CoreCG's MentalCore in Review

Product Review: CoreCG's MentalCore

MentalCore is a render management tool for Autodesk Maya developed by CoreCG, the “commercial software arm” of Oktobor Animation (an animation studio located in New Zealand). Oktobor had been using MentalCore internally for some time, and then they decided to release it as a commercial product.

The software offers different features, such as render pass creation and management, global illumination, ambient occlusion. If you’re familiar with the Maya Mentalray workflow, MentalCore shouldn’t be difficult to learn since it’s fairly similar, although it offers an easier workflow. For example, creating and managing render passes for Mentalray can be time consuming, but MentalCore makes it a lot easier.

When creating render passes in MentalCore, you can select the layers you need from a big list of available passess, but you can also use presets. Presets are groups of render passes that can be stored and can be called from other scenes so you don’t have to manually create all the passes again. For example, if for your scene you selected a diffuse, specular, reflection, and shadow pass, you can store that as a preset and call it again on another scene. MentalCore already includes some presets as well.

You can also create render passes that include specific objects very easily. This is a very useful feature (and, as you know, it’s also included in Maya, although it requires some extra steps), because sometimes rendering the passes alone is not enough, and you need to render out the different elements in your scene separately, so you have more control on your final shot when putting it all together in your compositor.

MentalCore features the ability to light the scenes using environment lighting, IBL (image based lighting), and also global illumination. Basically, everything you can do using built-in Mentalray shaders and lights, can also be achieved using MentalCore tools. Actually, this type of workflow is mandatory, because when you’re rendering with MentalCore you’re required to apply the Core shaders to your objects or else they are not rendered (you can use standard Maya lights just fine, and special light nodes are only required when you’re using specific setups).

Using Core shaders is just like using the standard Maya shaders. The core_material is the most straightforward, because it includes the options to turn it into any kind of material (be it phong, blinn, or diffuse).  On the other hand, MentalCore also includes other shader types like car paint, and sub surface scattering shaders. It also includes a shader that can be used with Maya Fur (I have to wonder if people still use Maya Fur, considering there are better tools to create fur in Maya).

MentalCore users can also use the Python API. This API can be used to better integrate MentalCore with a studio's pipeline. It contains a set of functions that can be used to create, edit or link render passes. Personally, I am not a Python user, but many studios rely on Python scripting to develop tools that can easily integrate different tools in their pipelines.

MentalCore makes creating and managing render passes a lot easier, although at first it requires you to get used to the entire MentalCore workflow. However, once you get used to it, you can see this is a very powerful tool. MentalCore will prove to be a very valuable rendering companion for those working on complex scenes and need an easy way to manage all those render passes.

For more information on MentalCore, visit http://core-cg.com/products/mentalcore/overview/

Also, be sure to check out the Renderosity Maya Community.


Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.

 

 

 


April 16, 2012

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