field.

This release of Domemaster3D works with 3DS Max 2009-2017, Maya 2010-2017, and Cinema4D R18 with C4DtoA. The installer adds support for the new mental ray for Maya 3.14 release, and it also has an option for installing the Vray for Max shaders, and you can install Domemaster3D beta shaders that work with Arnold MtoA and C4DtoA.

This update also sees the macOS versions of Domemaster3D having a new Apple digitally signed certificate that is used with the installer and the lens shader .dylib / .so library files. This means the macOS 10.9-10.12 Gatekeeper security feature can be left at the default settings now.

If you are a Domemaster3D Maya user you will probably notice the top section of the installer lists both mental ray 3.14 and mental ray 3.13 versions of the lens shaders:

The mental ray version of Domemaster3D has been updated to support a ray differential based rendering mode that is present in mental ray 3.14 for Maya 2016 and Maya 2017.

What’s up with the new mental ray 3.14 release?

NVIDIA has recently released an upgrade to their mental ray plugin renderer that is designed to work with Maya 2017. Downloading and installing the new mental ray 3.14 product release is a bit of a different experience for Maya based customers than in previous mental ray versions.

In the past mental ray for Maya was provided as an integrated and bundled renderer that came with every copy of Autodesk Maya that was sold. Autodesk recently changed that policy so now mental ray is delivered as a separate standalone product offering that comes directly from NVIDIA.

This is a lot of change for an “old school” Maya user to take in at one time, seeing as mental ray for Maya has been a bundled product that came with Maya since around 2002 when Maya 4.5 came out. For many longtime Maya customers using Maya equaled having mental ray as the default renderer for all projects.

If you go to the NVIDIA mental ray web site today you will notice that mental ray 3.14 for Maya is now available with three different license tiers:

There is a free version of mental ray for Maya that anyone can download. This version is able to be used on commercial or non-commercial projects. It can render imagery to any image format that is supported in mental ray, and it works with no resolution limitations when you are creating renderings inside of Maya’s Render View. The design limitation with this free version of mental ray is that support for Maya batch rendering of animations, and the new render sequence command in Maya 2017 are both disabled.

There is a discount pricing tier for mental ray called the “Pro GPU” option that provides NVIDIA professional GPU customers that have either a Telsa and Quadro GPU with a $95 USD/year license price for mental ray for Maya. This licensing option adds support for rendering animations with Maya Batch and the Render Sequence command. You also get access to mental ray standalone which provides a powerful way to optimize your rendering performance with mental ray, and it supports improved command line rendering of raw mental ray for Maya .mi scene exports.

Then finally there is a “regular” pricing tier for mental ray that is $295 USD/year option. It supports rendering animations with Maya Batch and the Render Sequence command. You also get access to mental ray standalone which provides a powerful way to optimize your rendering performance with mental ray, and it supports improved command line rendering of raw mental ray for Maya .mi scene exports.

If you go for the mental ray “regular” or “Pro GPU” paid options you can choose to purchase a node locked or floating license. There are discounts provided for purchasing a 5 pack of mental ray licenses, a volume pricing tier exists for large customers who order 50+ licenses, and there is a special free educational pricing option available to teachers who work at educational institutions.

If you purchase a floating license of mental ray for Maya, the floating licenses are served to artist workstations and to render nodes using Flexera’s FlexNet Publisher license manager. If you haven’t used FlexNet Publisher before, the “lmadmin” webpage management UI address is on port 8090. If you were sitting with a keyboard attached to the license server you would access the server’s local URL of:

http://localhost:8090

Note: If you are setting up lmadmin for the first time the default username is “admin” and the password is “admin”. After you login to the lmadmin webpage you are guided through the process of customizing these login settings.

FlexNet Publisher is used to provide floating licenses for mental ray for Maya and mental ray standalone.

Earlier this year NVIDIA invited mental ray users to sign up for the mental ray 3.14 beta program if they want access to explore the newest version in advance of the official release. As soon as I heard about the beta program I signed up.

From my perspective, mental ray 3.14 has seen the largest number of revisions and improvements in a single mental ray release that has happened in ages. By my count mental ray 3.14 has as big of an improvement to the core rendering features as when Maya 8.5/Maya 2008 came out.

If you are a NVIDIA GPU user then you will really enjoy the performance boost provided by the new “GI Next” global illumination lighting modes that use CUDA hardware acceleration to speed up your photorealistic renderings. The new mental ray MILA layered material system has continued to be refined, and support for the MDL material system has been improved.

Using Ray Differentials in mental ray 3.14

In the past there were several mental ray for Maya based lens shader rendering artifacts that caused a lot of headaches for artists who used Domemaster3D to create planetarium shows, or pre-rendered cinematic VR (Virtual Reality) imagery.

I would like to personally thank Barton Gawboy, Peter de Lappe, and Jury Abramov from the NVIDIA ARC mental ray development team for listening to my feedback during the mental ray beta program cycle, and for their dedicated efforts in seeing that the improvements for lens shader specific revisions to mental ray and the ray differential texturing system made it into the final release! The newest mental ray 3.14 release has addressed and fixed many of the problems that could occur with lens shaders like Domemaster3D which is awesome in my books.

One of the most common immersive VR rendering issues that existed in the past was something that I call the “blurry streak artifact” that could appear in 360° renderings when a Maya file node was used to load imagery when texture mapping a scene. This issue is best described in the “The Infamous Grey Blurry Line of Fisheye Lens Shaders” blog post by Jason Fletcher from The Fulldome Blog.

The new mental ray 3.14 update fixes this issue using an intersting texture sampling approach called ray differentials. This mode is accessed in Maya 2016/2017 by changing the texture filtering attribute on a Maya File texture node to “MipMap”, and then expanding the mental ray section in the Attribute Editor window and enabling the “Advanced Elliptical Filtering” checkbox.

Enabling Elliptical Filtering on a Maya File Node

If you have an existing Maya scene with lots of file nodes in the Hypershade, I created a new “1 click” set of functions in Domemaster3D to modify your texture maps to have the MipMap setting applied automatically, and the Advanced Elliptical Filtering option will be enabled at the same time.

Switch to the rendering menu set in Maya. This is where the ever handy Domemaster3D menu is accessed.

If you have Domemaster3D version 2.2+ for Maya installed on your system you will notice there are two new items in the Domemaster3D menu that allow you to quickly enable and control the mental ray 3.14 based ray differential settings on all of the Maya File nodes in your scene:

The Domemaster3D menu makes it easy to enable elliptical filtering on your Maya file nodes.

The “Enable Elliptical Filtering on Maya File Nodes” menu item is the fastest way to prepare the Maya file textures in a scene for panoramic 360° compatible rendering in Domemaster3D.

The “List Elliptical Filtering Details on Maya File Nodes” menu item writes a quick textual report to the Maya Script Editor window. This will list a summary of the file nodes in the scene that have the new ray differential compatible settings applied, and it also indicates if any of the file nodes are using older settings that might cause an issue if you were to activate a panoramic 360° lens shader in the scene.

To make things easier for pipeline and rendering technical directors, I created a set of new custom MEL functions in Domemaster3D that are accessible to end users. Using these MEL based “hooks” it is possible to create your own Maya shelf items or tools that can update the elliptical filtering settings on Maya File nodes using one of the following MEL script code snippets, too:

Prior to the release of mental ray 3.14, the best known “blurry streak artifact” workaround in Maya 2010- 2016.5 was to switch all of your textures from using Maya file nodes over to using a mental ray native material that applied the file based image maps in a Maya scene using “mentalrayTexture” nodes.

The downside to this older mental ray native texturing approach is that a mentalrayTexture node is cumbersome and tedious for an artist to work with since the real-time Viewport 2.0 texture preview quality is quite poor. This meant a Maya Render View based raytraced rendering was needed to verify the exact look of the textures in a VR based panoramic scene.

The Domemaster3D shelf in Maya had several material presets that made this process a bit more manageable and easier for artists who were not comfortable creating their own mental ray native shading network from scratch.

I have included a new example Maya project named “Domemaster3D_transparent_materials_project.zip” with the latest Domemaster3D release. If you haven’t updated to mental ray 3.14 yet, this example scene presents a way to create transparency and alpha cutout effects using legacy mentalrayTexture nodes with an “mia_material_x_passes” kind of shading network. You will find this example project stored in the “Domemaster3D/docs/Maya_Examples/” folder on your system.

This example Maya scene file shows how to use a legacy mentalrayTexture based shading network approach to create transparent alpha cutouts.

This is a mental ray native shading network that will let you create transparency effects for VR renderings that work nicely in older copies of mental ray.

Activating the mental ray Interactive Viewport Renderer

You can turn on mental ray interactive rendering in the persp viewport window.

A really big improvement in mental ray 3.14 is the new interactive viewport rendering mode that works inside of a regular Maya “persp” camera based perspective viewport window.

This feature means you can spin and tumble a camera view naturally. Then when you stop moving the camera for a moment the mental ray interactive rendering mode is refreshed and you get a progressively refined raytraced version of your mental ray scene with all of the fine details and lighting quality you would expect to see in an image rendered in the Maya Render View window.

This is a mental ray interactive rendering from a camera that has a lens shader applied to it.

What I like most about the interactive viewport feature in mental ray 3.14 is that it supports panoramic lens shaders like Domemaster3D!

I have to say the interactive performance and overall rendering workflow is really beautiful with this viewport approach. I particularly like the slick fading / blending transition from Viewport 2.0 to the interactive mental ray rendering when a user does a quick camera move.

As a tip, if you are looking through a stereo camera rig in Maya, then mental ray doesn’t list itself as an interactive viewport renderer option. The solution to get a viewport preview to work with a stereo rig is to go to the Panels > Stereo > StereoCamera > menu and select either the left or right camera view.

When you are looking through a stereo camera rig in Maya the new mental ray interactive viewport rendering option isn’t available.

The solution to activate the interactive mental ray viewport rendering mode in Maya is to look through either the left or right camera view in the stereo rig.

You are now looking through a regular “mono” 2D camera view at this point so you are able to switch from the Viewport 2.0 rendering mode to a mental ray interactive preview.

This panoramic image was rendered using the mental ray interactive rendering mode in the real-time viewport with the Domemaster3D domeAFL_FOV_Stereo lens shader by looking through the left view in the stereo rig.