Mach Studio

Mach Studio 2 review

A 3D World review I wrote a while back of the (now free) Mach Studio Pro v2, which I have also written about on this blog, is now online. – AM

MS Pro 2.0 – Free?

StudioGPU’s realtime renderer Mach Studio Version 2 is now available as a free download, with exporters for Max, Maya and Softimage. Hopefully this reflects a change in marketing strategy and not a discontinuation of development, as the product was beginning to mature nicely… but either way it’s a powerful tool at a great price, well worth the download. My little tests on this blog have barely scratched the surface of this renderer. It’s not a replacement for all rendering, but if you need blazingly fast render times measured in seconds and minutes instead of hours and days, while maintaining a certain basic quality (which with skill can rival mental ray and arnold), it’s the only game in town.


Render time per frame at 2k resolution, 0.1 seconds.


Screen capture


SIGGRAPH 2010 Redux

Well, another siggraph has come and gone. As I await my flight in LAX, I might as well post some initial thoughts. The journalists will cover the changes to products and the like, so I’ll focus on overall experience and impressions.

First, the trivial… The weather was cool, which was a bit startling. And siggraph 2011 is going to be held in Canada. Wtf, we seem to have broken the long standing tradition of baking siggraph attendees in desert or tropical heat. Adding to the surreal feeling, the exhibits area was once again smaller, perhaps because Autodesk has consumed half the industry…

Speaking of Autodesk, this year their area was dominated by a pretty mediocre and endlessly repeating spiel about “virtual production” which basically tied together a hypothetical production workflow nobody actually uses but which gave them an overly polished way to show some basic new features of Maya and Mudbox. XSI and Max were, well, not really visible in the slightest. While I’m sure some lip service was given them, you sure couldn’t tell from a casual survey of their booth. And since there was no Softimage User Group event, siggraph pretty much was XSI free. Heck, lightwave was front and center by comparison. The only real mention of XSI was the announcement that it’s part of the basic bundle, phrased in such a way that ICE seemed like the only reason it was included at all. Thanks for the snub, Autodesk. I use Maya in production, sure, but frankly its showing its age, so why cram it down our throats when XSI is so robust?

(Edit – Some folks at autodesk disagree with my assessment. Sorry, but I watched demo people tweak the weighting of a character rigged in maya over and over on the big screen but didn’t see xsi anywhere. I know there is great work being done by the softimage folks – but marketing matters, and I’m reporting what I saw… which was that XSI was lacking visibility. That may step on taboos or be unmentionable in Autodesk circles. Tough.)

The show was far more interesting at the smaller booths, where stereo, 3d printing, and GPU rendering were all engaged in healthy competition. AMD was home to Mach Studio which was showing off it’s exciting new shader construction tools, and nearby pixel farm was showing off it’s rather bizzare companion to PFtrack, which adds a node-based workflow (cool) but which lacks some of the core power of PFtrack (wha?). Desktop 3d printers were everywhere, including the makerbot which was cleverly if less visibly off the exhibit floor and hanging out near emerging technologies with some other delinquents like the gigapan. How did that happen?

Emerging technologies was its usual combination of really cool stuff that doesn’t quite work, stupid stuff with no practical application beyond provoking thoght to a greater or lesser degree, and some eye popping technology that had me muttering “we wants it my preciouss.” Foremost in that latter category was the 3D volume display presented by Sony. Remember the 3d volume displays of a few years back that relied on spinning plates of leds? The ones that contained murky glimpses of CG objects you could walk around and wish were actually working? Well, they work now. Really well, in fact. As in they feel ready for market. Nice work, Sony, when you guys aren’t awash in marketing droids and hype you can still make some amazing stuff.

The papers and course presentations were quite good, which are as far as I’m concerned the living, beating heart of Siggraph, and I’m happy to say it’s still strong. There were the usual crowd-pleasers like an excellent panel on Tron which had the added benefit of showing us 8 minutes of unseen footage (it’s looking great.) But more importantly, the more academic presentations were still there, sharing and pushing the state of the art. I particularly enjoyed a half day course on volumetrics.

Disney had a highly visible and impressive showing on all fronts, from excellent and impressive presentations on procedural hair and trees in Rapun-oops”Tangled” to the Tron presentation, etc. They did a good job of re-establishing themselves in my mind as leaders in the industry, both artistically and technically. MPC, DD, Tippet and the Mill also brought their A-games.

The parties were parties, techies, geniuses and academics were abound, and students still want to get hired… all in all I’d say that while Siggraph is still the incredibly shrinking con, it was just as valuable as ever where it counts – in getting a feel for the state of the industry and the technology, in seeing colleagues and friends who are rarely in the same place at once, and in sharing and extending the techniques, tools and insights so vital to computer graphics. I plan to continue attending, and suggest that anyone serious about computer graphics shoulddo the same. Remember people, judging siggraph by the size of the showroom is missing the point entirely – we don’t really need sales pitches, but you won’t find any other venue where other studio professsionals and academics mingle and share like they do at Siggraph. See you there next year!

MSpro from XSI

Models in .obj format into XSI, then to MSpro for materials, lighting and a 5k render. The sculpture mesh is a full res scan, about as thick as a zbrush export with several hundred thousand polys.

Screen capture

More realtime test renders

Since I’ve been putting MSpro through it’s paces today, I decided to see how it did with a larger data set. So I fed it a reasonably large model of Manhattan. Mach Studio did great, export/import was fast, the machine was responsive, and even hitting it with realtime ambient occlusion, shadows and depth of field didn’t get the scene to a point where it chugged. Rendering this scene with similar settings in Mental Ray would have meant significant time per frame, certainly enough to preclude much in the way of any kind of immediate feedback. MSpro was fine onscreen and rendering 5k resolution images with settings turned up relatively high resulted in render times still under a half second a frame.


Not high art, but we’re talking test images people. I rather enjoy the simcity look of the orthographic one…Hey it looks like I nudged the ground mesh in one of those images. That would be a serious drag with a traditional render process, you’d have to submit it to the farm again. Realtime, it’s no big deal. Of course, there’s a lot of room for improvements on these images… the majority are not issues with the renderer but the artist (errr, me) who for some reason didn’t want to spend all night obsessing over test images. You can speed up render times, but there’s still tweaking galore. But at least you can tweak interactively.

Testing Mach Studio

Here’s the result of 1/2 hour (probably less) fiddling around with Mach Studio Pro and  Photoshop to try to see how fast I could produce an acceptable concept image.

I exported the buildings from Maya which took a few minutes, slapped on some materials, threw in an environment light and a spot light. Rendered a frame (which took 0.13 seconds to render) and took it into photoshop where again I just threw some elements together – a sketch filter blended with the CG, some vignetting and color manipulation. It’s not going to win any awards but that’s not the point… I was able to get this image out from start to finish incredibly fast, and that’s despite my being a novice with MSpro.  Very promising…

Mach Studio Pro

I have been testing Mach Studio Pro for PLF for a while now, and while it’s a very new tool I am pretty pleased with it’s capabilities and potential. MSpro is an application which accepts scenes from most 3d packages (including Max, Maya, XSI, sketchup etc) and enables the artist to shade/light/render in realtime. Quality is high, with renders being competitive (and sometimes mistaken for) mental ray/vray etc in many cases. Being a realtime application there are caveats and limitations of course, for instance raytracing is not (yet) supported, nor are true radiosity/GI effects. Fair enough. And you’ll still need to render out vFX passes like particles and volumetrics in another app.

But most CG isn’t about all that – it’s about the basics and that’s where MSpro shines: on the 90% of the work you render which you can now do so in seconds rather than hours. It’s very liberating being able to light shots with immediate visual feedback, and MSpro was written with a fair eye towards being a production-friendly application with python scripting, linear lighting and HDRI workflow, output to open EXR as pass breakdowns etc.

This is clearly the direction the industry is moving and Mach Studio is not without competitors, but as a just-out-of-the-gate package they are off to a great start. And don’t get me wrong, MSpro isn’t just about the bare minimums… realtime microtesselated displacement maps aren’t basic, and realtime AO and SSS go a long way towards giving you the tools you need to create great imagery. In real time. No more waiting on farms. No more unpleasant surprises a day lat