Monthly Archives: November 2011

Linear Color Workflow(s) in Maya – Part 1: Maya Tools

I previously explained the sRGB color space here: Color space and Your Screen

Now I will talk about ways to render your images correctly from inside Maya.

Renderers operate in linear color space. Their color calculations are designed such that 2+2 = 4 in a direct fashion without applying curves, etc to the color inputs and outputs. Here are a few reasons you will need to understand this and appreciate it.

  • Color correct workflow insures that your result is predictable.
  • Color decisions can be made in each phase without major disruption since you aren’t using your 3D package in a way 2D software is best suited.
  • Viewing your textures as you create them in the correct color space will have a consistent result when you output them. Paint in rec 709 > linearize > output to rec 709 will look the same.
  • Using the correct physically plausible materials (like mia_materials) will respond correctly to light giving you photorealism more quickly and reducing tweaking time.
  • Tweaking settings with curves baked in them is counter-intuitive.

There are two main ways to deal with this situation inside Maya. The first is possibly the easiest. But the final solution, while more complicated, is generally preferred for reasons I will explain.

I’m going to assume a few things (I know assuming is bad, but hey, gotta start somewhere.)

1. You are using Photoshop to paint your textures. Photoshop assumes you’re painting in Perceptual Space (sRGB) but you will probably want to turn off color management to make sure it’s not making too many decisions for you. This is fine because you want to paint what you will expect to see later.

2. You have a decent monitor that has been calibrated. CRTs have great reproduction but you have probably migrated to LCD by now. IPS monitors are best because their viewing angles are wider and color reproduction is better. Higher-end monitors like HP’s Dreamcolor Monitor will also allow greater bit depth to be displayed (30-bit color, etc) when combined with supporting software and hardware.

3. You know your destination color space. If you are generating content for most sources it’s probably sRGB again. If it’s HDTV then it’s probably rec 709 and for film and special projects (shot on film or otherwise) you can have a specific color space/LUT you need to view your images with. (Sidenote: film is often in Log(arithmic) space because of how film responds to light. The Cineon format is often used here and is well documented. Cineon File Format )

I should upgrade


  • 1. Paint in Photoshop
  • 2. Linearize your image (based on your destination colorspace)
  • 3. Render (this is a linear process) and view in the correct destination colorspace
  • 4. Composite with floating point linear files viewing them in the correct destination colorspace
  • 5. Output to the correct colorspace from the compositing program

Let’s use Maya to help us this time.

Step 1 is easy, paint your textures in Photoshop. The majority of images used for this are collected from other sources that are sRGB. Like the Internet or texture collections. HDR formats however are floating point and by standards those are assumed to be in linear color space (avoid correcting them for anything other than just viewing) Remember: floating point does NOT mean it is linear. Bit depth and color space are different concepts. But floating point images are assumed to be linear color space.

Step 2, linearize the file. Current Maya versions provide a mechanism for correcting your images to be rendered in linear color space. Renderers, mental ray here, will assume the data you are feeding it is linear. Maya has an option in the Render Settings called “Enable Color Management”

Maya Color Management

Maya Render Settings

You have a selection of color spaces to choose from: Linear sRGB, sRGB, Linear Rec. 709, HDTV Rec. 709 and additionally output for CIE XYZ. (image)

An explanation can be found here:  Maya Render Settings Docs

The recommendation is that you render “sRGB non-linear. Applicable for use with most viewing arrangements. Implicit D65 white point.” This means you painted in Photoshop on a monitor and are viewing in a color space of sRGB.

So far so good.

Output is Linear sRGB. This means your output will be in linear color space.  This is preferred (required in order to be correct) for compositing. Compositing packages like Nuke will operate linearly when given floating point files. You will also notice the file nodes have similar controls for overrides, etc. (image)

File Node Overrides

Ok, so far the Maya controls seem to do the job. But there’s a problem. The color picker for Maya is in sRGB colorspace (despite internally being floating point). This means that red you chose just won’t do! (image)

Maya Color Picker

How do you fix this? Well, sadly for now you must attach a gamma node to the color connection and apply a correction of 0.4545 (1/2.2) for the color you want that is now the input color of the color picker. Now things should be linear through and through. (Applying an inverse function will flatten out the sRGB curve.) (image)

Maya Gamma Utility

But you have a bump texture? Textures provided as data for the shader to use like displacement, bumps, and maps for controlling things like glossiness can be left alone. They are not going to be visible as a color in the render but provide data to the shader to produce a result not related to color directly. The management for these textures should be negated.

Displacement maps should be floating point and therefore linear color space by default.

Be sure your Render Settings > Quality > Framebuffer is set to RGBA 16 half. (image) Also select 32-bit in the Renderview > Display menu (requires restart). Render to the Renderview and using the Display > Color Management, choose Image Color Profile = Linear sRGB  (image) You will now view your image in the correct colorspace without making alterations to the rendered file (it will still be written as linear) This is a preview of what your image will look like when composited and output as a final to sRGB.

Render View Color Manager

Now let’s recap this:

–Paint in Photoshop and save. (Your texture is going to be in sRGB format if saved to a standard format that is not floating point.)

–Enable color management in Maya as default (sRGB to Linear sRGB) and render to a floating point format, generally speaking OpenEXR RGBA 16-half. (You can render to 16-half because it is still considered a floating point format but saves space compared to 32-bit by losing some unnoticeable precision) Take care not to alter your bump and displacement, etc.

Render Settings Quality Tab

–Your images are linear and ready to composite in something like Nuke.

That’s one solution. But here’s the problem(s) I have with that solution: It’s tied to Maya. This means that your success is tied to using Maya’s mechanism even if it’s faulty or changes from one version to the next. And what if you change packages for rendering? What about those nodes reading in bump and displacement to fool with?

Well, you can use the gamma nodes attached to nodes and omit them for data type textures like bumps. But why?! This not only increases your workload for every texture and color picker, but what if you forget one or fumble thumb a setting? So let’s not go there. I’ve never quite understood that workflow. (I try to name my nodes and all those gamma nodes become an accounting nightmare.)

So why not linearize before taking the image to Maya? Great! Maya is a 3D package. Try not to make it your color package too. There are much better pieces of software for that. (Sidenote: You can generate color profiles for Maya using a colorProfile node. More information can be found here: colorProfile Node But this may be a bit complicated for most users. And again you are tied to the internal mechanism of a single package for rendering.)

Can you make this a little easier?

You can linearize a color texture from Photoshop to Linear sRGB easily.

In Photoshop you should change your image bit depth to 32-bit float and save as EXR when you’re done. (Image ->Mode) Remember that floating point files are assumed to be linear. This means Photoshop saves a linear color space file you can use for rendering. Now you can ignore the Color Management on your texture nodes and Render Settings. View your render as you did before with the Color Management in the Renderview. You still must correct the color picker.

Now you also have a library of textures that can be rendered in any package for sRGB because they are saved correctly in Photoshop.

Photoshop -> Linear sRGB -> Render (view as sRGB)-> Composite (view as sRGB) -> Output to sRGB

But what about a project where you are rendering to a specific LUT? (Film Still) Maybe you have a project shot on film. Your color space is not sRGB. Now what?!

For the preferred workflow, look here: Part 2: The Preferred Method

. . . .

Color space and Your Screen

We live in a world of color and technology. And because technology handles colors in a different way than Humans perceive them, we have to account for that when we work with color. Below is a brief summary of the how and why of colorspace.

sRGB or Perceptual Color space

The standard for viewing most content is called sRGB. This color space is defined by a specific chromaticity and gamma curve. Wikipedia sRGB Most viewing devices are designed with this standard in mind and even the internet has adopted this color space as the standard for viewing.

Why this one and not another one?

The original 1953 standards (NTSC) selected a camera gamma of 1.0/2.2 This is chosen based on assumptions regarding the viewing conditions of the image as well as the actual non-linear light response of the human eye. So there has been some thought given to the best calculations for reproducing an image. You are also taking information captured by a camera that cannot possibly be displayed on a screen, like the actual luminance of the Sun for example. This needs to be correctly represented to the human eye as well. An 8-bit image, for example, only has a certain amount of space to represent a realistic image (bit depth or reproducible colors). A perceptual adjustment is made based on Human vision to make this possible. For a more detailed breakdown of available color depth, look here: Wikipedia Color Depth

CRTs also have a non-linear power transfer parameter called gamma (CRTs used an electron “gun” to light up your pixels and this was not a linear transfer of energy.) Wikipedia Gamma Correction

I have and LCD monitor, why do I want to deal with this?

Keeping in mind the history of a 2.2 gamma curve, there are a myriad of things that use this sRGB color space as their default. Everything from analog video to TIFF has been based on this color space as the default. Changing this to something else would cause a great deal of confusion and loss of compatibility.