LuxusCore for Carrara plugin – Unofficial manual 2017-02-15

LuxusCore for Carrara plugin – Unofficial manual 2017-02-15

An unofficial CarraraCafe manual for the upcoming LuxusCore plugin for Carrara, that brings GPU accelerated rendering and realtime render preview into Carrara. It is updated frequently, so check back often.
If you have any questions or something to add, check the end of the manual for links to the forum.

Table of Contents
1. What is LuxusCore? (Updated 2016-01-23)
2. Beta installation for Windows x64, free (Updated 2017-01-28)
3. First simple project, rendering and video demo (Updated 2017-02-15)
4. Shaders (Updated 2017-02-15)
5. Lights 
(Updated 2017-02-14)
6. Cameras 
(Updated 2017-01-30)
7. FAQ (Updated 2017-01-28)
8. Example LuxusCore renders
9. Animation (Updated 2016-01-23)
10. Benchmarks (Updated 2015-09-04)
11. Settings to use in the Config Settings: PathOCL, BiaspathOCL, Realtime, EXR/HDR and multipass images (Updated 2016-01-23)
12. GUI (Updated 2016-01-23)
13. Hair
14. Release notes 
(Updated 2017-01-28)
15. Other

1. What is LuxusCore?
LuxusCore is based in the LuxCore render engine of the upcoming Luxrender 2.0 (not released at the time of writing) and is a Carrara plugin with a built-in render engine.
LuxusCore supports GPU accelerated rendering and Interactive Photorealistic Rendering (IPR) inside Carrara.
It works on both AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards using the OpenCL language, so you need to have updated graphics drivers.
More about supported graphics cards can be found in the LuxCore wiki here.
Also runs on CPU which supports more functions than GPU only.

Important new features for Carrara users that are now integrated into Carrara: GPU rendering, Unbiased rendering, HDR/EXR with multipass rendering.

The old Luxus plugin for Carrara, that exports the scenes to the stand alone free Luxrender 1.x is still available from the DAZ3D store.

2. Beta installation for Windows x64, free (Updated 2017-01-28):
No time limit for the version released october 2016:
Download from
Unzip to C:\Program Files\DAZ 3D\Carrara8.5\Extensions

Note 1: Path may be different if you installed Carrara elsewhere.
Note 2: LuxRender is not needed, unlike Luxus for Carrara. LuxusCore works both with a clean installation of Carrara and also if you already have the older Luxus plugin installed.

3.1 First simple project and IPR rendering
Download the simple test scene and load it in Carrara, press Edit/LuxCore IPR and you should be seeing this:






The very first time you may get the same configuration dialog as when choosing Edit -> LuxCore Config
where you choose GPU or CPU rendering and the method for rendering. The screenshot shows the recommended settings for GPU acceleration, all graphics cards are selected, the CPU is not:











3.1 First simple project and rendering
Start Carrara and load a default scene to quickly check that LuxusCore is working:
File -> Open Preset -> Global Illumination -> Skylight
Edit -> LuxCore IPR
Now the IPR render window should open and the realtime GPU preview rendering should be running.









Now delete the default scene light and add a LuxusCore light: Insert -> LuxCore Sun-Sky. Uncheck “Do Sun” and to run the same type of scene as the preset, but using LuxCore setting instead.







In the Render Room, you can choose Rendering -> Renderer -> Photorealistic -> Luxcore via Luxus to get the full render options.





3.2 Luxuscore Youtube video demonstration by Spheric Labs
A video showing the first version of LuxusCore in Carrara and the new IPR window that supports the realtime rendering workflow with quick changes to the scene, lights and shaders/materials. Some basic shader modifications are shown too. Posted in the end of December 2014 by the LuxusCore developer Spheric Labs.



4. Shaders/materials
As you can see from the Render Room above, the native Carrara render on the left has a Glossy material. In the current version of LuxusCore this is not automatically translated.
A workaround is to build the shader as a new LuxusCore material in the Carrara shader room.
A general overview of the Luxcore materials can be found in the Luxrender wiki, well worth reading since physically based materials are very different from the Carrara shaders used by the Carrara internal rendering engine.

4.1 Glass and glossy materials
Glossy and Glass shaders for LuxusCore are available in SphericLabs simple test scene, get it here:


LuxusCore test scene – Glass material

Simple glass material example in Carrara LuxusCore.










4.2 Transparency shader
Transparency with LuxusCore materials, for example eye-lashes:

LuxCore Surface
> LuxCore Mix
>> LuxCore Null
>> LuxCore Matte or whatever material you desire
>> Amount is 0.0 for Null, 1.0 for Matte, or put a carrara texture map in there for something like eyelashes.
(You can swap the order of Null and Matte if you want 1.0 for fully transparent.)

4.3 Emission shader
Should be as simple as turning up the power on the emissive channel, but here is a matte material that is emissive.
Its not very powerful, so if you have a sun in the scene, you might not be able to even see it emit light.

A screenshot of the Carrara shading room, showing another example of the emission shader in LuxusCore:







4.4 Car paint shader
The shader for the car below, used this shader:
LuxCore Surface
> LuxCore Mix
>> LuxCore Car paint
>> LuxCore Mirror
>> Amount : 25


Joe Pingleton experimented using Lux mix shaders to combine the surface with a mirror so that he could adjust the reflections.









4.5 Texture shaders
Here are 2 simple examples from SphericLabs showing the support for textures in both PNG and TIFF format:





5. Lights
Lights are available in the Insert menu, grouped with the other lights.
The Luxrender wiki has some good info on different types of lights in Luxrender in general and is worth reading.

5.1 Infinite and Sun-Sky
Currently available are LuxCore Infinite and LuxCore Sun-Sky.
LuxCore Infinite supports HDRI images in EXR format, so you need to browse for them. Carrara includes a few HDRI files, DAZ3D store has several HDRI store items and there are several free HDRI files here.

ss (1)






5.2 Spot, bulb and distant lights
Carrara’s own spot, bulb, and distant lights are currently translated into LuxCore.
Although it looks like it is not responding to changes during an IPR render. You will have to stop and start the render to reflect changes.

5.3 Mesh lights
Mesh lights have to be done via the Luxuscore materials and work great. Make anything a LuxCore Matte material and turn up the power on the Emission channel. Here is a screenshot. As a heads up if you make a plane and make it emit, it will emit out of one side of the plane, not both. See also the shaders/materials chapter.







6. Cameras
Environment camera (panorama) was just added to the development builds in late 2016, Luxuscore does not support environment cameras yet.

7. FAQ

Q: How can I check if my computer supports LuxusCore GPU rendering?
A1: A good test is running the LuxMark V3 benchmark, if all 3 scenes can be rendered, then LuxuxCore should work in Carrara too. Get LuxMark V3.1 here.
A2: NVIDIA drivers are more unstable than AMD, for example on NVIDIA GeForce 680M, driver version 353.30 does not work. Roll back to 347.09 for both LuxMark and LuxusCore Carrara to work.

Q: There is a graphics glitch or black screen or wrong colors/shaders, what can I try to change that may help?
A0. Try the Luxmark benchmark to verify that your graphics card and driver are working correctly. Download and run LuxMark 3.1, all 3 tests should work.
A1. Uncheck the Biased option in Edit/LuxCore Config menu.
A2: Try the CPU renderer that is supposed to be more stable first. In the Edit/LuxusCore Config, select CPU/Path, if that still fails, try CPU/Bidir for complex scenes (interiors). More info about the settings is available in the LuxRender wiki here.
A3: Try the following config in the render room “Config Settings” box:
renderengine.type = “PATHOCL”
opencl.platform.index = “-1”
opencl.cpu.use = 0
opencl.gpu.use = 1
opencl.gpu.workgroup.size = “64”
accelerator.instances.enable = “0”
opencl.kernel.options = “-cl-fast-relaxed-math -cl-mad-enable -cl-no-signed-zeros”
To render with both CPU and CPU change the opencl.cpu.use value to 1.
Also try to remove the last line (opencl.kernel.options = “-cl-fast-relaxed-math -cl-mad-enable -cl-no-signed-zeros”) which does speed up rendering (30% for NVIDIA, 3% for AMD in LuxMark V3.1), at the cost of some compatibility (crashes).
A4: LuxCore uses accelerators, these speed up ray casting and figuring out what rays hit and where.  The default is for LuxCore to choose the accelerator:
accelerator.type = AUTO
Try these in the config settings:
accelerator.type = BVH
accelerator.type = MBVH
accelerator.type = QBVH
accelerator.type = MQBVH
More about accelerators in the Luxrender FAQ.
A5: Try the simple test scene and the simple spot light test scene.
A6: Usual error related to a missing dll can be figured out by using dependency walker. Caution, it is an advanced tool that can give errors when there are none, but it does give us clues as to what is going on.  So go get dependency walker, . I assume you want the x64 version. Extract it and run it.  Drag your LuxusCore.mcx file onto the dependency walker window.  It will take a little while and then produce something like the image shown.  By default it expands the dependency tree,  we only want to see one level deep so  close them all so it looks like the images shown.
One image is correct and all dependant dlls were found, the other has a yellow quesion mark next to OpenCL.DLL.  OpenCL.DLL is missing in that case



Q: What rendering engine is LuxusCore for Carrara running?
A: LuxusCore is using PATHOCL that can run on GPU or CPU. The Feb 2015 version also has: Light and Bidirectional for CPU rendering.
The available render engines in the full LuxCore:

Q: Does replicated replications work?
A: Yes, check the test render by SphericLabs below:






Q: What does the “bias” options do?
A: Check this Luxrender forum post for more details and renders.
A2: Currently seems to be broken since it is in development, uncheck the option in Edit/LuxCore Config menu.

Q: What Carrara shaders are translated into LuxCore shaders?
A: Translation of Carrara shaders is certainly limited. Right now it simply looks at the values of the standard multichanel shader and does a guess. It can certainly be improved. Also, internally saved textures will not work at all at this time.

Q: What are the known limitations/problems with LuxusCore?
A: Luxuscore plugin: Can’t use Carrara plants objects or terrain shaders.
A2: Luxcore engine: Portals are not implemented.

Q: What happens if I use a graphics card with 2GB RAM and another with 4GB RAM?
A: Each graphics card needs its own copy of data to render. So if you have a 2GB card and a 4GB card, then you are limited to 2GB if you want to render with both.
Tip: Use only the 4GB card for complex scenes with lots of textures. You can check memory consumption with GPU-Z from here.

Q: How do you set the camera? As in Exposure, White Balance, Depth of Field and Tone Mapping. 
A: It can be done via the config settings, DOF would be via the scene settings.  It will be exposed in a nice UI later.

Q: How do I render caustics?
A: You must change Strategy from Path to Bidirectional (CPU only) in the Edit->LuxCore Config, to get good looking caustics. Tutorial from Luxrender/Blender with helpful settings.

Q: What can I do if I run out of GPU memory?
A: You can try to consolidate shaders. For example a 2600MB scene can be cut down to 1800MB just by doing this.
Also close any open web browsers to free about 100-300MB of GPU memory.

8. Example LuxusCore renders

In The Shadows by Joe Pingleton

In The Shadows by Joe Pingleton








The Opening of Eyes - by Joe Pingleton

The Opening of Eyes – by Joe Pingleton








Nicole by Joe Pingleton

Nicole by Joe Pingleton





This was rendered in 2 minutes with only one infinite light and no messing around with the default shaders.


More details and other examples at Joe’s DeviantArt site.

9. Animation

One of the major benefits of LuxusCore and LuxCore, is the possiblity to render high quality animation quickly on a desktop with a fast graphics card or four.

In the Render Room, enter this data in GUI, to get an animation of 25 seconds of rendertime per frame and using the SOBOL sampler for faster rendering:
Halt Seconds: 25
Sampler: SOBOL
If you are running a simple scene on a powerful desktop (or want higher quality), like SpericLabs scene with a translation of the box on multiple graphics cards, try these settings for 256 samples per pixel and the better Metropolis sampler:
Halt SPP: 256









The first frame does show some more details, like the number of samples, which is useful the guess the render time, at least 100 samples is a good starting point.
Both rendering to AVI with uncompressed frames and Sequenced PNG files works. Rendering progress is visible, both the rendered frame is seen and the frame counter is visible.

9.1 About Samplers

-Sobol is better than Metropolis when it comes to rather simple lighting, like outdoor sunlight.
-Sobol is “dumber and faster” than Metropolis.
-Metropolis is better in more complex lighting situations (caustics through glass, light through a small window etc.). It is the default sampler for LuxCore.
-More about samplers at the Luxrender wiki.

Example animations:
LuxusCore Carrara Animation Test 04 by Joe Pingleton:


10. Benchmarks

Benchmarks are useful to check if your rig is setup to run properly.

10.1 LuxusCore

Test scene: 1. SphericLabs simple test scene, get it here:
Default resolution 640×480 in Render Room.
Settings: OpenCL/path/unbiased
CPU Core-17-2700k@4,7GHz (overclocked):       2,0 Ms/s
GPU AMD Radeon 7970 (stock):                          8,35Ms/s
GPU AMD Radeon 7970 x3 (stock):                     25,0Ms/s (perfect scaling, exactly 3x faster)
GPU NVIDIA GTX970 (stock)                                8-9Ms/s

10.2 LuxMark 3.1 benchmark
The official LuxRender benchmark application, LuxMark 3.1 is useful for checking that both hardware and software is running at top speed. Update the video card drivers and get the LuxMark app from here, where you can also check LuxMark scores of other rigs.


11. Settings to use in the Config Settings: PathOCL, BiaspathOCL, Realtime, EXR/HDR and multipass images
Some config settings to help speed up rendering / IPR (thanks to Steve), until the GUI is finished.
Also added EXR/HDR and multipass images settings.

11.1 These are for PathOCL.
The settings are entered in the “render room > Luxcore via Luxus > Config Settings”

renderengine.type = “PATHOCL” (sets renderer to PathOCL)
path.maxdepth = 3 (sets mamimum path depth. A value of 1 will give direct lighting only. I set to 3 for IPR, and set to 4 (or possibly more, depending on scene)  for final render)
path.clamping.radiance.maxvalue = 10  (clamping radiance, helps prevent fireflys. Good for indoor scenes, but can cause greyed out image if applied on outside well lit scenes if set as a low value). For indoor scenes, I usually set to 10 (as shown) and adjust as needed.)
path.clamping.pdf.value = 0 (This works in oposite to radiance clamping, and will clamp low levels. Good to help prevent noisy shadows, but better set to low value, of as example, 0.1 – 0.5. If set too high, image will be black in many areas.)
film.filter.type = “NONE” (if filtering set to “NONE”, rendering will be quicker. Other types are: “GAUSSIAN”, “BOX”, “MITCHELL_SS”, “MITCHELL” and “BLACKMAN-HARRIS”
film.filter.width = 2 (value to set for filtering when it is not set to NONE)

11.2 Some settings for BiaspathOCL.
renderengine.type = “BIASPATHOCL”
(set to BiaspathOCL)
tile.size = 32  (Biaspath renders in buckets/tiles. This setting sets the tiles size. In earlier builds of Luxcore, the size of the tiles could affect render times. That, it as been stated, does not now matter. During testing I have found that making tile size smaller can cause a crash, and making tile size bigger can use a lot more graphics card memory. So would suggest leaving that setting at 32 for now).
tile.multipass.enable = 1 (enables (set to “1”) multipass rendering. If set to “0” only one pass made.)
tile.multipass.convergencetest.threshold = 0.04 (controls quality of render. Lower values give better quality(less noise). Default = 0.04, which for well lit scenes is probably OK. For scenes with lots of shadows or indoor scenes, it will probably need setting lower. I set usually between 0.1 – 0.2 for final renders. Render will stop when threshold reached)
biaspath.sampling.aa.size = 3 (Scene total max aa sampling)

Sampling for materials can be set separately for “diffuse”, “glossy” and “specular”. These settings are for scene defaults:-
biaspath.sampling.diffuse.size = 2
biaspath.sampling.glossy.size = 2
biaspath.sampling.specular.size = 1 = 10 (Scene total max path depth)

Path depth is also set separately for “diffuse”, “glossy” and “specular” These settings are for scene defaults:-
biaspath.pathdepth.diffuse = 2
biaspath.pathdepth.glossy = 1
biaspath.pathdepth.specular = 2

Note: Path depth default for diffuse is set to “2”. That currently is insufficient to give good indirect lighting(certainly for indoor scenes).  I suggest it should be set to at least 3: =  biaspath.pathdepth.diffuse = 3)

Clamping can also be set as shown/explained in above post:
biaspath.clamping.radiance.maxvalue = 0
biaspath.clamping.pdf.value = 0

11.3 Realtime settings
If you are interested in using the realtime LuxCore stuff you can try:

renderengine.type = RTPATHOCL
opencl.gpu.workgroup.size = 64
renderengine.type = RTBIASPATHOCL
opencl.gpu.workgroup.size = 64

Not much difference, except my machine feels more responsive doing other things. But it freezes Carrara when I stop the IPR.

11.4 EXR/HDR and multi-pass image export
You will need to put something like the following in the config section:

This means every 15 seconds write an RGB image with filename image.exr. The file will apear in the extension folder.  You can specify a path such as C:/Users/Spheric/Documents/image.exr

You could also do stuff like write an HDR and a tonemapped png with


12. GUI (Beta 2015-Nov release)
-It is minimalistic. More will come.
-Sampler and Accelerator are usually best to leave at AUTO.  METROPOLIS for indoor scenes. SOBOL for animations.
-Halt time is in seconds.  Halt SPP is Samples Per Pixel and then the rendering will stop. 100 would be on the low end, 1000 can take a while.
-ToneMapper. AUTOLINEAR is best for previewing and before final lighting is done. You will never get a bright image or a dark image.
-ToneMapper. LINEAR has one adjustment, scale.  Lower is darker, Higher is brighter. We may need to add more decimal places to go very low.
-ToneMapper. LuxLinear is an ISO, Shutter, FStop paradigm for how bright things should be. Sensitivity(ISO), Exposure(Shutter speed), and FStop.
-ToneMapper. Reinhard02 is a nonlinear tonemapper. Google LuxRender Reinhard for an explanation.
-Gamma. You can adjust it, but 2.2 is usually what people leave this at. 1.8 is the other commonly used value here.
-Lens Radius(in meters) is how large the Lens is.  A larger lens will have more depth of field effect. 0.5 is very blurry.
-Focal Distance(in meters) is where the focus for depth of field effects is.
-Config Settings and Scene Settings are for things not supported in the Render Settings UI yet.  There are many.











13. Hair
Carrara hair is supported by LuxusCore from November 2015.

LuxusCore will look for a LuxCore material in the Tip Color slot of the hair shader  See image. Also, emissive hair is kind of trippy.

14. Release notes
-Glossy Translucent Material working
-Updated LuxCore to include improvements in last 2 months done by LuxCore developers. For example less memory usage for textures.
-Global shader should now work.
-Camera can roll and bank.
– Updated LuxCore
– Fixed a hang on close.
– Internal LuxCore updated to latest source.
– GlossyCoating Material.
– Removed fresnelname as it offers nothing that metal2 presets does not already provide.
– Added fresnelsopra and fresnelluxpop
– Fixed fresnelcolor to not crash
-Another build that now supports Carrara Hair.
-Another build with some improvements to the render settings UI.
-New build.  It never times out.

15. Other
If you have anything to add, please post in the Carrara ForumsDAZ3D forums or comment here and we will add it to the manual.

DAZ3D forum:
LuxCore wiki: 



Announcement: Carrara-izing Blender – Part 2

Announcement: Carrara-izing Blender – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the Carrara-izing Blender article series. This time we will look into different possibilities for moving from Carrara to Blender and also common work methods between them, to make it easier to use them both. The first part was originally written by JoeMamma2000 in the DAZ3D forum and can be found here.

Common Render engines – Octane
One major common aspect of both Carrara and Blender, is the Octane plug-in by Otoy for both rendering and shaders (materials).
Octane is available in both a stand-alone version, but also has integrated plug-ins for both Blender and Carrara, making it easier to work in both apps.
While the integrated plug-in has a different user interface due to its heavy integration in Blender or Carrara, there are several common areas like materials, lighting, cameras and so on, that can be used the same way since the render engine is the same.
Octane comes with a high price tag and a big feature set, but you can start with the free demo version to check if you meet the hardware requirements.
Currently it needs an NVIDIA GPU, get a demo version here.

Common Render engines – Luxrender and LuxCore
Another common render engine and material database, is the free Luxrender application that includes a free Blender plugin, but need a low cost commercial plugin for Carrara, Luxus for Carrara at
An advantage with Luxrender is that it has full support for CPU rendering (no specific GPU limits or limited VRAM) at the cost of longer render times, but it also is possible to render via GPU.
The upcoming Luxrender 2.0 has been delayed, but a project re-boot is started and work is ongoing to improve.
There is a beta version of the Carrara plugin LuxusCore, with the Luxrender 2.0 engine integrated, more info here.
The Blender manual for LuxCore is here.

Export from Carrara to Blender Cycles, script by mCasual
Started in 2015 october and last updated in 2017 November, the mcjBlendBotForCarrara script has been around for a long time.
The scripts speeds up the export from Carrara to Blender and the Cycles render engine (now supports both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs).
Get the download from here and also save the PDF files of the web site, since it includes several must-have tips to get it to work:

Bforartists vs Blender
A complete stand-alone version of Blender with a more user-friendly interface, called Bforartists is available from here:
Have not tried it myself yet, but it is a free download like Blender, so go ahead and try it yourself.
Some info from the Bforartists FAQ:
Q: Why should i use Bforartists and not Blender?
You should use Bforartists when you are not comfortable with Blender, but are with Bforartists. I have seen generations of new 3D artists fail at the Blender UI, but being fine with other 3D packages then.
Q: What is the difference between Blender and Bforartists?
First let me point out where it is equal. There is no difference in the features. The main difference lies in the UI and usability.
Blender’s usability philosophy is centered around hotkeys and speed.
Bforartists usability philosophy is centered around the graphical menu. With an intuitive and easy to learn workflow. Made from an artist for artists.

Blender tutorials and other resources
-The main Blender web site
-Blender freebies at BlendSwap
-Blender tutorials at BlenderGuru
Cycles renderer web site




Announcement: We just recovered from big crash and are still working on fixes.

Announcement: We just recovered from big crash and are still working on fixes.



As some of you may know  Carrara Cafe was recently hacked.
We have recovered from the crash, however there are still some glitches that are being worked on.

Unfortunately the back up file that I have is a little bit old one so we lost few new posts in few places as well as some members might need to create new accounts.

It is also strongly recommended to change log-in passwords to everyone. Please do change your password to new ones before Monday.

Attention! New users, please hold on on registering new accounts, were are looking into how to resolve some lost data and we might need to reset entire website again which might lead to loss of new registrations. Gives us couple of days before registering to Carrara Cafe. 

I apologize for inconveniences this caused you.

Kind regards,



Sticky: Carrara-izing Blender – Part 1

Sticky: Carrara-izing Blender – Part 1

Thanks to JoeMamma2000 for a detailed yet easy-to-follow guide on how to adapt Blender, for a Carrara user.
Besides the basics like the Graphical-User-Interface differences and tips and tricks, there are detailed descriptions of the different features and methods.
Original Forum post by JoeMamma2000 here:
Small modifications by 3drendero.

20180123: First release, based on forum thread
20180128: Final version, moving new info to a separate Part 2 article

First I want to make a disclaimer: this thread is completely off topic, and is a discussion of other, non-Carrara software. I only post this because it relates to Carrara for those who might use other software like Blender together with Carrara for certain functions and features that Carrara might not have.
If you tend to dislike discussions of other software, especially if comparison to Carrara are mentioned, please stop reading this thread.
For others, I will try to make enough negative comments about Blender in this discussion so nobody feels like I’m saying Blender is the best software and Carrara isn’t. No software is perfect, and there’s no need to take offense at discussions of inanimate software. And no, I am not trying to “sell” Blender to anyone, just providing a service for those who might enjoy having another set of features at their disposal.
For those who are unfamiliar with Blender, it is a free and full-featured software that has some very well-implemented and high level features that aren’t available in Carrara. It provides an opportunity to integrate your Carrara character work with stuff like fluids and smoke and fire and a whole range of other “professional” features.
Now, on occasion someone here mentions Blender and how difficult the interface is compared to Carrara. I tend to agree, at least in certain areas. When a new, Carrara-based user opens Blender, IMO, it doesn’t respond intuitively in some very basic aspects.
However, you can do a lot to customize Blender, and with a few fairly simple steps make it more intuitive and Carrara-like. This thread is intended to give some ideas on some ways I have customized Blender to make it more intuitive…at least for me. Forgive me if I miss some stuff. I did a lot of this customization years ago, so I’m real rusty on what’s native Blender and what’s customized.

Basic Similarities
First, there really are a lot of similarities between the two apps, at least in the default layouts. Here are two images of both apps with a simple scene. Note that both apps have some sort of toolbars along the left side, as well as the familiar text menus across the top. Also both have the typical 3D View, and a sequencer along the bottom. And on the right hand side, both have an Instances (aka, “Outliner” in Blender) panel, and a “Properties” panel (same title in both apps). Visually, they look very much alike. And keep in mind that, for the most part, all 3D apps do pretty much the same thing, so you can expect Blender to have most of the same basic features as Carrara. The only challenge is finding how and where they are located and used. But really, with just a little familiarizing and tweaking, you should feel fairly comfortable with the Blender basics.





















Basic Differences
One of the problems is that Blender relies heavily on keyboard shortcuts. And that’s fine if Blender is your main software and you use it regularly. However, for someone who jumps around multiple apps on a regular basis, trying to remember keyboard shortcuts and different mouse operations is a huge pain in the butt. It annoys the heck out of me. So there are some limitations in how Carrara-like you can make it, since you need to use SOME keyboard shortcuts for common operations, but there are also ways around some of that. That being said, you can make Blender very similar to Carrara with just a few tweaks.

View Manipulation
Now, IMO, the biggest difficulty that a new user will face when opening Blender is that there seems to be no easy way to pan/zoom/rotate the view. With Carrara there are those nifty icons on the left side toolbar. No matter what view you’re in, you just click on one of those buttons and you can easily move the view. With Blender there are no pan/zoom/rotate buttons. You need to use the mouse MMB and the shift/CTRL keys. To me that is the biggest counter-intuitive annoyance with Blender. But as far as I know, there is no way around it. So you’ll need to remember that you rotate by click/drag the MMB, pan with shift/MMB, and zoom by scrolling the mouse wheel. There is also a “fly” mode for navigating the scene, and I might discuss that later.





Now, the next big annoyance in Blender is that you select stuff with the RMB. And as we all know, the rest of the world selects stuff with the LMB. Luckily, there’s a way to change that. You can select a Maya or 3DSMax input preset. To do that, just go to File/User Preferences/Input, and the very first option is “Presets”. Just select 3DSMax (or Maya) from the dropdown. Personally, I use the 3DSMax preset because it also defaults the rotation to “turntable” (similar to Carrara) instead of the super annoying “trackball”.










View to Selection
Another Carrara feature I use constantly is the “View to Selection”, (shortcut: 0 key). Select an object, hit the “0” key, and no matter what view you’re in, it instantly centers your view on the object. I can’t survive without it. However, if you hit “0” in Blender you jump into Camera view. The correct key for “View to Selection” in Blender is the period key. So you have a couple of choices. Either you can re-map those shortcut keys to match Carrara (File/User Preferences/Input) or do what I do, which is use the vertical Navigation tab along the left side of the 3D view. There’s a button for “View to Selected”, as well as some other quick navigation buttons (including jumping to Camera View). Personally, I try to avoid re-mapping shortcut keys because it can get kind of confusing, especially when viewing others’ tutorials and stuff. And that brings up another point…

Shortcut keys
Blender is extremely customizable, so if you need to re-map any shortcut keys to be more like Carrara, you can probably do it (File/User Preferences/Input). In fact it would be cool if someone could sit down sometime and build a Carrara shortcut key preset file.







Camera View
Blender’s default is a rather insane notion that camera view manipulation is somehow different from other views. As an example, if you are in camera view mode and try to manipulate the camera’s view (rotate, translate, etc.), the view instantly jumps out of camera view and into User Perspective (similar to Director’s Camera) view. Which implies you can only manipulate the camera and its view by awkwardly manipulating the camera from an external view (by looking AT the camera, not THRU its lens), then jumping back to camera view to see if you got it right. Crazy. But thankfully, that was fixed a few years ago. Now all you have to do is select the camera, hit the “n” key, and under the “View” dropdown select the “Lock Camera to View” option.

One thing I love most about Carrara and others is they had implemented the idea of object manipulators long before other apps. And I LOVE manipulators. You know, the translate/rotate/scale thingies that show up when you select an object. Blender now has those, like Carrara Universal Manipulator. You can choose to have all three manipulators appear simultaneously in Blender, like Carrara Universal Manipulator.
Just shift-select the manipulator buttons as shown below.









Summary so far
So, to summarize so far, here are my suggestions for Blender tweaks:
1. REMEMBER: Rotate view by click/drag the MMB, pan with shift/MMB, and zoom by scrolling the mouse wheel.
2. Select 3DSMax input preset
3. Use Navigation tab, “View to Selection”
4. Select each camera, hit the “n” key, and under the “View” dropdown select the “Lock Camera to View” option
5. Shift-select the manipulator buttons to have all manipulators appear simultaneously

Those suggestions should put you a lot closer to making your Blender interface more “Carrara-like”.

I’d also suggest you consider using another nice Blender feature, and that is saving a default scene. Once you have a simple scene set up as you like it, you can define that as the default scene that opens every time you start Blender. Set it up as a “Carrara-like” scene, maybe also with the types of lights and objects you use very often, and save that as default. You’ll feel a lot more comfortable next time you start Blender.

Carrara Shaders vs Blender Materials

Another area that might appear confusing to Carrara users when trying out Blender is with “shaders”. Here are images of the Carrara Shaders tab and the Blender Materials tab.
Note that they are very very similar if you realize that the major difference is only with terminology.
Keep in mind:
Color is the same as Diffuse
Highlight/Shininess are the same as Specular
Reflection is the same as Mirror
Glow/Translucency are the same as Shading
and so on…
So when you select the Materials button in Blender’s Properties tab, its virtually identical to Carrara’s Shader tab. Well, except for some details regarding features, etc.












And a related area that might lead to some confusion is Blender’s “Textures” tab. This is very similar to the dropdown selections in Carrara’s shaders tab, such as to select external images or procedurals to map, or types of mapping (UV, etc.), and so on.
So Carrara shaders tab is kind of a composite setting area for all surface settings, while in Blender they are somewhat segregated by shading and texturing. But it’s all the same stuff.


I suppose the next area for consideration are Carrara’s “Rooms”.
There’s Assemble, Model, Storyboard, Texture, and Render.
Blender doesn’t have rooms, but it has icons and windows which do similar things. They’re just located in a different area, not along the top toolbar like in Carrara.
Let’s first take the Model room. Some may recall years ago when DAZ added the ability to directly edit objects in the 3D View, instead of in the Model room. Which was nice because you were editing the model as it was, not a non-scaled, etc., representation of the object in a separate room.
Blender’s modeller is similar, where you model directly in the 3D View. Just go to the toolbar at the bottom of the 3D View and select “Edit Mode” from the dropdown/dropup menu.
And once you enter Edit mode, the Tools tab on the left side contains a whole list of modelling/editing tools.


Carrara’s Render and Texture Rooms are similar to Blender’s Render and Materials/Texture panels. Those are accessed from the Properties panel on the right hand side of the screen.











Screen Layouts in Blender
Now Blender does have its own form of Rooms, called “Screen Layouts”, and these are extremely useful and helpful things to be familiar with.
Basically, since Blender can have all of its windows customized, you can configure a screen layout based upon what function you’re performing at the time.
The default layouts are as shown in the image below: Animation, Compositing, Default, Game Logic, Motion Tracking, Scripting, UV Editing, and Video Editing.
So if, for example, you’re in the default startup screen, and decide you want to do some UV editing, just select the UV Editing screen layout and you’ll jump to a window layout that is pre-configured to do UV editing. Extremely useful, especially for new users who don’t know how to get to the tools you need for compositing, or video editing, etc.









I also highly recommend that if you have a screen layout you like and want to return to that you save it using the “+” button to the right of the dropdown list of screen layouts (see image above).
ESPECIALLY before you start experimenting with configuring your windows and screens. If you have a default 3D view that you like, hit the “+” key and it will be saved. Then you can start tweaking your windows. Keep in mind that it is VERY easy to get lost in a maze of window configurations with Blender, and suddenly you have a bunch of windows you can’t get rid of. Just jump back to the saved default layout and you’ll be fine.

Nodes (Blender)
Now that you have the basics of how to navigate and configure Blender to make it very Carrara-like, I’ll take a short side trip to discuss one area that is very important to consider when jumping to another app like Blender.
And that is NODES…
A node-based application can be extremely intuitive and flexible and efficient. I think it’s safe to say that once you’ve become familiar with nodes you’ll never go back… 🙂 🙂
And Blender makes use of nodes in a wide range of features, including

1. Configuring materials and textures
2. It’s internal node-based compositor
3. Working with render passes
4. etc…

Blender actually uses a node-based approach for configuring materials/shaders and textures. And personally, I find it FAR more intuitive and efficient than Carrara’s shader room. Honestly, I never quite figured out how to do more than just simple shaders in Carrara’s shader room. To me the “shader tree” concept is very confusing when you start to get layered shaders…
I don’t think I’ll go into much detail on nodes, I’ll leave it up to anyone interested to pursue on their own. My only recommendation for those jumping over to Blender from Carrara is to keep in mind that if you’re not sure how to do something, nodes might be the answer. Especially with materials and the stuff I mentioned above.

Shader room in Carrara vs Blender Screen Layout
And to give you an idea of how awesomely nice the nodal material/texture features are, along with the physically based and realtime rendering of the Cycles renderer, together with the user-configurable “rooms” are, here is just one example of making a nodal texturing “room” (Screen Layout) that combines the node editor, a 3D View, and a realtime rendered view. Much much nicer than the shader preview in Carrara that always gives me fits and frustration…
So next time I want to apply nodal textures I just jump to my pre-configured Texture screen layout and I’m all set.


Loading files trick
Oh, and I almost forgot…
One user preference you MUST set is under “File”….make sure the “Show Thumbnails” is checked, so when you load a file you see the thumbnail image instead of the default list… 🙂

Blender features
For me, the exciting things about Blender are the following:
Soft Body/Cloth
Dynamic Paint (eg., waves)
Node based compositor
Unbiased rendering
Physically accurate materials
Animation/rigging tools (expressions, etc.)
Modelling/sculpting tools
Camera tracking
Video editing
For the most part, with minor exceptions, none of those features exist in Carrara. And what is more surprising to me is how easy some of the more high-end features, such as smoke, flames, fluids, dynamic paint, etc., are to use.

Blender/Carrara integration
So I suppose the next step is to consider why you would want to integrate an app like Blender with your Carrara work, and how would you do it?
Well, I just gave a long list of “high-end” features that Blender provides but are not available in Carrara. Personally, I feel that Carrara’s strengths are in two areas: characters and content. But for the most part, I tend to generate my own content, so for me at least the big strength is characters.
So how do you integrate characters with all that other stuff you can get from Blender (or other apps)?
Well, one way is to do what the professionals do: film your actors in front of a green screen, then composite them later into the environment. The idea is to do your character work in Carrara, then using various techniques, export those results into a compositing app, and integrate those other elements which you generated in Blender.
In the other thread I generated on Compositing I give a number of ways you can do that using various techniques.

Blender/Carrara libraries
In thinking about where next to take this discussion or if I should even bother, I realized I overlooked a key strength of Carrara that is a relative weakness in Blender. And that is the extremely useful shader/object/etc. libraries, where you can just drag and drop saved stuff you’ve made before.
Blender doesn’t have that directly, but that functionality certainly does exist.
The concept in Blender is that you can easily pull stuff from other existing “scene” files (aka “.blend” files in Blender) via what’s called the “append” function. So one option is to save your materials in a “library” (.blend) file of materials, and append that library file to whatever scene you’re working on and just pull those pre-made materials as needed.
And since your materials are generally each going to be a group of nodes you’ve configured, you can save that group and place it in the library file.
And the same concept applies to anything else you want to save in a library.
Now there are some plugins out there that can help a bit with that process if you want, as well as some existing materials libraries that are available so you can start your collection. But for those interested in making Blender as easy to use as Carrara I’d strongly suggest you consider making a library of materials/shaders, objects, etc.


Nodes, in-depth (advanced users)
Okay, well I said I wouldn’t go into detail about nodes, but I’m bored, and I’m sure there are folks who haven’t yet jumped into node-based applications, so I’ll try to explain the differences and relative benefits. And Blender has a very nice nodal system, used for many different things, so if you’re going to use Blender as part of your workflow with Carrara, you’ll probably want to start understanding nodes and using them. It will make your Blender experience a whole lot easier and more flexible, IMO.
BTW it’s been a long time since I’ve used layer-based apps other than for some quick image modifications, so forgive me if I miss some stuff.
Let’s take an example, and compare say Photoshop (which is “layers and history based”) to a nodal compositing app which is, well, node-based.
Let’s assume you want to perform the following operations on an image:

  1. Open a background image (a photo of a mountain range)
  2. Blur that image for use as a background
  3. Open a foreground image of a tree, which has an alpha channel so only the tree is visible
  4. Apply a color correction to the tree
  5. Save the image

Now, in Photoshop you open the image, then apply a blur filter, then make another layer and load the tree image, then apply a color correction layer, and save the image.
That’s a “layer-based” application. You stack image elements and operators as layers. And every operation you perform is listed in the “history”. It’s a bit like making lasagna. Just stack stuff in layers. And if you’re ready to put the lasagna in the oven, then decide you forgot to add ricotta cheese in the middle of the stack of lasagna, how do you fix that? Well, you unstack the layers of pasta, add the cheese in the middle, and re-stack them. A layer-based approach is kinda-sorta like that. But not quite.
Now, lets say you don’t like the blur you did in step 2. How do you undo it? Well, you step back in your History to step 2, which is the Blur step. However, that undoes all of the steps after that (like loading and color correcting the tree).
Of course, you can get around that, but the basic concept of a layer-based approach is for relatively simple modifications on individual images. It’s not real flexible.
Now, let’s look at a node-based app. How would you do the same operations?
Well, a key concept to understand is that every operation you can perform on your image (or sequence) is an individual, modifiable block, also known as a “node”. And you can connect each node/operation to any other node just by dragging a connecting line from the output of one to the input of another. The “flow” of operations is defined not by a rigid, step-by-step history, but by an easily modifiable and flexible diagram showing the connections of all the nodes. And it’s very easy to modify how the operations “flow”…you just reconnect the nodes to perform the way you want.
So how would you do the same thing with nodes?

  1. Place a Read node, and tell it to read your background image
  2. Place a blur node and connect the Read node to the blur node so that the blur operates on that image
  3. Place another Read node, and tell it to load your tree image
  4. Place a color correction node, and connect the tree Read node to the color correction node
  5. Place a Mix (or Merge) node, and connect the blurred background to one input, and the corrected tree to the other, and tell the node how to merge the two images
  6. Place a Write node, connect the results from the Mix node, and tell it to write the final results to a file

Now, while both processes might seem fairly similar so far, let’s now say we want to get rid of the blur on the background. With the layers based approach you have to step back in History to before the blur, and thereby you lose all operations after the blur. But with a node-based approach, all you do is select the blur node and disable it with a single keystroke.
Or let’s say you want the same color correction to apply to both the foreground tree AND the background mountain range? With the node-based approach you merely connect both images to the color correction node by dragging a line from one node to the other.
Using our lasagna analogy, a node-based approach is a bit like having an “add ricotta cheese” node placed inside your stack of lasagna. You don’t have to unstack those messy layers of cheese and pasta and meat sauce, you just access the “add ricotta cheese” node and it does it for you.
Here are the final image, and the nodes used to obtain the final image. You can ignore the “premult” and “transform” nodes if you want…they are just there to allow me to move and resize each image for composition purposes, and the premult is to, well, premult the image.










Nodes principle
As with many things in 3D, the difference between apps may not necessarily be in how much better your final image looks with some apps compared to other apps. Often, the difference in features is more about how quickly and efficiently and intuitively you can perform the tasks you need to perform. And for the most part, that’s the difference between a layer based and node based approach.
When doing complex stuff that requires many operations and many images, you want an app that makes that stuff quick and easy to perform.
So is a node based approach “better” than a layer based approach? Well, for some the answer is definitely YES. For others, a layer based approach is fine for the work they do.
But in any case, like I said, with Blender a node based approach is used for a number of tasks, so it’s probably a good idea to at least become familiar with the approach so you can be competent in both.


To be continued in Part 2…


ERC MADE EASY – Enhancing Facial Realism

ERC MADE EASY – Enhancing Facial Realism

Fenric has created for us a very powerful animation automation tool with the Carrara ERC plug-in. As such there are some great advanced examples available on the Internet that at first make it appear very daunting. However, the core concept of ERC is very simple; thing A moves thing B or more accurately thing A controls/modifies thing B. ERC is basically acting like the string between a puppet and its human master.

In the Carrara world the master can be anything that can be animated using the keyframe sequencer. For example this could be the arm of an evil sorcerer in our scene. The puppet can be, once again, anything that can be animated using the sequencer. In our first example let’s say the puppet is a chair in our scene. I can use ERC to magically levitate the chair whenever our character raises his arm (yes, this is a truly evil sorcerer). To do this I would simply connect our string (ERC) from the shoulder rotation of our sorcerer to the Z-axis position of the chair. Now whenever our evil sorcerer raises his arm, our chair flies up into the air and off our screen. Not exactly what we had in mind; we were going for some low altitude levitation. To fix this, ERC allows us to do some fancy things with our string. It allows us to change the degree by which the arm movement changes the chair movement. So we can tell ERC that we want our arm to move the chair only a small fraction of how much it was moving it before, even though our arm movement will remain exactly the same.

But wouldn’t it be simpler to just animate the arm and then separately animate the chair? Probably, but it made for a good example. One of the real indispensabilities of ERC is in the animation of things that are associated with each other on a repetitive basis. Let’s look at a face for example. When we move something on our face it typically causes other parts of our face to move as well. When I raise my eyebrows I get big wrinkles on my forehead. When I smile, same thing, my eyes wrinkle. Unfortunately I find this association to be far more desirable on my 3D characters than on myself and while I can’t do anything about me, I can use ERC to emulate these associated facial movements on my Daz characters.

For a basic implementation I like to add forehead wrinkles and a slight top eyelid movement driven by the eyebrow keyframe animation. (ERC enhancement on the left)

I also add cheek puff (under eye wrinkling), eye squinting and ear movement driven by the smile keyframe animation. (ERC enhancement on the left)

Daz characters have an abundance of morph parameters that can control virtually all aspects of the face allowing us to get very detailed with our automated animations by setting up an ERC modifier to control anything we want; from anything we want.

erc5Additionally, because Carrara shaders can be animated, we can create an effect that mimics fine wrinkles on our characters face. We could setup a face bump map using the regular bump map and a second bump map with additional wrinkle lines and then use an ERC modifier to mix between the two as our controlling parameter (mouth movement) changes.


Carranimation Part 1 – Rotation of the Hip

Carranimation Part 1 – Rotation of the Hip

Carraranimation1Carrara has a vast array of little check boxes and fields to fill in that help us to have things animate on their own with just a little input from us. All over the place the Carrara interface is checking to see if we need some automatic animation assistance, and I think that’s very cool, indeed! In this article I wanted to instead demonstrate my simple method of character animation. There are many techniques to animating characters and I’ve read instructions about quite a few of them from text books to online tutorials and even a few videos on the subject. The method I ended up becoming the most comfortable with is most similar to the text book, but likely has a bit of other sources mixed in as well. All in all, I don’t really think that it’s the studying that makes us better at animation, but the practice. Not to belittle education mind you. Not even close. It’s the study that gives us knowledge and inspiration – a good idea of where to begin with great advice on how we need to interact in between and performing counter balance motions, weight distributions. But nothing can actually make that stuff happen for you. In order to make it happen, you actually need to advance that timeline and make a move! So let’s get started.

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