Experimenting with stereoscopy with Maya

As a long time CINEMA 4D user, I was a little daunted at the prospect of learning to use Maya. But, as Autodesk’s application has built-in support for stereoscopic rendering and live stereoscopic previews (something only available in CINEMA 4D through plug-ins), my interest has piqued.

Creating stereoscopic content

All 3D software is technically capable of creating stereoscopic content; you just need to use two virtual cameras (one to represent each eye) and then finish the resulting content in the same way you would live action stereoscopic content, but this approach creates a few problems. For one thing, animating two cameras as one to maintain the 3D effect often requires complex scripting to keep the cameras aligned and to achieve comfortable, working 3D. This problem is compounded by the fact that most software has no provision for previewing your work in stereoscopic 3D. A company called SVI do make a plug-in that will allow you to edit stereoscopic work within CINEMA 4D but, as Maya has this functionality built-in, I wanted to test it out.

Working in Maya

I decided very early on that learning to model within the application would take far too long to learn so, after obtaining some demo content from my good friends at Autodesk, I set about learning the stereoscopic aspects of Maya.

maya camera attributes

The good news is that everything is very well integrated in the Maya program. Autodesk have used the built-in scripting language to create a range of stereoscopic camera rigs for you to use, and made it very simple to control all of the important stereoscopic parameters (see left). The rigs range from a simple three-camera rig (two of these cameras represent the viewers eyes and there is one in the centre for framing your shots) to more complex nine-camera stereo rigs. These more complicated rigs are useful for scenes with a lot of depth, such as outdoor scenes, as often you will set the stereo parameters for objects in the foreground and it will break the stereo effect in the background or vice versa. These rigs, combined with Mayas render layers, can allow you to use different stereo parameters on different objects in your scene, making it a very flexible solution.

When using these cameras, Maya can show a 3D preview directly in the viewport and supports anaglyph display (using inexpensive tinted glasses) for those without special displays or options for more exotic displays, including horizontal interlaced, active shuttered displays and checkerboard format. This allows Maya to display an image on almost any 3D display out there. It’s worth bearing in mind that some of these displays require additional hardware, and you will certainly need a powerful graphics card to display a (usable) stereoscopic preview. We recommend NVIDIA’s Quadro range of graphics cards and can advise you on a 3D display for a range of budgets.

The camera rigs have several options for controlling the 3D effect. You can control the inter-ocular distance (separation between the cameras), zero parallax plane, and also have options to mimic physical 3D rigs (such as parallel or off axis).

stereo volume in maya

This image illustrates the safe stereo volume (in blue) and the zero parallax plane (in red).

Maya will also show a visual representation of the zero parallax plane along with a comfortable viewing volume (think of this as a three dimensional title guide).  These features take a lot of the guess work out of composing 3D images, and give you all the help you need to create comfortable 3D scenes.
Export options are also plentiful; Maya is able to directly export an anaglyph image (for posting to the web or printing out) or separate left and right streams (for post processing or use with stereoscopic players).

In summary, although these options are available in other software through plug-ins or scripting, the fact that they are an integral part of Maya helps to make them a great solution for producing stereoscopic CG content. Being able to preview your work in realtime will also save you a huge amount of time.

To find out more about creating stereoscopic content in Maya (or CINEMA 4D), get in touch with us on 03332 409 309 or email 3d@jigsaw24.com.

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