Maya Tutorial Series - Basic Render Settings

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Getting Away From Maya's Default Render Settings

Greek column rendering
Rendering the Greek column.

Before we move into the process of texturing the Greek column, we first need to take a few moments and make some basic changes to Maya/Mental Ray's render settings.

Let's Take a Look at Where We Currently Stand

Go ahead and click the render button (highlighted above), and you'll see that the default render settings in Maya are pretty atrocious. The result is unlit, low-res, and the edges are aliased (jagged) as you see in the example image.

By configuring Maya's render settings at this early stage, as we go through the rest of the process we'll be able to generate decent looking preview renders to help us gauge our progress.

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Activating the Mental Ray Renderer

Activating Mental Ray in Maya
Activating Mental Ray in Maya.

Creating a true production quality render requires complex lighting and shading techniques that are way beyond the scope of this tutorial, but simply by switching from the default Maya renderer into Maya's Mental Ray plugin we're taking a step in the right direction.

To activate Mental Ray, we need to open up Maya's render settings

Go to Window → Rendering Editors → Render Settings to access the render globals.

Use the drop-down menu shown in the image above to access Mental Ray.

MR comes packaged with Maya, but it doesn't always load by default

If you don't see Mental Ray as an option in the drop-down list, go to Window → Settings/Preferences → Plugin Manager. Scroll down the list until you find Mayatomr.mll and click the “Loaded” checkbox. Close the plug-in manager.

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Setting Resolution and Camera

Setting the camera, resolution, and image size.
Setting the camera, resolution, and image size.

Make sure you're in the Common tab (still in the render settings window) and scroll down until you see the Renderable Cameras and Image Size sections.

The Renderable Cameras tab allows us to choose which camera we want to render from. This is handy if we're working on an animation project and have multiple cameras in the scene, but for now, we'll just leave it set to the default perspective camera.

The options in the Image Size tab allow us to change the size, aspect ratio, and resolution of our image.

You can set the image size manually in the boxes highlighted above, or you can use the Presets dropdown to select from a list of common image sizes. You can also increase the Resolution from 72 to something like 150 or 300 if you're working on a print image.

One final thing to be aware of in the Common tab is the File Output tab, which you can find by scrolling back to the top of the window.

Under the file output tab you'll find a dropdown called Image Format where you can choose between numerous common file types (.jpeg, .png, .tga, .tiff, etc.).

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Turning on Anti-Aliasing

Use the production setting in the MR quality tab for better anti-aliasing.
Use the production setting in the MR quality tab for better anti-aliasing.

If you recall back a few steps, the first render we showed (using Maya's default settings) had an unsightly jagged quality to it. This is mostly due to the fact that anti-aliasing was turned off.

Switch over to the quality tab in the render globals, and you'll see that the software is currently using the draft preset.

Right now the things to be most aware of are the Quality Presets dropdown, and the Min and Max Sample Level input boxes.

Min and Max samples controls the anti-aliasing quality of our render. Increasing these values will help Mental Ray produce a render with crisp, clear edges.

Go into the Quality Presets menu and choose the Production preset from the drop-down menu.

Among other things, the production preset ups the anti-aliasing quality of your render so that every pixel is sampled at least 1 time and up to 16 times if necessary. The production setting also turns on ray-tracing and increases the quality settings for both shadows and reflections, although this won't come into play until we start the lighting process in a later lesson.

There are disadvantages to using the production preset—overall it is less efficient than setting your values manually because it uses high-quality settings even when they're not necessary.

In this case, ​however, our scene is simple enough that any render-time efficiency hits will be negligible.

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Revised Render With New Settings

Revised Column Render
Revised Column Render.

Alright, before we move onto the next lesson, go ahead and create a new render of your Greek column. With the improved quality settings, it should look something like the one above.

Although this result is far from perfect, it's a vast improvement from where we started, and it'll only get better when we add textures and lighting.

If you're having trouble framing your image, you can go to View > Camera Settings > Resolution Gate to turn on a frame overlay so you know where the edges of your render will be.

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