Over the duration of many projects I have been asked for feedback on something that often gets overlooked is caching and the different ways caching can be used to streamline your project and make things simpler for you as an artist. The most common format of caching is "alembic" or ".abc" files, in the industry this file format is used constantly as it is incredibly stable and surprisingly light weight (depending on what you are caching of course).
So why would I use an Alembic file?
Alembic caching can help massively simplify a scene, the easiest example of this is character animation. Let say you have animated your character and want to start lighting the scene, normally you would have to have your character rig in the scene but with that you now require all the groups, deformers and anything else involved in for the rig in your scene too. Having all this information which is irrelevant to the render itself has no real benefit and can cause issues further down the line!
With an Alembic cache all you have to do is select the group which contains the character geometry and cache out all the frames of animation you need, this helps keep the scene simple and fast!
Alembic caching is also great for switching between software since it is a fairly universal format. You no longer have to worry if you have gone from Maya 2016 to 2018 when going from home into uni, with alembics that is not an issue :)
Also, Alembic files are bullet proof. With proper management you'll never have to worry about corrupt files again.
So how do I create an alembic file? (In Maya)
To create an alembic file from your maya scene simply go into Windows - preferences - plugin manager. Scroll down just a little bit and turn on "ABCImport" and "ABCExport". From here select whatever it is you want to cache, this can be a group or the geometry itself (Alembic files can maintain groups too!) and then select cache - Alembic cache - export selection to Alembic.
Basic Alembic export settings
For exporting meshes there are a few settings to check. First is the frame range you are exporting, if you just want to transfer a model between software than exporting a single frame is fine. If you wish to export animation you can use the timeslider or set a custom frame range when you are exporting.
There's also some more important setting when you scroll down, as I general rule I always turn on world space and UV write!
In terms of naming your alembic cache I recommend the following convention:
How to import an alembic into your scene
Importing an Alembic cache is easy, just go into cache - alembic cache - import alembic. Done.
".abc, easy as 123"
(^Are you happy now? You know who you are)
If you're somehow interested in the inner workings of a file format (like me) for more information go to the website http://www.alembic.io/
Your feedback is appreciated!
This "student tips" series is intended to be a very simple introduction to things you can consider for your pipeline rather than a full "how to". That said, if you want more info/examples in these tutorials feel free to contact me! (I'd recommend doing research from other places on the internet first though)