Taking the Mystery Out of Bifrost
Written by The Secret Scribe (a VFX pro)
There is a growing buzz around Bifrost for Maya. What is it? Is it new? I thought there was already a Bifrost water simulation tool. Aren’t there already tools out there that do the same thing? I don’t think I need another FX tool, do I? These were my initial thoughts and questions that I had when wrapping my head around Bifrost.
Primarily I am a Maya user, having been working within the Animation and VFX industry for 15 years and now in month 6 of a deep dive into Bifrost Extension for Maya. Colleagues of mine tend to immediately describe Bifrost as the previously well-known water simulation tool or tend to immediately reflect on other powerful and well-used FX software in the industry and question why Bifrost would attempt to compete. Although each are very relevant, I have found, they are not the intended case. Bifrost is a free plugin for Maya that is intended for Maya users. An interesting article is A Bifrost Journey, detailing Bifrost’s history and forward trajectory with Bifrost Product Manager, Marcus Nordenstam. It resonated with me that the intended effect of Bifrost for Maya is to elevate users’ abilities and transform artists capabilities.
Bifrost Extension, as it is referred to, is indeed different from the Bifrost fluids simulator that has been in Maya for some years. Bifrost is decoupled from Maya, a completely seperate downloadable plugin with separate beta program and development. It is a visual programming environment, within Maya, that can automate simple to complex processes without the need for coding, even though that is very much an option (see Bifrost Scripting Documentation.) Bifrost is a procedural framework which in simplified terms means it is built on the premise that a process can be repeated or duplicated based on specific rules that you have set. The procedural graphs are portable and can be shared very simply in large teams. The procedural workflows are very much a concept of your own designing. If there is a task you continue to repeat, that would undoubtedly be a good choice for a procedural Bifrost process.
The capabilities of the Bifrost graph is a growing field of development unto itself. The graphs or condensed graphs, called compounds, are being developed and shared online. The development team also releases updates to a library of feature graphs and compounds called the Rebel Pack, available for anyone to add to their existing library. I found with some of these graphs comes the daunting perception of how complex the graphs can get and how technical I am not, but with more use I am understanding a great deal more of the versatility Bifrost allows. There are simulation tools in Bifrost that have incredible power to create high-level detail of FX–like cloth and combustion to name only a couple. A simple task of importing a large Alembic file that was taking almost a minute to load through import in Maya, loaded within Bifrost in approximately one second(!). I say approximately because I could not actually hit the start and stop of my timer fast enough. The Bifrost graph bypasses the Maya dependency graph and makes for much faster processing of comparable features in Maya. It could almost be considered a replacement for everyday Maya functions to reduce large amounts of load times.
So, I continue to open new doors of what is achievable in Bifrost and hope you will too. My own opinion is that Bifrost in production really does have the potential to effectively reduce costs, increase speed and make Maya users even more awesome. If you want to start somewhere Getting started in Bifrost and the Bifrost Forum were two very handy bookmarks for me when I began diving in.
The “Secret Scribe (a VFX pro)” is a talented Visual Effects & Animation professional with 15 years of industry experience in pre-visualization, layout, modeling, animation, lighting and camp. They are accomplished with Maya, Nuke and many other popular software packages. The Secret Scribe (a VFX pro) loves film, 2D & 3D animation, VFX and art in general.
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