Plug-in, Nebula-out. Get it?

I’ve been hard at work getting a Nebula 3 plugin for Maya to have all the features we’d want. Why you may ask, isn’t the pipeline awesome as it is? Well, the answer is no, no it isn’t. It works, but it is far from smooth, and the Nebula plugin aims to address that. The plugin is currently only for Maya, but there will be a Motion Builder version as well. The plugin basically just wrap FBX exporting, and makes sure it’s suitable for Nebula by using a preset included with the Nebula distribution. It also runs the FBX batcher which converts the fbx-file to the model files and mesh files. It can also preview the mesh if it’s exported, and will export it if it doesn’t exist already. This allows for immediate feedback how the model will look in Nebula. It also tries preserve the shader variables, but it’s impossible to make it keep the material. That’s because DirectX doesn’t support setting a vertex layout with a vertex shader with a smaller input than the layout. This is a problem because converting a skin from static to skinned will cause Nebula to crash, seeing as the material is preserved between exports. So the plugin offers a way to get meshes, including characters, directly to Nebula, which is very nice indeed.

I’ve also been working with getting a complete Motion Builder scene into Nebula, and I actually got Zombie to work with all features. This means the skin, along with more than one animation clip (yay) can be loaded into Nebula seamlessly by simply saving the Motion Builder file and running the exporter. I will probably make a Nebula 3 plugin for Motion Builder as well, so we can have the exact same export and preview capabilities as in Maya.

I know I have been promising a video showing some of the stuff we’ve done, but I just haven’t had the time! Right now, I will start working on the documentation for our applications so there are clear directions for anyone who wish to use them (mainly our graphics artists here at Campus) . The plugin already redirects from Maya to three different HTML docs, each of which will describe the different tools. That’s nice and all, except for the fact that the HTML docs are completely empty.


I’ve been hard at work getting characters to work, and now they do, well sort of…

There seem to be two problems with characters at this present moment, the first is that Maya FBX exporter have no way of setting the skin and skeleton to bind pose before exporting (which is super important because the skeleton can be retrieved in bind pose, but the mesh can’t). If one is to not export while in bind pose, the mesh will not be relative to the skeleton, resulting an incorrect mesh deformation. The second problem is that I can’t load the animations from the FBX examples such as Zombie.fbx. The mesh works, the skeleton works, but the animation clips doesn’t get loaded for some reason. I have still to investigate this. The good news is that I actually can have an animated character! This means that the skin fragmentation, skeleton construction, animation clips (albeit only from Maya at the moment) and scene construction with a character actually works!

Now, if you found this thread because you were tearing your head off trying to understand how Maya stores joints in FBX, here is the deal. First of all, your KFbxPose is useless, seeing as you want your joints while they are in bind pose to begin with. The only thing you need is your KFbxNode for each joint, which is easily retrievable using a recursive algorithm to traverse your joints. When you got this, all you want is to get the PreRotation (using KFbxNode::GetPreRotation(KFbxNode::eSOURCE_SET) ) and current orientation using the KFbxNode::LclRotation.Get(). Your PreRotation corresponds to the Joint Orientation in Maya, and this rotation will be the basis for your joint. Now, we have two vectors, where X, Y and Z correspond to the degree of rotation around each axis. Note the use of degrees, if you want radians, this is where you want to convert it. The PreRotation (or Joint Orientation) consists of three angular values, rotation around X, Y and Z, but they are not made up of a free form transformation. To get a rotation matrix for these angles, you need to construct a rotation matrix for X, Y and Z (using the axis 1,0,0 for X, 0,1,0 for Y and 0,0,1 for Z) using the axis-angle principle, where your angle is your rotations value. Multiply these three matrices together and we get our final rotation matrix for the joint.

Example code show what I just explained (Note: n_deg2rad converts degrees to radians):


KFbxVector4 preRotation = joint->fbxNode->GetPreRotation(KFbxNode::eSOURCE_SET);

// first calculate joint orientation
matrix44 xMat = matrix44::rotationx(n_deg2rad((float)preRotation[0]));
matrix44 yMat = matrix44::rotationy(n_deg2rad((float)preRotation[1]));
matrix44 zMat = matrix44::rotationz(n_deg2rad((float)preRotation[2]));
matrix44 totalMat = matrix44::multiply(matrix44::multiply(xMat, yMat), zMat);


That is not enough however. We also want your bone rotation at the moment of binding, which we get by getting the LclRotation as previously mentioned. Then apply the same principle to those values…


KFbxVector4 bindRotation = joint->fbxNode->LclRotation.Get();

// then calculate the bind value for the bone
matrix44 bindX = matrix44::rotationx(n_deg2rad((float)bindRotation[0]));
matrix44 bindY = matrix44::rotationy(n_deg2rad((float)bindRotation[1]));
matrix44 bindZ = matrix44::rotationz(n_deg2rad((float)bindRotation[2]));
matrix44 bindMatrix = matrix44::multiply(matrix44::multiply(bindX, bindY), bindZ);


Now we have both matrices, the bone matrix and the joint matrix. In games, we don’t really care about bones, seeing as we want a united joint matrix which we can use in our skinning shader. Anyhow, when we got our matrices, we also want to combine these to get the actual joint bind pose…


// multiply them
bindMatrix = matrix44::multiply(bindMatrix, totalMat);


If you want quaternions as rotations, which is the case with Nebula, just convert the matrix to quaternion, otherwise keep it like this. This solution gives you the joints where they are NOT multiplied with their parents matrices, and this is because Nebula wants them unrelated. Nebula calculates the inverted bind pose for each joint when loading them, and simply multiplies the current joint with the parents inverted bind pose when evaluating the skeleton. Another way of solving this would otherwise be to get the KFbxPose, but the pose only gives you matrices which are premultiplied by all parents, which means the skeleton will be in world space, detached from their parents, which in turn means Nebula wont be able to multiply them with their parents matrices. So, use this method if you want to skin in realtime using the algorithm JointMatrix = JointPoseInverted * (JointPose * JointParentPose).

So the conclusion is that Nebula wants the joints in local space (not multiplied by their parents), so that Nebula can multiply the parents afterwards. The reason behind this is because the skeleton can have simultaneous animation clips running at the same time, which means the parent joints might be affected by two animations simultaneously, and thus the parent matrix cannot be pre-multiplied. This is probably the way most game engines would handle skeletons, seeing as there is minimal re-computation for maximal flexibility.

I will post a video proving that it actually works when I’ve made it work for multiple animation clips (the Zombie.fbx problem).


EDIT: I found on the FBX discussion forums that all of this can be done with a single function call, called KFbxNode::EvaulateLocalTransform… Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot about how it’s really done underneath the hood so I’m not bitter about it… Well OK, maybe a little bit…