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In 3ds Max 2011 Essential Training, author Aaron F. Ross demonstrates how to use this top-tier application for digital content creation, widely used in diverse industries such as architecture, industrial design, motion pictures, games and virtual worlds. This course covers modeling with polygons, curves, and subdivision surfaces, defining surface properties with materials and maps, setting up cameras and lights, animating objects, and final output rendering. Exercise files accompany the course.
In our final chapter in this 3ds Max 2011 Essential Training title, we're going to look at rendering with the default Scanline Renderer. I want to introduce you to the idea of image sequences. You might think that when you're ready to output this animation to a movie, that you would just render it out to an AVI movie or a QuickTime movie, and be done with it. But like most things in 3D it's never that simple. If you did render out directly to a QuickTime movie or an AVI movie, you could incur quite a number of serious problems.
So in fact, in animation production, you literally never render directly out to a movie file unless it's just a preview file or a daily that you're sending out to someone for approval or whatnot. For final production renders, you're always rendering out to an image sequence, which is a series of numbered still frames, and there are a number of reasons for this. To illustrate what an image sequence is I'm going to use the RAM Player. So in the Rendering menu, I'll go to RAM Player at the bottom of the menu.
I can open up an image sequence in the RAM Player and play it back as if it were a movie. So I'll click on Open Channel A browse button here. You see in my renderoutput I've got a couple of sequences here already. Here is a robot_sequence. I'll double-click on that. And what you'll see here is a series of individually numbered frames. I can display smaller icons. So these are all PNG files, one for each frame of the animation. You'll also notice that 3ds Max has created this .IFL file.
That's just a text file. That's a list of all of these images. So I can actually just select the first one in the RAM Player and the Sequence option is enabled, which means it's going to load all of the numbered frames. I do have to click through these dialog boxes, until it starts loading all those into memory. So the reasons that you would always render to an image sequence are numerous. One of them is that if you did render out to a QuickTime or AVI movie, basically what's happening is 3ds Max is rendering one frame at a time.
Then if you're rendering out to a movie it's adding that frame to the end of the file each time. So it's appending the frame to the file and then re-saving the file. This is a process that's really fraught with error. It's very error prone. If anything goes wrong with your rendering, you know if there is a glitch, a program error, you accidentally click Cancel, your little brother kicks out the power out of the wall or something like that. If anything goes wrong during the rendering process, then you're very likely to lose the movie completely.
Then you'd have to start over rendering from the beginning, and a lot of render jobs take a long time. They may take hours, days, weeks, sometimes months to render a sequence. I know that sounds extreme, but that's the reality for today. This is going to change in the future, rendering will be a lot faster in the future, but for today we're still dealing with potentially very long render times. You certainly don't want to have to start over again when your render took a week, and meanwhile your computer is completely tied up and you can't really use it for anything else.
So that's one reason why you would always render out to an image sequence. Another is if you render out to a movie, if you're not careful, by default, you're probably going to be rendering out to a compressed movie, one that has image compression applied to it. There are a couple of different flavors of image compression. There is lossy compression and lossless compression. If it's a lossy compression, then that means that image information is being thrown away that humans are not likely to notice. For example, a JPEG file is lossy. You don't want to use a lossy format when you're rendering, because then if you try to do anything to those files later, let's say you want to change the brightness or contrast or maybe composite it with something else, when you do this, those compression artifacts are going to be amplified in that process.
So you need to make sure that you're rendering out to a clean image, which means either no compression at all, or lossless compression. So that's another reason why you need an image sequence. Another reason is that if you save out to a lossless format, or an uncompressed format for a movie file, the movie files can become very large, so large that they become unmanageable. So, for example, this is an image that's 640x480 pixels, and if this were an uncompressed movie, about a minute of uncompressed video at approximately this resolution is going to be somewhere on the order of 1.8 GB for one minute of footage.
So that's pretty big. If you have long sequences, your images, your movies can actually become massive in terms of file size. So you may end up with file that's 10 GB or more in size, and this can be a real problem. Some operating systems don't even support files that large and if you want to back it up to some media like DVD, for example, you can't even fit a file that big onto a DVD. So for these reasons you're always rendering out to an image sequence rather than a movie and then once it's rendered out to a sequence, then you can take it into a program and compress it into a movie.
So that's a basic process. You're always rendering out to a clean, uncompressed, or losslessly compressed image sequence, and then taking it into another program, stitching it together into a movie, and then applying compression at that final output stage.
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