Thursday, June 22, 2017

CAA@New Designers 2017: Export Settings and Deadline

Attention all New Designers Exhibitors!

For New Designers we're going to be using Media Players to play your films. However, whilst these boxes are very useful and convenient they are also notoriously 'picky' about what they play correctly. So, in order to negate (or limit) any issues can you please make sure you adhere to the following...

Project (Movie) Settings 

Please make sure that your films have the correct settings when you start. Including, 1920x1080 HD, 24 / 25 / or 30fps (whichever frame rate as you rendered out of Maya), Pixel Aspect Ratio of 1 (square), 48000 (Audio), 

Premiere Settings

After Effects Settings

Exporting from Premiere or After Effects

Your export settings should include all of the above alongside being H.264 / Mpeg-4. Set the preset to 'Match Source - High Bitrate'. That will give you a variable bitrate of 10 and 12. You can increase this if necessary to improve the quality of the film, for example 12 and 14. However, the maximum should not exceed 20. If you find you have exported a large file (over a gig) then there is a problem in your settings.

Premiere Settings

If you are exporting using After Effects and can't find H.264 / Mpeg-4 you can use the 'Media Encoder' to share export settings with Premiere. 'Export - Add to Media Encoder Queue'. You can access the settings by clicking under the name (H.264 in the image below) 

Media Encoder Queue. 

Film Post Effects & Audio

Please don't use any 'time remapping' post effects such as 'Time Warp' or Time Stretch' to speed up or slow down your film. It will cause stuttering on playback. On occasion we have noticed that audio clips going into and then out of After Effects or Premiere have caused problems due to the conversion process. Make sure that your audio is not being stretched or re-timed to avoid issues where possible.

Testing Your Film

It is important that you test your film ahead of New Designers (several times in some cases). A media player is going to be setup on the TV in the base room the week before New Designers. Please make sure you test your film and OK it with us. It is a good idea to leave time so that you can fix anything that may need fixing. Don't leave it to the last minute to test your film.

The Deadline

The deadline to submit your films to us (after being tested)  is Friday 30th June by 5pm. That's FRIDAY, not Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. FRIDAY. It is too high risk to be turning up to New Designers with an untested film. There is 'very' limited WIFI at the venue too, so Phil and I won't be able to download any films. 

Good Luck Everyone!

Monday, June 19, 2017

CAA @ New Designers 2017 - The Build-Up #2

Ah! The smell of emulsion, another pair of jeans ruined, intolerably warm working conditions... It must be June and the annual New Designers paint-a-thon!  Today, it was grey undercoat, followed by lashings of yellow and blue - more tomorrow!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

CAA @ New Designers 2017 - The Build-Up #1

So it begins!  On Wednesday 14th July, we collected five MDF 'monoliths' from fabrication wizard, Tim Hall.  This marks the moment when CAA's preparations for New Designers 2017 begin in earnest.  Watch this space!

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

FAO CAA YEAR: Adaptation Professional Practice Feedback is Now Available

Attention Year 2!

Your Adaptation assessment proforma's are now available on MyUCA and in your UCA email inbox.

Note: If anyone has any questions regarding their feedback please contact me and arrange a time to come in. After having written over 26000 words please excuse any typos that may be in your feedback too. Again if you are not understanding something please ask. - Thanks, Alan.

FAO CAA ALL YEARS: Changes to Maya on Computer Animation Arts

OK Everyone. There have been important changes to the way in which we are going to use Maya on Computer Animation Arts... 

As you are all aware, we (as a course) have stayed with Maya 2016 extension 2 this year instead of updating to Maya 2017. The reason for that is due to the change in ‘bundled renderer’ and licensing. However we are going to move a new system as of September. To explain why and what it means for you please read the following.

The Change: Mental Ray has been replaced by Arnold (by Solidangle) as Maya's ‘bundled render’ in version 2017. That change has come after 17 years of Maya and Mental being connected. 

Rendered using Arnold

It has been unclear until recently if Mental Ray would continue to be supported beyond the change and what using Arnold would mean for students learning Maya. Hence our 'hold off' period sticking with 2016 ext2. We didn't want to rob you of knowledge due to a abrupt software change. However, Nvidia, the owners of Mental Ray, have just released new versions for both Maya and 3D Max. That means support will continue for Mental Ray for now even though Arnold is rapidly becoming the standard.

Why the change: The main reason why Autodesk switched renderers is simply to do with what the market wants. That is rendering for 'reality' - Accurately depicting the real world using global illumination and linear work flow. 

You may have noticed over recent years that CG film elements are looking more realistic and accurate (Transformers, Marvel etc).  Even in animation 'reality' has become a viable way to render. Films such as ‘Rango, The Croods, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ all have a rendering / lighting style which is closer reality than cartoon stylisation. That is because they are being rendered using indirect lighting and light bounce systems (known as global illumination) alongside accurately mimicking how your eyes see the world (known as Linear Work Flow). Both Mental Ray and Arnold have the capacity to render using this technology. However, Arnold is ready to do that straight out of the box where as Mental Ray needs to be set up. Overall, Arnold is easier to use for that kind of rendering and produces better results (a simplification but generally considered to be the case). 

Throughout the course you have actually been using a ‘fake’ global illumination. Each time you have plugged in an Ambient Occlusion node into a shader it has been to fake global lighting. The results are not exactly the same as global illumination but produce a similar (but paired down) feel. In Mental Ray that kind of setup can be used to produce semi-realistic results or stylised renders. That is not the case in Arnold where realism is the ultimate goal.

Licensing Change: ‘Alias Wavefront’ originally owned Maya, before it was bought by Autodesk (via a pension company) back in the mid 2000’s. During that purchase, Mental Ray switched from being something extra that you paid for to something that came free with Maya - Originally you weren’t able to render with Mental Ray until you paid for a license. To a certain degree, this is true again now for both Arnold and Mental Ray after the switch. Arnold comes with Maya (including the student version) but you can’t batch render until you buy a license. Likewise, Mental Ray can be downloaded and installed for free but again you can’t batch render until you pay. Both allow you to render a still image though.

What all this means for the course and you: As of September 2017 we are going to switch to Maya 2017 (or 2018 if it is released in time) to make use of Maya's new features. We are also going to install Arnold and Mental Ray to ensure that you can benefit from both rendering technologies – Allowing you to use what you know (Mental Ray) and gain from new knowledge (Arnold). It will mean you will be able to render 'realistically' in Arnold and stylised / real in Mental Ray. The best of both worlds.

However, the new licensing structure means that any batch rendering will now need to be done through ‘’. There are two reasons for that decision. Firstly, Garagefarm will have full licenses for Mental Ray and Arnold. Secondly, because rendering with Arnold (for realism) increases rendering times to a high degree (one frame can take anywhere from 10 - 45 minutes). A render farm is needed to cope with that. Overall, this will mean that you will find lighting easier (both in Arnold and Mental Ray) due to their new updates, you will get better and more realistic results (where appropriate), and be ready for a changing industry. 

There will of course be a cost to rendering through a render farm. We are working with to hopefully minimise that cost as much as possible but it is a necessary part of the new systems and the way the industry is moving. We will  be installing the ‘upload software’ on all of the computers. I will show how to use both rendering engines when you return and I will go over the options. 

I will keep you updated of any further changes but as it stands, we will be switching to Maya 2017 (or 2018 with Arnold), installing Mental Ray, and software for September. It would be a good idea for you to begin to do the same ready for when you come back. Finally, there is no reason why you can’t keep Maya 2016 ext2 on your computers too, but be mindful that you can’t go back a version once you started in the latest software. You can download Maya and Mental Ray 2017 here:

Autodesk Maya (with Arnold): Link
Mental Ray: Link

Please share / pass on this information on to anyone who you think may not see this post.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Which Computer Shall I Buy?


Q: Which software will I use on Computer Animation Arts?
A: Autodesk Maya 2017 & Arnold, Mental Ray for Maya, Mudbox 2017, and the Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate/Flash, After Effects, & Premiere).

Q: What is Autodesk Maya, Arnold, Mental Ray, and Mudbox?
A: Autodesk Maya is virtual studio / workshop that allows you to create 3D films. It is the same software that Disney, Dreamworks, and Pixar use to make animations, and it is the same software used to make VFX work like in the Marvel films. Arnold & Mental Ray are rendering ‘plug-in’s for Maya that transform basic 3D objects into the lit images you see on screen. Finally, Mudbox is a virtual ‘high poly’ sculpting tool, which allows you create detailed models.

Q: Can I get the software at home?
A: Yes. A free student version of Maya (with Arnold) and Mudbox are available to download once you have enrolled onto the course. Mental Ray for Maya can be download for free too. The Adobe Creative Suite can be purchased as a subscription. These can be found here.

Autodesk Maya (with Arnold): Link
Mudbox: Link
Mental Ray: Link
Adobe Creative Cloud for Students: Link

Q: Do I need to buy a computer before I enroll onto Computer Animation Arts?
A: Yes, we would recommend purchasing an appropriate computer if possible. However, there are computers available for student use in the University. They are accessible Monday to Friday between 8am-8pm. Each computer contains the software and hardware necessary to create 3D work. 

Q: Shall I buy a laptop or desktop PC?
A: We would recommend that you buy a desktop PC and not a laptop for 3D work. The hardware required to process 3D software can be more expensive in a laptop. Due to space restrictions and the modifications needed to make it portable. Overall, you will get more for your money when buying a desktop PC. Making is more powerful, last longer, and easier to update in the future. Working on 3D (or concept art) on a laptop is not recommended either due to the reduced size of the screen.

Q: Shall I buy a Windows or Mac PC
A: A Windows PC. A Mac can be problematic / restrictive when using Autodesk Maya. 

Q: What standard of computer shall I buy?
A: You will need to purchase a Windows PC that works well with Autodesk Maya 2017. Autodesk’s minimum requirements for Maya can be found here. However, the basic requirements are;

- CPU: 64-bit Intel® or AMD® multi-core processor with SSE4.2 instruction set. 
- Graphics Hardware: Refer to the following pages for a detailed list of recommended systems and graphics cards - Maya Certified Hardware (English)
- RAM: 8 GB of RAM (16 GB or more recommended)
- Disk Space: 4 GB of free disk space for install
- Pointing Device: Three-button mouse

One of the more expensive (but necessary) requirements on the list is an appropriate graphics card. This will make up most of the cost of your PC. Autodesk have a list of tested graphics cards on their website (link). If possible, buying an Nvida Quadro Card is recommended. A Quadro M2000M is a good intro option costing around £450 (currently, the top of the list of ‘Quadro cards’ is the GP100’ costing £7000.) An Nvidia Geforce card is another option, such as the GTX 680 costing approximately £250. In each case make sure that the card you purchase is on the Autodesk Maya certification list to ensure you don’t encounter any problems. 

Q: How much will a PC cost overall?
A: With a monitor a PC capable of 3D can cost anywhere from £1200 - £2000+.

Q: Where should I buy a computer?
A: Dell or HP (Hewlett Packard). Even though they may be slightly more expensive, both of these companies are experienced builders of ‘3D Workstations’, both for the animation and VFX industry. They also test their computers to ensure the components work together correctly. Staff will work with you over the phone to ensure you are buying the right type of computer and you can ‘spec’ a PC on their website to gauge costs. If you wish to buy from another seller you can use the spec generated by Dell or HP to make sure you are know what you need too. We would suggest not buying PC’s from local seller such as PC World or similar. They will rarely have a PC that works well with 3D and they focus more on selling ‘Games PC’s’. These are different to the ones used to build 3D. 

Q: Which monitor should I buy?
A: A HD 1920x1080 monitor. Again, there are options via Dell and HP. 

Q: Shall I build my own PC / Shall I have a friend build my PC?
A: No. Try not to go down this route. Buying separate untested components can lead to problems. 

Q: I’m still confused?
A: Please feel free to email me (Alan) with any further questions at

You can download this Q&A as a PDF here.

Friday, June 02, 2017

FAO Year 3: Major Project Assessment Proformas & Feedback Now Available

Attention Year 3!

Your Major Project assessment proforma's are now available on MyUCA and in your UCA email inbox.