A few Maya observations…

I recently did some benchmarks which can be found here and here.

After a lengthy period rendering a scene, I’ve made a few observations:

Mac vs Windows with Maya 2011

I can’t really give any comparisons when it comes to speed (they seem to be roughly equal), but Apple’s Mac OS is really impressive in the way it lets you multi task while a render’s going at full tilt. I’ll put it this way: If you’re on a Mac, you can still use it while the render’s going – I wouldn’t try playing a game by any means, but web browsing, sifting through images, and even encoding are all possible. If you’re using a Windows machine, it’s effectively unusable while rendering – even trying to open an image can take a few seconds (even on a 6-core machine), and forget about having a responsive interface any time all cores are maxed.

Essentially what I’m saying is that if you’re looking to buy a daily-use machine that will also spend gads of time rendering, you’ll want a Mac. On the other hand, if you’re buying a machine that will render and do nothing else, either will be fine (although you’ll probably get the most for your money running a Windows machine with an AMD processor). Note that RAM is pretty important and I’d go with a minimum of 8GB.

Cross-OS usage of scene files (Windows and Mac)

If you utilize the proper process for project folders (setting the folder) and make sure you reference any images/etc using a relative path, you should have minimal issues.

However, if you leave the project as the default one and reference images/etc willy-nilly wherever they happen to be stored, you’ll have a few issues when transferring to/from Windows/Mac machines. More specifically, if you do it on a Windows machine, the Mac’s not going to be able to find C:/Users/joe_black/Desktop/Mayaprojectimages.

Luckily, this can be fixed.

First, on the “new” machine, open the project and look in the script editor. You should see a lot of locations that it can’t find (mentioned as errors with a file path). Jot these down.

What you need to do next is have Maya save the scene as an ASCII file (the default save option is BINARY). You can then use notepad (Windows) or textedit (Mac) to edit the file. Incidentally, textedit handles large files a lot better, so do the editing on the Mac side if possible – otherwise you may need to risk using Wordpad or an alternate windows-based text editor if Notepad can’t handle the size.

In the ASCII file, search for one of the missing locations. For example, one might be “C:/Users/joe_beans/Desktop/superimages/car.jpg”.

Once you’ve found it, you have 2 options:

1) Change it to a Mac location ( “/Users/betty_beans/Desktop/superimages/car.jpg” as an example)

2) Change it to an EASY location (“/superimages/car.jpg” as an example) and put the file there, making a “superimages” folder in the root of your “Macintosh HD” drive.

I strongly recommend option 2 if you’re transferring the scene file back and forth and making changes. The reason for the recommendation is that “/superimages” works for both Mac and Windows. Maya for Windows will simply assume that you meant “C:/superimages”. Just make sure that folder (and the files) are there, and it’ll work. You’ll now be able to work on the file from either location, and it’ll access your “car.jpg” image.

One major issue that will present however is in certain cases when using PaintFX (even if you follow the proper procedures for setting project folders). Some PaintFX tools use an image for the texture, and for whatever reason, it references the location directly. The problem is that Windows uses something like C:/Program_Files/Autodesk/maya2011/paintbrush_images/whateverimage.jpg whereas the Mac uses something like /Applications/Autodesk/maya2011/Maya.app/paintbrush_images/whateverimage.jpg . The easiest way to deal with this is to simply copy the offending files out of Maya’s folder and into your new easy folder “/superimages” for example, and change the ASCII file to reference the file in the new location.

Maya 2011 Mental Ray Satellite stuff

The benchmarks I did previously (linked on the first line of this writeup) focused on improvements in render time when using Mental Ray Satellite. Just a few things to add:

1) Mental Ray Satellite is flakey. You *have* to watch it to make sure it doesn’t decide it has “completed” at random times and suddenly stop.

2) Some further evidence from a rather complex render, indicating that there are diminishing returns as machines are added…
: i3-550 (3.2Ghz) solo was taking 24 minutes per frame
: adding a Core2Duo (2.26Ghz) reduced the time to 16 minutes per frame
: adding an i3-530 (3.06Ghz) (in addition to the 2.26Ghz Core2Duo) reduced the time to 12 minutes per frame

The 3rd machine’s a good bit more powerful than the 2nd. However, it only improved the render time by 4 minutes (whereas the 2nd machine yielded an 8 minute improvement). As my previous benchmarks indicated, diminishing returns are huge. If my previous tests were any indication, adding a 4th machine would yield little to no improvement, and adding a 5th would actually start slowing things down.

3) Mental Ray Satellite can help with RAM limitations. This could very well be the saving grace for some people. Yes, as I said in #2, speed-wise you do get diminishing returns. However, by using Mental Ray Satellite and distributing the render, you free up some RAM on the Master machine (and the slaves don’t use very much RAM either running as Satellites). To give you an idea, the i3-550 rendering this particular scene goes from 7-8GB of RAM usage to about 5GB of usage when the two slaves are added. The slaves themselves easily use less than 2GB a piece.

If you’re really hurting for RAM on the master, adding slaves through MR satellite might be just what you need to avoid hitting the swap file (which absolutely KILLS you on render time when it does happen). This also adds value for machines that are powerful but too RAM-limited to actually run Maya since MR Satellite doesn’t use a lot of RAM.