Friday, May 27, 2011

UV Solutions for a Maya Pipeline

Ah, the UV layout process. You know: the long, soul-draining buzzkill after modeling and before texturing? I have yet to meet an artist that looks forward to it. Thankfully, recent trends have been toward expediting the process through automation wherever possible, and in some cases doing away with it completely. This week I’ll focus on a few of the more popular tools as I weigh the options available.

Since Maya’s UV toolset is generally considered to be an incomplete solution, the question always arises: what tools best fill the void?
One method that I find quickest:
  1. Use RoadKill plugin in Maya to identify seams and make the initial split into islands (faster selection of edgeloops using Maya’s toolset; more intuitive than UVLayout’s flow)
  2. Export as obj and open in Headus UVLayout to flatten (better flattening algorithm than RoadKill)
  3. Import back into Maya and do final tweaking
Still missing from this workflow: a set of brushes with falloff to allow pinch/magnify/smooth of UVs – think Artisan brushes for UVs. Anyone know of a plugin that can add this functionality to Maya? While I’m on the subject, why is Maya so far behind on this? UVing is something every digital artist deals with every day, yet we still have to rely on external applications or plugins to get basic functionality? Also, since UVing is basically “poly modeling in 2D,” why not have the same robust set of tools for moving UVs around, including Artisan brushes?  /end of rant

Headus UVLayout  $300 pro version
The most complete toolset with the crappiest interface. Most of the “pros” recommend it; it does just about everything you’d want a layout tool to do, except the ridiculous interface requires some getting used to. (At least some tooltips for the cryptic icon-less buttons? Please?)
Pros: awesome flattening tools and other goodies
Cons: external to Maya so requires an import/export. Also, did I mention the horrid interface?

RoadKill  free!
Two components: a Maya plugin and a more full-featured standalone interface. Basically brings Blender UV unwrapping to Maya users.
Pros: brings “pelt-mapping” paradigm into Maya, and did I mention it’s free?
Cons: not a complete solution

Auto Unwrap UVs tool (MEL script, included in Bonus Tools) 
Autodesk’s “official” attempt to add RoadKill-like pelt-mapping technique to Maya’s workflow (i.e. selecting edgeloop seams as a basis for cutting UVs into “islands”)
Pros: lots of different methods to accommodate different topologies
Cons: none of the flatten methods are very good. Tried all of the techniques; the results required lots of back-and-forth between “Unfold” and “Relax” with the smooth UV tool before the results started to be useable.

Cas_autoUnfold tool  Free!
MEL script, organizes a lot of Maya tools into a convenient toolbox for easy access. Also brings together some of the more popular unwrapping algorithms available from other plugins from Highend 3d.
Pros: useful tools
Cons: a bit buggy and largely devoid of up-to-date documentation

ZBrush: UV Master plugin  Free download if you already have ZBrush
Great for quick and dirty mapping of complex organic objects. For when speed, not optimization, is the directive. Automatically produces acceptable results for 3d painting (a la Mudbox or ZBrush).
Pros: the best option if you already have a Zbrush-based pipeline. The best automatic results of any tested. Zbrush consistently has some of the most ingenious solutions to common problems – this is no exception. For example, auto-creating seams based on ambient occlusion ensures they will be in low-visibility areas –brilliant!
Cons: not a complete solution for most jobs (however, a GREAT starting point for any UV workflow)

3D Coat
The best solution if you already have a 3d-Coat based solution. 3d-Coat, if you don’t know, is the dark horse many predict could be the future of 3d; they ooze innovation in every area. If you get comfortable with their interface, their UV tools are top-notch. By the way, they have the UV smoothing brush I wish Maya had.

Whatever happened to DeepUV?
Back in the day I was an expert in the DeepPaint/DeepUV workflow. Sadly, this package fell into neglect and has not been developed for years. Amazingly, I just checked and it’s still for sale, though it “doesn’t run on Vista.”

Unwrap 3D: I know nothing about this one, but it’s 50-60 bucks.
Check out its feature list:

UV Mapper, another standalone I haven’t used, around 60 smackers:

Unwrella, a plugin for Max or Maya, though I suspect their Max integration is better:  £150

At the high end is Unfold UV, too rich for my blood but rumored to be awesome:  £700

Also, Blender is free and useful for more than just UVs – it’s a complete 3d production pipeline:

Also, Silo, Modo, and just about any other 3d modeling package has the ability to generate UVs with variable ease of use. XSI users swear by theirs. Let me know your thoughts. What is the best UV toolset out there? What is the best solution for Maya pipeline?

Lessons Learned
To push the thousands of objects through the pipe for my short film, I’m moving toward ZBrush as the fastest method for the majority of set dressing objects, only optimizing in Headus UVLayout and Maya for “hero” objects. It just makes the most sense when the crucial factor is time.
Going forward, I’m all for a UV-less future: Mudbox Ptex texturing and rendering in realtime with Maya 2012’s Viewport 2.0 (which supports Ptex, or UV-less texturing). Without UVs OR render farms to contend with, I’m envisioning a 25% time savings in the 3d pipeline.

More about UVs for those have no idea what I'm talking about:
Popular Flattening Algorithms:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Old Baldie

Another bald wrinkly guy from Mudbox. Why does Mudbox always seem to elicit bald wrinkly guys? 'Cuz hair is hard but wrinkles are easy? Maybe. Next digital sculpting doodle will not be bald and wrinkly. I swear.