How To: Render .ma and .mb Files on the ResPower Super/Farm™

Overview

The ResPower Super/Farm™ proudly supports Maya rendering using the “Maya Software”, and “Maya Vector” render engines. mental ray for Maya is no longer supported.

This tutorial discusses how to use the ResPower Super/Farm™ for rendering .ma and .mb files created using Maya 2009 through 2012.

There are a few basic steps to take, which will be discussed in detail below:

  • Prepare your scene file
  • Upload your content
  • Submit your job for rendering
  • Monitor your job’s progress
  • Download the frames
  • Pay

First Time Users

First time users can try out the Super/Farm with zero cost. This will help you to get a better feel for what the costs are and to get through the learning curve. To take advantage of this, please follow this tutorial to submit 10 frames from a scene that is indicative of the work that you do.

When selecting your 10 frames, be sure to space them evenly throughout your scene. For example, if you expect to render a 1000 frame animation, submit every 100th frame using the “Frame Step” option on the Render Wizard. You would then multiply the Credits used by 100 to get the closest approximation to final render cost for that scene.

When submitting your job, please be sure to use the “Metered” billing model. The metered service allows you to run a job to completion, see the total cost, and then choose the “Pay For Output” action on the job status page. To run a test job, all you need to do is run the job with the metered service, and simply skip the last step of purchasing the finished output. This allows you to see the total cost for the job without downloading the finished frames and without actually paying for them. If during the course of running your job the cost becomes too high, simply abort the job on the Job Status page and re-configure your scene to take an amount of time that will meet your budget.

If you expect to use the Super/Farm to perform still frame work, please submit a single frame with 1/2 of the target width and height, using the Split Frame rendering mode. You would then multiply by 4 to get a close approximation to final render cost.

Prepare Your Project Directory

Standard Maya Project Directory – Your scene must reside inside of a standard Maya project directory. All textures, particle/cloth caches, etc., must be inside of this same directory. Furthermore, they must be added to the scene while Maya has been configured using the File -> Project -> Set… menu option. If they were added prior to this, they may be mislinked, leading to failure at render time.

Configure Render Globals – Your scene file must be configured to render using one of the following render engines:

  • Maya Software
  • Maya Vector

Many of the Render Global settings can be overridden when you submit your job using the ResPower Render Wizard™, however, it is preferable to have them set correctly in the scene file.

Missing resources – If you have any missing resources, the scene will fail to render. This includes textures, plug-ins, etc. If you cannot remove references to resources that are not in use, be sure to upload them to the farm. For plug-ins, you will need to contact support staff to have them installed. If you do not have a texture and you know that it is not necessary to render the scene, create a blank texture with the same name.

Output filenames – Your scene must be configured to produce rendered output with filename extensions. Maya produces a number of temporary files that do not include an extension, and so the Super/Farm ignores any output that does not include a file extension. For example, jpeg files must have the .jpg or .jpeg extension.

Mislinked textures – If you have any mislinked textures, the scene may fail to render. A mislinked texture is one that is linked in using a hard coded path, even though it is in your project directory. This is typically caused by a texture that was linked in while Maya did not have its project directory set properly.

Special characters in filenames – Any .ma,.mb or texture file that uses a special character in a file name will fail to work properly on the render farm. The following characters are the only supported characters for filenames:

ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789_-.

For example, a file named

¾view.jpg

will not work.

Maya Cloth – Generate a cache file if you are using this, and upload the cache file with your scene. Be sure that it has one of the following extensions and is in the exact same folder as your .ma/.mb file on the FTP server:

  • .mcc

The maps should be referenced in your .mb/.ma file with absolutely no paths. For example, a name like “cloth.mcc” is good, while names like “somefolder/cloth.mcc” or “/cloth.mcc” will not work.

Simulations Renderings that require any sort of runup or simulation must have a pre-generated cache uploaded alongside the scene file to work on the farm. Cloth, fluids, and others may actually render without complaining, but anything that should be affected by the simulation will not be unless caching is used.

Save your scene – This probably seems obvious, but you must save the changes to your scene file prior to uploading it for the render to reflect your design. We recommend always appending a version number, and increasing that number with each save, e.g., MySceneV01.mb, MySceneV02.mb, etc.

Upload Your Content

The server name is www.respower.com, and the user name/password is the same as for the web site.
FileZilla – to upload content, simply drag from the file list on the left into the “source” folder on the right.

Create a ResPower User Name – You must have an account with the ResPower Super/Farm before you can upload any content. Sign up here.

Open your FTP client – Although ResPower is officially FTP-client and platform neutral, we will focus on using FileZilla in this HOWTO. FileZilla is free, fast, and reliable – all Good Things. If you are using another FTP client, the concepts are the same, but the screens will look different. Here is an incomplete list of available FTP clients:

Please note that while using Internet Explorer as an FTP client is possible, it is not recommended. Many users experience unreliable connections and inexplicable behavior when using IE. Because of this, ResPower cannot provide technical assistance under these circumstances. If you have problems connecting with IE, please use one of the fine FTP clients listed above.

Connect via FTP – The user name and password are the same as the one you use to log in to the web site. The server name is www.respower.com. The site profile looks like the one shown in the diagram; you can download a FileZilla profile here and import it by selecting File->Import from the site manager menu. To connect, select the ResPower connection and click the “Connect” button.

Upload your content – This is simply a matter of finding your project directory in the “local” file system – the one on your computer – and dragging it over to the “remote” file system, the one at ResPower. Be sure to place all of your content inside the source folder at ResPower. Advanced users will want to create separate folders for each project, e.g., /source/project1, /source/project2, etc. If you do this, be sure to make a note of which subfolder you placed your content in for a particular project – this will be the content directory when you get to the Render Wizard™.

Submit your job for rendering

Render Wizard™ – Log in to the ResPower web site using the Login panel at the top left of the page here. From there, choose the “Render Wizard” link.

Fill in the first screen – Provide a description – the value you use here is irrelevant as far as the farm is concerned. Its purpose is to help you to remember which job is which, rather than forcing you to memorize job numbers as they are assigned by the Super/Farm™. Select your .ma or .mb file for the “Scene File” field; the “Content Directory” is the “Project Directory” you uploaded previously. For Frame Range, input the start and end frames, along with any Frame Step you might like to use. For example, if you put 20 under “Start Frame,” 100 under “End Frame,” and 10 under “Frame Step,” the Super/Farm will render every 10th frame from 20 through 100. If you need to render an odd selection of frames, you can leave the Start/End/Step Frame field blank and provide an extended selection on the second screen of the Render Wizard. Finally, select your Payment Method and click the “Update” button.

Fill in the Second Screen – Select the appropriate render engine under “Select Render Engine.” This is extremely important – if you attempt to render a Maya 7.x scene under Maya 4.x, it will obviously not work.

Frame Ranges You can edit the list of frames that will be rendered essentially indefinitely. You can add new sequences using the “Add Frame Range” section, add a single frame using the “Add Single Frame” section, and a list of frames using the “Add Frame List” section. Each section has its own “Add” button that you must use for the Render Wizard to recognize the request. If you accidentally add frames that you do not want to render, you can select them in the “Current Frame Ranges” list, then click “Remove Selected” to remove them from the list. The contents of this list indicate which frames the Super/Farm™ will render.

Image Settings – You may select the camera name that you would like to render here. If you do not, then the most recently selected view will be used. If you decide to specify the camera here, please remember that the camera name is exceedingly sensitive to case and spaces – ResPower recommends copying and pasting the camera name directly from the scene rather than typing it in. If you decide to input the Image Height and Image Width, remember that those values are in pixels. They are not required unless you are doing a Split-Frame render.

Pixel Aspect Ratio is NOT The Same As Image Aspect Ratio! – A common mistake is inputting the image aspect ratio in the pixel aspect ratio field. These values are not the same thing! Image Aspect Ratio describes the width of the image relative to its height. Pixel Aspect Ratio describes the width of each pixel relative to its height. For example, a 640×480 image designed for computer screens will have an Image Aspect Ratio of 1.3333, but a Pixel Aspect Ratio of 1.0. If you input 1.333 for the Pixel Aspect ratio, your picture will come out heavily distorted.

Split-Frame Rendering™ – Basically, this takes a single frame and divides it into a grid. Each cell in the grid, or Bucket is then sent to a separate computer where it is rendered. This is not supported for animations; use it only to render out stills. At this time, there is no automated re-assembly of the final image – you will need to stitch the frame back together using photo-editing software like Photoshop. ResPower recommends using a 5×5 or 6×6 split when performing Split-Frame renders. This provides a reasonable trade-off between the overhead of splitting the job up and the acceleration provided by distributing the render. You should set the pixel overlap to its maximum value so that any artifacts at bucket boundaries can be hidden during reassembly. Maya has not exhibited problems with artifacts at bucket boundaries, but it it’s just better to play it safe :)

Hang Detection – You can typically ignore this section, unless technical support staff tells you otherwise.

Render Options – Remember making a note of all of the common options and output file type earlier? Duplicate those values here.

Monitor your job’s progress

Once your job has been submitted, you can monitor its progress and perform special actions using the Jobs page.

To open the jobs page, click the “Jobs” link at the top of any Super/Farm page. Each row contains a job that you have submitted. Jobs include rendering submissions, frames, and certain other commands, notably: unpack, rar, and zip.

The table has several columns:

  • Job #
    This is a unique number identifying your job. These numbers increase sequentially – at the time of this writing, there were 9,438,784 jobs.
  • User
    This should reflect your user name. If you have turned on “Show Other Users”, this column and the “Description” column will be merged for jobs belonging to other users and will contain the phrase “Other User”
  • Description
    This is the description that you provided on the Render Wizard, or one generated during the submission of other types of commands.
  • Status
    This set of columns tells you the current state of your job. If the job is a render, it will be divided further into the columns listed below. Each column will contain a number indicating the number of sub-jobs (frames, buckets, etc) that are currently in that particular state. For example, if you submit a render with 1000 frames, the “waiting” column will have 1000 in it until computers start running those frames. 

    • waiting
      Jobs in this column are waiting for computers to process them.
    • running
      Jobs in this column are being processed by computers.
    • aborted
      Jobs in this column are aborted.
    • dead
      Jobs in this column have failed multiple times, and the Super/Farm has decided not to try any further.
    • complete
      Jobs in this column have finished running.
    • total
      This is the total number of sub-jobs.

    You can drill down to see details on your job by clicking the number of sub-jobs in a particular column. For example, if you have submitted a 1000 frame job, and 5 frames have died, you can click on the “5″ in the “dead” column to get a list of the dead frames.

  • Credits
    This is the running total of Credits used by your job (and its subjobs). The number credits used to render a job is calculated using a formula available on the “Purchase Discounted Credits” page. It is important to note that this number can increase fairly rapidly, and can decrease as well. At the time of this writing, the ResPower Super/Farm is 3.3 THz in size. This means that it can, in theory, go through 3,300 Credits every hour. The actual rate of increase is related to the number and speed of the computers working on your job, and the type of render engine you are using. For example, a 10 frame animation using the most expensive render engines ( e.g., Brazil r/s, finalRender) cannot increase at a rate in excess of 60 Credits every hour, because the Super/Farm currently consists of nodes less than or equal to 6 GHz in speed and the Render Engine Factor for these is 1.00. Similarly, a 10 frame animation using the least expensive render engines (Lightwave or Vue) cannot increase at a rate in excess of 30 Credits every hour because the Render Engine Factor for these is 0.50.
  • Actions
    This column contains a “Go” button and a drop-down list of commands you can perform on a job. Certain commands only show up in certain situations. For example, if your job has no waiting or running sub-jobs, the “abort” command does not appear. 

    • View Log
      Brings you to the job’s log page. If the job has sub-jobs (e.g., frames or buckets), you can get to their logs using the table at the bottom of the log page.
    • What’s Wrong
      Generates a customized report to explain why your frames have died. Many error messages have links explaining how to work around them.
    • Restart Frames [Aborted/Dead]
      This command takes all frames in the Aborted or Dead columns and moves them back to the waiting column.
    • Abort
      This command aborts all sub-jobs, or if the job itself is processing, aborts the job. The farm charges you through the time when you abort.
    • Zip Output
      Causes a job to be submitted to the farm, which generates a series of .zip archives of the output folder. Each archive contains 20 frames, so if your FTP client stalls or you lose your connection, you do not have to start at the beginnging.
    • Rar Output
      Causes a job to be submitted to the farm, which generates a series of .rar archives of the output folder. Each archive contains 20 frames, so if your FTP client stalls or you lose your connection, you do not have to start at the beginning. Furthermore, Rar gives higher compression ratios than .zip.
    • Make AVI
      New! Causes a job to be submitted to the farm, which generates a .avi file from the .bmp’s in the output folder. The .avi is compressed using the XviD codec for high-quality, deep compression. This option currently only works with .bmps.
      Note: you can download a pre-compiled copy of the XviD codec for Windows and/or MacOS here.
    • Submit Copy
      Submits a copy of the job. Please note that if the job has sub-jobs, they will be copied as well.

Pay

Please note: if you are using the Metered Service billing option, you must pay for your job prior to downloading it.

  • Metered Service – On the Jobs page, choose “Pay for Output” from the Actions column, and click Go. Once you have paid for your job, permission to download the results will be granted.

Download the frames

Use your FTP client to retrieve the frames. They will be in the /renders/<job-number> folder, and named “frame_<number>.<ext>” You can compress your files prior to downloading using the “Zip Output” or “RAR Output” commands; ResPower recommends using the “RAR Output” option, since it will create a multi-part archive, with each part set to 25 MB.

Known Issues

•Output folder does not appear on FTP site
•Output folder does not contain all frames on FTP site 

There are two possible causes for this:

  • The job does not have any complete frames/buckets. If frames are not complete, there is nothing for the Super/Farm to place into the Output Folder. The Output Folder is only created once at least one frame is complete.
  • Your FTP client is caching the directory listing. Many FTP clients try to save time by storing a local copy, or cache, of each FTP server’s directory listings. Because the ResPower Super/Farm™ is constantly placing files into your FTP directory, this cache can very quickly become out-of-date, which will make your client show you listings that are inaccurate. To solve this, use your client’s “Refresh” option to re-download the directory listing. For FileZilla, the hotkey for Refresh is F5.

  • •Cannot delete or overwrite files on FTP
    •”Permission denied” errors uploading to FTP 

    You are not allowed to delete files from your /renders folder; these are automatically cleared out by our automated diskspace recovery tools.

    If you are trying to delete files or folders from your /source folder, or are attempting to upload into a subfolder of your /source folder, there are several likely culprits:

  • The server thinks they aren’t your files. When you unzip files, they show up on the server as belonging to a different user from you. To fix this, use the “Take Access” link available on the web site once you have logged in
  • Your FTP client is not descending into the directory. One of the reasons ResPower recommends FileZilla is that it will descend into directories to delete them.
  • Your FTP client is not deleting hidden files. One of the downsides of FileZilla is that it does not list hidden files by default, and so even if it descends into a directory, it could miss those files, preventing FileZilla from deleting the directory itself. To fix this, we recommend changing two settings. First, choose Edit->Settings from the menu. Then select Connection-> Directory Cache in the tree on the left. Make sure that “Don’t Use Cache” is checked. Select Interface Settings->Remote File List from the tree on the left. Make sure that Always show hidden files is checked. Once you have made these configuration changes, and used the “Take Access” button, you should be able to delete files in your /source/ directory at will.


  • • Progressive JPEG Textures Fail To Render 

    The JPEG standard allows for two encoding schemes, Progressive and non-progressive. The progressive encoding scheme is useful for web sites, because the image will appear immediately with low quality, and then as the download continues, progressively improve in quality until the whole image is available. Unfortunately the Maya batch renderer has trouble when using progressive JPEG files as texture maps. Symptoms include:

    • Failed render with log message indicating that the texture failed to load.
    • “Successful” Render where the texture is simply not applied.

    The workaround is to not use progressive JPEG files for texture maps.


    • CMYK TIFF Textures Fail To Render 

    TIFF files allow for various color encoding schemes, including RGB and CMYK. The Maya batch renderer has trouble when it encounters textures encoded in the CMYK color space. Symptoms include:

    • Failed render with log message indicating that the texture failed to load.
    • “Successful” Render where the texture is simply not applied.

    The workaround to use RGB- and RGBA-coded TIFF files for texture maps.


    • Renumber Frames Option Not Supported 

    The “Renumber Frames” option in the “Image File Output” -> “Renumber Frames” roll-out on the render globals dialog is not supported and must be turned off. This option causes maya to renumber every frame to the same number, yielding a single output file. Turn this value off prior to uploading your scene.


    Common Error Messages

    • Particle Caching Can Produce Network Overhead 

    When using particle systems be aware that the more particle systems cached, the more network overhead will be present. This network overhead occurs during render time and is not removed from your billing. Depending on the number of particle systems cached, your render time can be greatly affected.

    Please note that one or two particle caches will not be likely to cause significant overhead; this is primarily an issue when you have dozens or hundreds of caches. The dynamic is that all of the computers on the farm try to read the particle cache files during render, causing the file servers to become overwhelmed trying to keep up with the load. This is not as much of an issue with texture maps and scene files because those files tend to stay in the file-system cache (i.e., RAM), thereby reducing the stress on the file servers.


    • Texture file <file-name> doesn’t exist, node <node-name>  

    This indicates one of these conditions: 

    • The file is not present at the ResPower FTP site. Check the ResPower FTP site to verify that your file is present and is the same size as the same file on your computer. If it isn’t, please re-upload your texture file and restart your dead frames as described in the “Monitor your job’s progress” section above.
    • The scene was submitted with the wrong Content Directory. Maya always stores the fully-qualified filename for your textures, regardless of whether they are in your project directory or not. Maya stores a double-slash in the file’s name if the file is in your project directory. For example, if you have a file
      sourceimages/mytexture.jpg

      in your project directory

      c:/myprojects/project001

      , then Maya will store the name

      c:/myprojects/project001//sourceimages/mytexture.jpg

      in your scene file.When you render your project on the Super/Farm™, Maya strips off everything before the double-slash and replaces that with the content directory you select in the Render Wizard™. It is therefore absolutely critical that you select the correct content directory. If you don’t then you will see this error, and Maya will list <file-name> as missing, with the double-slash included.

      To see if this is what happened, choose “View Log” for the job in question as described above, and verify that the content directory corresponds to the root of your project directory on the ResPower FTP server. Common mistakes are to select the “scenes” or “sourceimages” folder as your content directory.

      If you determine that this is what happened, please re-submit your job and select the correct content directory.

    • The file is not linked correctly in the Maya scene file. If the file is present and the scene was submitted using the correct content directory, the most likely cause of this error is that the your scene file is not linked properly. If you do not see the double-slash in <file-name>, what has most likely happened is that when you linked in the texture, Maya did not have the project directory set and so did not insert the double slash.The fastest procedure we have found to fix this is:
      1. Launch Maya.
      2. Use the
        File->Project->Set

        command to select your project directory.

      3. In the MEL command box at the bottom-left of the Maya window, type
        select <node-name>
      4. In the attribute editor, browse for the texture file in your project directory.
      5. Save your scene file.
      6. Re-upload your scene file.
      7. Re-submit your scene.

    • Error: The headsUpDisplay Command cannot be run in batch mode 

    The most likely cause of this error is that you have a script node that uses the headsUpDisplay command. Please remove this script node or its use of the command, save and re-upload your scene.

    This error is typically followed by

    Error: An execution error occured in the expression <expression-node>

    . Check <expression-node> to see if it is the script node that is referencing the headsUpDisplay command.


    • Error: An execution error occured in the expression <expression-node>  

    Please remove this script node or modify it so that it does not cause an error.


    • Error: An error has occurred. Rendering aborted.
    • Error: an error dialog box popped up. Caption Was:mayabatch.exe – Application Error  

    Unfortunately, these are two of the least useful Maya error messages available. The most common causes of these errors are:

    • Your scene is consuming too much memory, causing Maya to crash.
    • Your scene is corrupt, causing Maya to crash.
    • You have a texture that is corrupt, using the wrong byte ordering (i.e., it’s a Mac TGA instead of a PC TGA), or truncated, causing Maya to crash.
    • On rare occasions, rendering to formats other than .iff have caused these errors to appear. Try rendering to .iff format instead.

     

    • Error: mayabatch says there are no renderable cameras.  

    All of the cameras in your scene have the “renderable” option unchecked. Please turn on the “renderable” option for at least one camera, re-upload your scene, and try again.

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