We have discontinued our Alembic and Softimage plug-ins and will no longer be providing support. Thank you. To see the latest from Exocortex, please visit:
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The Exocortex Crate product suite is a set of professional grade, consistent and commercially supported Alembic plugins and tools that enable VFX studios and independent VFX professionals to standardize their tool chains around the Alembic file format as the core data interchange and automation format.
At a high level, the biggest benefit of the Exocortex Crate suite is that it enables your artists to use their preferred content creation tools while providing a professional, consistent, fast and reliable data interchange method to the other tools in your pipeline. Additionally, the Exocortex Crate suite enables you to automate your pipeline at the content level: from data import/export, scene composition, versioning, to rendering.
The Alembic file format is a true game changer in the VFX industry. Initially the realization of this vision had been previously hampered because of a lack of truly professional grade tools that provided complete, reliable and consistent interfaces backed up by commercial quality support. The Exocortex Crate suite was created to address this market gap and has since helped numerous companies realize the transformative Alembic vision across the whole of the VFX industry.
Full-Featured Alembic Import/Export Plugins
The Exocortex Crate suite consists of four 3D digital content creation (DCC) plugins for Alembic import/export. These three full-featured plugins provide a consistent interface and guaranteed data convertibility between other Exocortex Crate components:
- Crate for Softimage (Supports Softimage 2010 and newer)
- Crate for 3DS Max (Supports 3DS Max 2010 and newer)
- Crate for Maya (Supports Maya 2010 and newer)
We support the following scene elements for Alembic import/export:
- Animated meshes.
- Dynamic topology meshes.
- Per-frame Alembic files.
- Particle systems (including PFlow, Thinking Particles, ICE).
- Round trips of Softimage Models and Maya namespaces.
- Instanced particle systems (Softimage ICE, Thinking Particles, PFlow and Maya.)
- Animated transforms/nulls/dummy objects.
- Scene hierarchies (we can optionally flatten hierarchies).
- Point caches + transform caches.
- Material metadata.
- ICE stands, ICE particles, custom ICE attributes.
- Multiple indexed UV sets.
- Explicit indexed normals.
- Subdivision meshes (imported as PolyMesh with MeshSmooth in 3DS Max).
- NURBS curves, ICE stands, Softimage hair, Maya curves, and 3DS Max splines.
- Imported data is compatible with V-Ray, Arnold, Mental Ray, FumeFx, GrowFX, and many other plugins.
We also offer first class priority support.
Complementary Alembic Tools
In addition to the three DCC plugins, we have also created two complementary tools:
Crate for Python, a powerful Python extension that enables quick and easy arbitrary manipulation of Alembic files from the command-line. This Python extension is the perfect tool for automating Alembic-related processes within your pipeline. Our python extension can be used both from the command line and from within Maya or Softimage.
Crate for Arnold, is a production tested render-time DSO plugin for the Arnold renderer. Crate for Arnold supports polymeshes, subdivision surfaces, stands and particle systems (including efficient instancing.)
The Unique Aspects of Exocortex Crate
The key aspects of our Alembic-oriented solution are:
A Consistent and Expansive Feature Set. Our Alembic suite is not a proof of concept, rather it is designed to be one of the foundations of your content creation pipeline. As such, our plugins load and save all the major scene elements that you would expect. We have extended the Alembic file format to support NURBS curves, multiple UV sets, instanced particle systems and point cache workflows, although it is possible to save out vanilla Alembic files without these extensions as well for guaranteed compatibility with other tools.
An Optimized Core. We have created a core shared framework that builds upon the features of the Alembic library to enable even higher performance for both reading and writing, especially on multi-core computers. The framework also minimizes, as much as possible, network bandwidth demands via identification of stream redundancies across multiple Alembic files.
Designed with Leading VFX Studios. Our suite of Alembic plugins have been created in input from more than a dozen top studios from around the world including Psyop, Rodeo FX, Oblique FX, Shed MTL, Hybride, Ingenuity Engine, Crate Studios, Sehsucht, Blur Studio, and ScanlineVFX to name just a few. The diverse pipelines and needs of these leading VFX studios have enabled us to create a well-rounded and robust solution.
Responsive Development. At Exocortex we have full time staff constantly improving our suite of Alembic tools. We are adding features and tweaking how they work based on the feedback of our users on an almost weekly basis. We do this in order to ensure you can get the most out of Exocortex Crate with the least amount of effort.
The Power of Exocortex Crate and Alembic
The Exocortex Create suite along with the Alembic file format enables significantly more flexibility in VFX pipelines than is currently offered by existing tool sets:
Using the Best DCC Tool for the Job
Alembic is enabling VFX studios to be, for the first time, truly flexible when it comes to which DCC tools they employ as it is the first true high fidelity interchange format. It is now possible for your best artists and TDs to create their work in their tool of choice and then share it, in its full fidelity, with the rest of the studio via Exocortex Crate.
Exocortex Crate, by being consistent in the features it supports across all DCC packages, enables you to employ a mixed DCC pipeline without dealing with unexpected losses in fidelity.
Psyop used Exocortex Crate to combine Houdini, Softimage, Maya, 3DS Max, and Nuke together to create the impressive visuals in their recent JBL advertisement. Full details available here: http://goo.gl/Z697M
For scenes with gigantic complexity it is beneficial to only load some data within the renderer and not with the DCC tool itself. Exocortex Crate for Softimage supports this capability with Solidangle’s Arnold renderer. This feature is extensively used in production.
Sharing Data Between VFX Companies
Besides enabling the sharing of data between DCC tools within the same studio, Alembic also opens up easier data sharing between VFX studios themselves. Instead of receiving a DCC-specific scene file that may require one or more third party plug-ins that you don’t yet have, you can now ask just for an Alembic file. Using Exocortex Crate you are free to select the DCC tool you prefer, rather than having it forced upon you by your collaborator.
Exocortex Crate also enables you to share partial non-rendered data back to your collaborators in a fashion that is significantly more reliable, efficient and less error prone than in the past.
The Ultimate Animation Cache
Rigs can be slow to compute and temperamental. High end production rigs can take more than ten seconds to advance to a frame, if not longer if complex muscle systems are employed. Once an animation has been locked down, it is inefficient to require the constant recomputing of the rig. In these situations, many studios will convert an animation to a baked point cache which the rendering department can use to drive a mesh animation. Once baked, an animation can be reliably loaded in a fraction of a second by the rendering department, thus making their lives easier and reducing costs. Exocortex Crate has been specially designed to accommodate this workflow in a pain-free and cross-DCC fashion. Our testing, and that of our lead customers, have shown that Exocortex Crate is as fast as the PC2 special purpose point cache format in both reading and writing while the produced Alembic files require up to 50% less disk space than the PC2 special purpose format (thus reducing storage costs and load on network bandwidth.)
Modern VFX pipelines these days involve multiple departments creating elements which are then combined in various ways into the final render setup which are then sent to your render farm. The act of combining these data flows from various departments can be a job in itself.
Exocortex Crate for Python provides the ability, at the command line outside of any DCC tool, to query, read, manipulate and write Alembic files at full speed. We include a number of example files for merging, concatenating, filtering and retiming your alembic files. This allows for your studio to write smart Alembic processing tools. We have seen studios utilize Exocortex Crate for Python to combine various individual Alembic resources into a full scene directly from the command line. The full scene can then be imported into their DCC tool of choice.
Reducing Software License Costs
High fidelity caching can reduce the cost of VFX production by isolating special purpose and often costly tools into just the department that is creating that component of the effect. That department's results can then be exported via Exocortex Crate and passed to other departments in the form of Alembic files that are completely independent of the licensed creation tools.
Compatible With Other Alembic Products
We have worked with developers of the following products to ensure compatibility with Exocortex Crate:
- V-Ray (Chaos Group)
- Arnold (Solid Angle)
- Mental Ray (NVIDIA)
- RealFlow (Next Limit)
- FumeFX (Sitni Sati)
- Houdini (Side Effect)
- Modo (Luxology)
- Clarrise iFX (Isotropix)
- Speedtree (Interactive Data Visualization)
We would love for you to try out Exocortex Crate, either as a feature-limited demo or as a time limited but fully featured demo. If you decide that you like what you see - and we think that you will - purchasing information can be found below.