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Fri, Dec 9 2011 22:46:54 UTC

Interview with MentalCore

Today we have an interview with Corey Frew, a developer of MentalCore, a plugin providing an alternative to the standard rendering workflow for Maya and Mental Ray.

Could you briefly describe yourself?

My name is Corey Frew. I'm 24 and currently living in Auckland, New Zealand. I have always had an interest in software development from a young age and getting into 3D Animation has been a great way to exercise those skills and develop products such as MentalCore. I started doing artist level lighting and rendering work, so my aim has always been to create software that I would want to use as a artist. I'm currently in the role of Supervising Technical Director at Oktobor Animation, designing and developing the pipeline from assets through to compositing.

What is MentalCore and what are some of its features?

MentalCore is a shading, lighting and rendering plugin for Maya and MentalRay. Its really designed to improve the usage of MentalRay in Maya and allow artists to spend less time trying to figure out technical and implementation issues of MentalRay and more time spent making their work better. One of the key features of MentalCore is its Render Pass System. Its a completely new way for MentalRay users to easily and efficiently create render passes in Maya and be confident in knowing that you will be getting the results you expect. Another key feature is the Shader Library. MentalCore comes with a large variety of material, texture and utility shaders that can really speed up an artists work and make it easier to achieve the look they want.

Recently you released version 1.0, how much work has gone into making this plugin?

A lot. I have been the sole developer on this project so far, and it started out as a in house tool a couple of years ago. Since then it has gone through many iterations and really turned into a great product that I know I couldn't do without. The official beta was launched late last year, which we had over 1000 testers signed up for, and thanks to their great feedback I feel we now have a really polished result.

MentalCore claims to create great renders in less time, what's the advantage of using it over the normal Maya tools?

Most people that have used MentalRay in Maya would probably agree there's a lot to be desired, both in features and integration. MentalRay is a very capable renderer, but you shouldn't need to be a rendering guru to use it. MentalCore has always been about making MentalRay more user friendly for 3D artists and allowing them to spend more time improving their work instead of fighting technical problems and limitations. With features such as the render pass system, you can know that all render passes work with all MentalCore shaders how you would expect, so there's much less guess work. Ambient Occlusion transparency is also a great example of making a technical problem very easy - a user can just enable this feature and ambient occlusion will obey any transparency maps on objects - you simply can't do this without MentalCore. There's a ton of other features I could mention also, but the key is, the whole system has been well though out from start to finish, and really its a much improved integration of MentalRay for Maya.

How easy to use is this plugin for someone who's relatively new to 3D rendering?

MentalRay by itself can be quite tricky to master for even relatively experienced users. But since MentalCore makes the whole process easier, it would really help a beginner to create great renders with a much smaller learning curve. We have a YouTube channel currently setup with over 15 video tutorials all about MentalCore and how to get started. There's a great ''Getting Started'' tutorial that shows a complete workflow for using the basic features of MentalCore if you've never used it before, or unsure how it works.

Right now it's a plugin for Maya and Mental Ray, will it work on other renderers in the future?

Since anyone who owns a copy of Maya also has MentalRay, it has been our focus for now - its also the renderer of choice for our studio. I think MentalRay would be the renderer that would gain the most out of a product like this, and we currently have no plans to add support for other renderers. However I wouldn't rule out the possibility in the future if there was the need and demand for it.

You ran a year long beta period, what kind of feedback have you received from your testers?

We received a lot of positive feedback about MentalCore and how much it has helped users and improved their experience with MentalRay. We also received tons of ideas for new features and shaders which we have been able to implement the majority of, also a lot of feedback on the render pass system which has really helped us improve it. And of course lots of bugs that have been fixed.

Does the purchase price include any future update to the software?

Yes it will include bug fixes as well minor updates which may include a couple of new features, as well as support for Maya 2013 as soon as it becomes available. We also provide a forum at our website where users can get help and support for the product.

Are you working on any upcoming feature you can tell us about?

We have a few features planned for a future version of MentalCore. One thing I would like to see is improved viewport 2.0 support for MentalCore shaders. Currently most of the materials will show a decent preview of the shader viewport 2, but I would like to see that extended to provide a much more realistic display of all the shaders that would help lighting and shading artists to get some interactive results in the viewport before they even start rendering.

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