About Autodesk Maya's licensing model (Complete, LT, Indie)

Article / 11 February 2020

I love Maya, I've been using it for about 15 years now. Before that I was a Max user but as soon as I saw Maya's marking menus and the UV editor, I switched in a heart beat.

I worked on multiple AAA titles in Maya, I wrote a bunch of Mel scripts, I taught Maya to students for the last 6 years. I think Maya is the best animation program out there and definitely the most well taught out modeling program when it comes to user interaction. You can basically do everything is just a few marking menus. Nothing comes close and if anyone tells you differently it's because they never used marking menus to their full potential!

About two years ago I went freelance so I had to start purchasing my own subscription. I knew it would be expensive but I felt it was the right thing to do and support the developer. You might find this obvious but from where I'm from, paying for software is not that common, people prefer... alternative methods of obtaining it. Lucky for me, the first version I payed for was 2017 which was chock full of new modelling features with Update 4 bringing a whole to UVing as well. But then 2018, 2019 and now 2020 came out. I'm not saying there aren't any new modelling features but they seem to be too little to justify the yearly price. There were a bunch of animation and under-the-hood improvements that I'm sure animation artists love and that will have a positive impact on the future of Maya's modeling but for the most part, 2017 Update 5 is the last great modeling update. 

While I was getting disappointed with this slow progress, last year I got a call from Autodesk Support and had a chance to talk for quite a bit about how I use Maya and what I think the direction of the program should be. It felt like a genuine conversation and I'm really glad they gave me a chance to speak up. One of my issues was that Maya is a huge program with a ton of features but that there are individual artists and small studios who only use it for certain things and for which the subscription fee is too much. I also complained about how useless Maya LT is without Python scripting. I was told it's an issue a lot of users have and that Autodesk is working on it. Why would Autodesk call me? Well, like I said, here in Romania, paying 2000E/year for a license is almost unheard of so they didn't have many clients to choose from I guess!

Not long after this call I see an announcement for Maya Indie and I'm getting excited!


But then I click on the link and I see that Maya Indie is a pilot program only available in the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This left me disappointed, confused and even a bit offended. I understand that they need to test how many people would switch to Indie and how this would impact their income but I don't understand why exclude areas like Eastern Europe where piracy is rampant and such a drastic reduction in price would get people to buy the license which would otherwise pirate it. I mean, yeah, they would loose the income from people like me, but I'm sure they would more than make up for it with new subscriptions. The offended part comes from the fact that last year, people in the "western" world got a nice price cut for Maya when people from less developed countries got nothing! 2000E or piracy! It's offensive because if I dare to ask the same per hour rate as somebody from the US or UK, I get served the same "but you live in Romania, life's cheaper there, your rate is too high!" So while these "poor souls" who live in a developed country got to keep more of their income, I didn't just because Autodesk is afraid selling cheaper software wouldn't make them more money.

I of course asked Autodesk about this in December last year and they told me they do not have any news about the Maya Indie program. My current subscription expires at the end of February and I'm left with quite a painful dilemma.  Should I extend my subscription for another year and risk overpaying, should I switch to a monthly subscription and pay them more money while expecting Maya Indie to come out?  Thankfully I got a response from Autodesk Support in January stating Maya Indie won't be available world-wide for at least another year! So now I'm forced to either pay 10x more than some of my anglo-saxon colleagues who probably earn at least 4x more than me in one year or accept the limitations of LT.

I don't feel like this type of discriminatory practices should be left without challenge so personally I'm doing the following:
1. I am renouncing my full Maya subscription and promise I will never reactivate it unless it's in the form of Maya Indie and at a decent price.
2. I will purchase a Maya LT for the next year in hopes of being able to live with the crippling omission of Python and plugins.
3. I started a thread on the Maya LT Ideas forum proposing that Autodesk just ditch LT altogether and make Maya Indie available world wide. You can read more here and vote if you think it's something wort pursuing:
4. Next year, when the LT license expires, I will only continue to pay Autodesk for Maya Indie and nothing else. If that is not available until then I will just give up LT as well and just switch to Blender. I'm already incorporating it into my pipeline for non-Maya tasks anyway.

The image attached to this post is modified by me by adding the green text at the top. Of course this is not Autodesk's opinion on the matter, it is solely mine. I don't think Autodesk's intention is to discriminate but I hope everyone understands how this looks like it to me or other customers in the areas where Indie is not available!

Late edit:
It seems other people have the same complaint as me and are making their voices heard.
Also please consider voting these Ideas:

2019 Hum3d Car Render Competition WIP Part 3

General / 08 October 2019

A quick post with the new exo-cage. I think this will be the final design.

I've also changed the engine skid-plate with something more realistic looking made from flat sheet-metal. The front part of the cage has also been simplified to allow the hood to open.

I've added two spare wheels on the roof, I feel like the trunk needed to be left alone, including the ability to be opened despite the cage.

Some of you might be wondering why an exo-cage on a desert truck, those are usually reserved for rock crawlers. Besides looking mighty cool on the Rolls, the cage does a lot to add versatility to the vehicle. So if the sheikh decides to go rock crawling or survive a zombie apocalypse, the car is a few simple changes away from these scenarios. It's not all about the bling!
PS: The chassis is a Toyota truck and the engine is an american V8, all very reliable and easy to fix.



2019 Hum3d Car Render Competition WIP Part 2

General / 27 September 2019

Just a quick update before the weekend. I've replaced the wheels with some real wheels and tires: Toyota TRD bead-lock rims with Desert Master tires. Texturing for these is just a quick pass with Painter presets, nothing final. I'll add the sidewall graphics and do another texturing pass then. The tire texture needs a lot more love before it starts looking decent.

I'm also playing around with the exo-cage. Below is take two, most likely not final as well. That side-step is something for the sheikh to get into the car, it's retractable to not impede ground clearance while jumping dunes!

I've removed the external fuel tanks and I'm still thinking whether to keep the trunk lid or have the spare visible like in the image below.

2019 Hum3d Car Render Competition WIP Part 1

Work In Progress / 24 September 2019

For this year's Hum3d competition, I'm building this mad Rolls Royce offroader, a proper one not that Cullinan SUV.

I'm using a Rolls Royce Ghost model I built in 2009 before the car was launched. I modeled it using only the spy shots of the camouflaged prototypes available at the time. This was to be published in a magazine but it got plugged the last minute so I was left with a pretty useless model since the car was launched my model is not 100% identical to the production model. I'm also using some offroad wheels and other mechanical parts I've built over the years for a number of personal projects that never got completed. I'm actually happy that I can put these together and use them productively.

This is what I have so far:

Next up will be reworking the exo-cage with better radius curves and more thought put into the way it fits the chassis. The external fuel tanks might go so will the open trunk. Initially I was going to enter this in last year's competition with the post-apocalyptic theme so I wanted to give it a busy silhouette. For this year's theme I'm going more of the crazy sheikh kinda vibe so a decent paint job and no long-range accessories would make more sense.  Here's something similar from the land of outlandish cars: The UAE: https://www.legendaryfinds.com/rainbow-sheikhs-car-collection-might-craziest-car-collection-world/

And yes, this has already been done to some extent:

For the final render I'm thinking jumping over a sand dune with plenty of dust. These are my inspirations:


Car Configurator UE4 Prototype

Work In Progress / 12 October 2018

This idea has been going around in my head for a long time so I decided to implement it and properly learn UE4 in the process.

The idea is to make a car configurator with Unreal Engine 4 modding support that would allow easy integration of new models and parts. It's inspired by the old Street Legal Racing game but I'm not planning of going that much into detail with my app. I'm not sure how much into detail I'd go with this to be honest, it all depends on the interest it generates.

So far I've implemented the suspension logic and the wheel size logic. The suspension is dynamic and takes into consideration the ride height as well as wheel sizes to keep a realistic and consistent ride height. 

Next up would be to implement the part customizing logic after which I plan to go public with a release to help test the logic.

When the logic part is ok I will add as much content as I currently have. I have all the necessary models to allow the user to configure any first Dacia Logan sedan with a bunch of tuning parts and wheels.

Dealing with Sketchfab's normal map compression

Tutorial / 06 August 2018

If you've ever tried loading a shiny normal mapped low poly object to Sketchfab, you might have noticed the horrendous compression artifacts you get not in the editor but in the viewer. Worst thing about it is that the editor uses uncompressed textures which are also visible in the viewer after saving and exiting. That's because the compression is not done locally on the user's machine but on Sketchfab's servers. It takes a couple of hours before the textures get compressed, at which point the model transforms and looks pretty bad (1). This means most users don't bother to recheck the textures after compression and are not aware of the quality degradation that occurs.

Here's an example:

To reduce this, you could try forcing the viewer to download the uncompressed textures by appending this to your link (2):


So the link for the Chevy Pickup will look like this:


As you can see below, the textures look a lot better. The great news is that you can also append this to the short links and use them when embedding in a Artstation page or blog post!

There's another layer of confusion if you're working with 16 bit images hoping to get around the compression somehow. It's the fact that Sketchfab does not dither the 16 bit image when taking it down to 8 bit before compression. At the time of this article, Sketchfab does not support 16bit normal maps, although they are working on it. So importing 16bit pngs are a no go, there's no quality benefit from uploading these.

Last layer of confusion is for users of Substance Painter. If you work in 16bit and you use Painter to upload directly to Sketchfab, you might have noticed that when exporting with the Sketchfab preset, you get locked out of controlling the texture file format and bit depth:

Although the format reads JPEG, the normal maps are saved in PNG format without compression to avoid dual compression when uploading to Sketchfab. The dithering issue is still there though, Substance Painter does not dither the file when reducing the bitdepth so you get banding artifacts. Here's a comparison between the PNG exported from Painter with no dither and one exported in 16bit and then manually reduced to 8bit with dithering in Photoshop by using Image->Mode->8 Bits/Channel.

So there are two problems here: Sketchfab's normal map compression and the 16bit to 8bit compression issues. Depending on how you work, I would suggest the following depending on your initial normal map bakes:

8 Bit / Channel bakes:

I would advise against working with 8bit bakes but if by any chance you HAVE too or you already have a bunch of assets that were created from start to finish in 8 bit and don't want to rebake, using the ?image_compression=0 trick above will help improve final quality.

16 Bit / Channel bakes:

I advise using 16 bit normal maps for as much of the pipeline as possible and only reduce the textures to 8 bit / channel when the final normal map is completed. This ensures you get the maximum amount of information in your normal maps through-out the texturing process. 

a. Bake the normal map in 16 bit.

I use Marmoset Toolbag 3 for my bakes but most bakers such as Substance Painter and Designer as well as xNormal support 16 bit normal map baking.

b. Texture in 16 bit.

If you're using Painter make sure you're still working in 16 bit. It should be on by default. This will make the generators and filters that use the normal map take advantage of the increased bit depth to create smooth effects.

PS: If you're using Photoshop or any other texturing tool, also make sure to be working with 16 bit normal maps through-out the texturing process.

c. Export the final normal map in a format that supports 16bit.

Here's an example for Substance Painter:

d. Open the normal map in Photoshop and reduce the bit depth. Dithering will be applied automatically:

If you want to get the maximum quality from Sketchfab, you can export using the Substance Painter plugin but then in the Sketchfab editor replace your normal maps with the ones you saved at c. and d. above. Idea taken from this thread (3).

Finally, you want to use the ?image_compression=0 links to share your work!

References and further reading:

(1) https://help.sketchfab.com/hc/en-us/articles/202600873-Materials-and-Textures#textures-processing

(2) https://forum.sketchfab.com/t/image-compression-issues/2839/59

(3) https://forum.sketchfab.com/t/substance-painter-to-sketchfab-a-help-guide-to-normal-maps-and-triangulation/12074/2

Sketchfab model updates: clearcoat and refraction.

General / 03 August 2018

Lately Sketchfab introduced a bunch of cool features like refraction and more recently a clear coat option. Since most of my stuff there benefits from it, I decided to give them all a nice fresh coat of paint.

Here are some of the highlights:

First off, my Dacia got a bit of an upgrade. The geometry got better bevels for better reflections and various tweaks. Texture and shader-wise, it has now got refraction and clear coat as well as an actual license plate.

My other Dacia has been brought up to date with refraction and clearcoat as well:

Now let's add some color into this post: the Chevelle, the Pickup got refraction and clearcoat as well. For these I've used a bit of a trick: the clearcoat uses a custom normal map, which is the clean bake from the high res model as well as a mask to separate the clearcoated areas from the dirt and rust. I did this to simplify the transitional areas between the clearcoated and non-clearcoated areas.

Logo update and portfolio improvements

News / 04 April 2018

Last time I posted about creating a new logo and after some online discussions with some of my more graphic design savvy friends, I ended up doing some minor alterations. I added the small triangle to simplify the silhouette while helping with identifying the initials contained within the logo. That green is Maya's UV icon green btw!

Over the last couple of weeks I've also been working to freshen up the portfolio with some more up-to date renders and more consistent thumbnails. Each project now has icons in the thumbnail to help identify the primary software used.

Most important updates are to the IAR-80 inspired "Planerod" which got upgraded big time. There are UV improvements, new bakes, new lines and rivets as well as more surface details in the form of the usual panel waviness you see on hand built airplanes. Also there's a new Romanian Royal Air Force inspired paint job with one totally-non-period correct pinup and some other easter eggs.  It's a celebration of the centenary of the Great Union between Transylvania and Romania which took place on the 1st of December 1918.

This one also got the same salt flat texture I used in my Scott Robertson truck. Since that's a substance file, I only needed to plug in a new height map for the tire tracks and voila!

Also updated is the MV Agusta Brutale Cafe Racer which got some more subtle textures and improved renders with refraction and GI.

Some of my old works got improved renders as well. You can check them out at the links below:

New vrnTech logo design: learning a bit of Hexels

Making Of / 09 March 2018

I feel like I need to overhaul my logo design with something more modern and up-to-date. A perfect excuse to get to know Hexels and get out of my 3d confort zone a bit. I've dabbled in logo design in the past but never quite enough to have something worthy to post online. So bear with me as I try and redesign my logo with very little experience or skill in logo design!

Started off with my old logo which I sketched on a napkin back in high school. Serif fonts were big back then! I put together my initials (V, R and N) and got my own sweet looking logo! (R comes from Razvan if you need ask!)

 A while back when I started my Artstation page I decided that I will make it 3d and use it to brand my work. Here it is, in all of its Marmoset Toolbag rendered shiny-ness!

Needless to say it looks a bit dated so I decided to do a new one!

First up was a simple 3d cube with the initials on it. Looks a bit "youtube-ish" and you can't really tell if that top letter is an N or a Z so I had to sideline it for the moment. Learned how to use all the grid options in Hexels to paint 3d-looking stuff in the end, so that's a plus!

Back to the old drawing board. This time, the trusty math notebook. I wanted to get away from Hexel's "trixel" grid and think freehand.

I ended up taking inspiration from Artstation's logo by flipping it to get a V-looking shape and trying to integrate the R and the N whilst keeping lines paralel. The V ended up being defined by the overall shape of the logo and the R and N and suggested by the cuts together with the negative space around the "V". 

The orange is the same color Maya uses for their polygon commands shelf buttons. I chose it because it directly links my portfolio to the thing I do best: 3d modeling with polygons in Maya and looks like a sci-fi technical utility icon, again something that's closely related to my hard-surface inclination.

Looking at this first draft, somehow the top corners did not look right. Although they help the general "V-ness" of the shape, they added a bit too much "top weight" to the logo by not being parallel to anything else so I had to revert to something that looks a bit more like the Artstation logo that I would have hoped.

It was at this point that it hit me: "HALF LIFE 3 CONFIRMED!" as it looks too much like Valve's lambda symbol. Since the R is not that easy to make out, I did a bit more cutting to get this shape. As a byproduct, there's a nice hex there that breaks up the symmetry of the whole shape. There's good and bad with that but at least the reversed lambda symbol is not that obvious anymore.

I settled on this as the final shape. Can't see the  V, R, N letters? Here's a basic animation. Again in Hexels and with some sweet RGB over-the-top glowing bits. 

Lastly, some variations. These will be used in various contexts depending on the size of the image, both as logos or as icons.

That's about it, at the moment I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I'll give it a rest over the weekend and look at it again with fresh eyes on Monday. If I still think it's ok, I'll go through my portfolio and update all the images to contain the new logo.

Last but not least , if you have any comments, suggestions or critiques on this logo I'd be happy to hear them, I'm eager to up my game in logo design!

Maya Mel Script: vrnDivCon

General / 13 February 2018

Here is a step by step tutorial on how to install and run my vrnAutoMap.mel script, which you can download for free from Gumroad:


This is a contextual script that allows accessing the Connect Tool, Divide Edge and Poke Face with a single hotkey/command based on current poly component selection.


1. Download the file from Gumroad, open the archive.

2. Copy "vrnAutoMap.mel" to My Documents/maya/<version>/scripts

Just replace <version> with your version of Maya. This was tested with 2016.5, 2017 and 2018, previous versions might not work.

3. If you plan on using this as a shelf button, feel free to copy the icon "vrnDivCon.png" to My Documents/maya/<version>/prefs/icons

4'. Restart Maya
4". Type this in the Script Editor and press the numpad Enter button:



In calls the Connect Tool, Divide Edge or Poke Face based on current poly component selection, as follows:

1. Single vertex: converts to edges and calls Connect Tool.

Very useful for those pesky cylinder end caps. Insert Edge Loop or Multi Cut do not work on them since there are no loops. The regular Connect Tool works nice but it requires the edges to be selected. Just avoid Maya's shortcomings by using vrnDivCon

2. Multiple vertices: connects components and softens the newly created edges  with an angle of 60 degrees.

This is because the default polyConnectComponents command creates hard edges by default :(

3. Single edge: Calls Add Division to Edge command. 

This allows the user to Middle Click Drag to change the number of inserted vertices. To aid the preview process, the script also puts the mesh into vertex component mode to allow visual feedback on the number of vertices added, something that Maya does not do by default.

4. Multiple edges/faces/multi-selection: Calls Connect Tool. Pretty self explanatory.

5. Single Face: Calls Poke Face.