The Maxwell Render plug-in for After Effects allows you to import MXI files (Maxwell Renders image format) into AE. The Maxwell Image file format is a rich container where large amounts of render data is stored. Each light buffer, alpha channel, Z-buffer and so on can be loaded from an MXI to an After Effects comp set. All channels generated by Maxwell Render can be loaded with After Effects from a single MXI file/sequence, like any other layered image format. One of the main advantages of the MXI format is that it stores all channels in 32 bits, so you can work using full range color. In cases where the user doesn't need 32 bits of color, the plugin is able to retrieve all channels in 16 and 8 bits as well, maximizing the compatibility with pipelines and plug-ins.
An interesting feature in Maxwell Render is the constant refinement approach of the render, which allows the post-production process to start while the render process is still going on, working in parallel and saving an extraordinary amount of time. You can load your MXI render or sequence at a poor level of quality (for example, at SL 4) and start the post-production process at this moment, while the render process continues. When you want to update the footage in After Effects to the last sampling level saved, replace the footage with itself (right-click on the footage, and select “Replace Footage --> File...”).
This allows the post-production and rendering process to work in parallel, creating a highly optimized workflow that saves a great amount of time.
Setting the project
To match the Maxwell Render quality and color configuration, you must set the color settings of the After Effects project with the following values:
- Depth: 32 bits per channel.
- Working space: Color space used in the Tone Mapping section in Maxwell Render (sRGB IEC61966-2.1 by default).
- Linearize working space: On.
The plug-in comes with two components: the MXI Reader and the MXI Extractor.
The Maxwell Render image file reader for After Effects allows you to load MXI files or sequences as an After Effect footage into a 8/16/32 bpc projects. Simply import the MXI file(s) as you do with any other files in After Effects. This way you can work with the render buffer of the MXIs like any other image format. In order to utilize the full power of the MXI format and access all of the information the file format stores we need an additional component: the MXI extractor.
We can access all the MXI buffers using the MXI extractor. It is an effect plug-in, so first add your MXI footage into a comp, and then apply the “MXI Extractor” effect to the layer. Then, you can “extract” the buffer you want.
Extracting the environment light from an MXI
The “Channel” parameter allows you to select the buffer, and the “Light” parameter indicates the light buffer you want to use. Using the “Light” parameter only makes sense when you select “Light” or “Shadow” in the “Channel” parameter.
Extracting light number 1 from the MXI
Channels available in the MXI files:
- Render channel
- Light channels (if Multilight was enabled).
- Alpha channel
- Object ID channel
- Material ID channel
- Shadow channel
- Motion channel
- Roughness channel
- Z-buffer channel
- Fresnel channel
- Normals channel
- Position channel
- UV channel
- Custom Alpha channels
Creating comps from an MXI footage
The easy way to work with all the buffers is creating a folder containing all the data. Select the MXI footage in the project panel, and go to “File --> Create Maxwell MXI Comps”. This action creates a folder in the project panel with the MXI footage name. Inside we have 4 elements:
- A comp named “All layers” containing all the buffers that the MXI has.
- A folder named “Comps” containing all the buffers that the MXI has separated.
- A comp named “Multilight” containing all the light buffers in “linear dodge” mode. Furthermore, the “Exposure” effect is applied to each light buffer to adjust the intensities easily.
- A comp named “Multishadow” containing all the shadow buffers.
Multilight comp. Note that the light buffers are blended in “linear dodge” mode
In Windows, when we create comps from a single MXI (not a footage) using “File --> Create Maxwell MXI Comps”, a dialog will appear asking for the duration of the comp in seconds.