3D software review: MentalCore 1.0
Does the release of MentalCore mean people might finally stop complaining about mental ray for Maya? Paul Champion finds out
PRICE: Node-locked licence, $189
Other editions: Floating licence (includes five render-only licences), $199
PLATFORM: Windows / Mac OS X / Linux
- Node-based render pass system
- Ambient Occlusion through multiple levels of transparent objects
- Large Shader library with Material, Texture and Utility Shaders
- Python API means you can use MentalCore in any pipeline
- Colour management for sRGB, Linear and Rec 709
MentalCore is an off-the-shelf plug-in for Maya from CoreCG that aims to provide greater efficiency when working in mental ray.
It integrates tightly into its host, augmenting the shading, lighting and rendering workflow. Having been in development for over a year, and tested at the public beta stage by a horde of artists, the resulting application is very user-friendly, and makes common tasks such as rendering Ambient Occlusion that respects transparency – or creating render passes – a simpler prospect.
It’s aimed at small and large productions alike, freelancers, boutiques and small studios on tight budgets and deadlines that can’t develop their own in-house pipeline solutions stand to benefit the most.
Finally, the stone-age mental ray integration in Maya gets a worthwhile overhaul with this new plug-in from CoreCG
To illustrate how easy this plug-in makes rendering with AO that detects transparency, you simply enable a check box. AO for objects through several layers of transparent objects is supported by adjusting a depth slider.
Traditional workarounds for this simple yet key feature are difficult to achieve, and are the subject of many forum posts. To create render passes, you just select the passes you want from a list and move them into the Scene Passes window.
Here they can be render-previewed, which is great from a production standpoint for reducing guesswork, before being sent to the Associated Passes window for batch rendering. Presets, custom Presets and Linking options are also readily available.
Handy Shader Library
The plug-in includes a well-documented Shader Library that contains a variety of custom core materials such as a universal Shader called core material. It’s basically a hybrid of Maya Shaders and mental ray’s architectural Shader.
For subsurface scattering, the core skin SSS or core simple SSS can be used with the core material. Preview rendering the subsurface pass makes tweaking hassle-free.
Video tutorials teach you how to use all of MentalCore’s main features
Other core materials include a mia material, hair, car paint, blend materials and surface shader. Custom Texture Shaders and lighting Shaders are also available.
Other features include a Python API to assist pipeline integration, Linear, sRGB and Rec 709 colour management, light bloom for glow, environment lighting for ambient lighting and camera features such as colour grading and tone mapping. Video tutorials are available via the CoreCG website to help you get started, but accompanying scene files are unfortunately not available.
Suffice to say that with any new software, some minor bugs can be expected. During testing, developer Corey Frew provided an update patch for me to try that fixed a couple of problems (which I hadn’t encountered) with version 1.0.
This caused instability, so Corey provided a work-in-progress pre-release version of 1.1 to try. So the 1.1 update is on the way, potentially by the time you read this review, to fix known bugs. The update is also planned to introduce mental ray Standalone and Satellite support, which is lacking in version 1.0.
If you’re using mental ray and in the market for a time-saving tool with plenty of features and a dedicated developer to back it up, MentalCore delivers.
- Enhances mental ray
- Developed for production needs
- Easy to use
- Satellite rendering unsupported
- Standalone unsupported
- Tutorials lack scene files
MentalCore resolves common render workflow problems and puts mental ray integration on another, better level
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Champion is the demonstrator for undergraduate and postgraduate 3D and VFX courses at the National Centre for Computer Animation, Bournemouth
on Thursday, April 12th, 2012 at 3:00 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: 3D software review, CoreCG, Maya, mental ray, MentalCore 1.0