How NXT Can Help You Achieve Better Results in Less Time for Animation and VFX
Want to speed up your animation or visual effects workflow? We talked to the people who made NXT, which is an open-source tool that makes it easier for both developers and creatives to see and automate complicated scripts.
Maxine Schnepf, CG Spectrum’s Manager of Career Development, spoke with Zack Gray, an NXT Contributor, Lucas Brown, and Michael Aldrich, both NXT Developers and Jeremy Chinn, CG Spectrum’s Chief Operating Officer, about how to use NXT to make the animation and visual effects process more efficient.
What is Node Execution Tree (NXT)?
NXT is a free animation and visual effects tool. It lets people who are just starting out see how the pipeline is set up and lets writers think about their work in new ways.
With its focus on layers and visual maps, the program encourages people to work together. It lets developers set up the basic workflow, and then creative teams can build on top of that in their daily work. Through nodes that are mapped into execution trees called graphs, NXT adds order to a project’s large amount of code.
Houdini, Maya, and Blender Can All Be Used With NXT
NXT imports into Unreal with the help of the Python interaction system. It also works with USDs, Nuke, Houdini, Maya, and Blender. At the moment, rigging in Maya is the most popular way that NXT is used.
At the time I am writing this, beta support for Unreal is available. More support will be added in future releases.
There are many tools for debugging built into the program, so nodes can be stopped. You can tell the program to build and then stop on a rig. There is a good logging system that makes it easy to find mistakes in code. The way NXT files are stored and referred to is similar to the way Maya files are shared.
Putting Processes for Visual Effects and Animation on a Graph
NXT is also used to put scripts and utilities that are often used on the same layer, to make shots and post them to USD (Universal Scene Descriptions), to build full character rigs and simulation web tools, and to publish NXT itself. The main goal of the program is to make workflows easier and to connect artists and coders visually.
NXT plots are saved as JSON files that can be read by humans. At the moment, there is no official way to share or keep track of versions of graphs.
This is up to the developers to change for their own projects. Nodes can be used to copy and paste code, which can then be shared for free. The software is designed to work with older versions, which helps keep track of changes.
Nxt Demo 1: Exporting Animation From Maya to Unreal Engine
Exporting animation from one program to another is a simple task that most animators know how to do.
The NXT program makes it easy to move files from Maya to Unreal Engine 4. It turns a series of steps that would normally take about 10 minutes – going through a series of clicks, making sure everything is right, sending to Unreal, and making sure everything went smoothly – into one action that the software takes care of. The import is done in Unreal, and making an FBX file can take seconds or minutes, based on the size of the file.
It takes the set of nodes that make up the motion and makes it possible for Maya and Unreal to talk to each other. The software turns on a simple word replacement called “tokens,” which can work in real-time. When you widen the file path, you can see exactly where your export will go.
It then sends your animation without changing any of its parts, and it lets you know that the Unreal file is ready.
How Studios Can Use NXT to Improve Their Processes for Visual Effects and Animation?
More and more studios are using tools like NXT to simplify and speed up important, but complicated, tasks.
One of the goals of the people who made NXT was to make a tool that could be used by both artists and coders. To do this, they made it possible to code using either nodes or text.
“The program simplifies what can be complex node structures into text coding that streamlines exporting in a user-friendly way.”
It also gives you different ways to handle the file based on what the animation needs.
In the software, node structures can be used as models for programming, which speeds up processes even more at a professional level. Coding for effects or solutions can be saved as nodes and added to export structures so that it can be used later. This makes a strong system of processes that are easy to use.
Use NXT to Build Your Skills
As you move up in your job from entry-level to senior positions, your technical skills will need to grow. Many managers will need to know how to code to do this since most computer graphics work somewhere between being an artist and a technician.
“NXT is made for low-level pipeline processing, but it also lets artists make their own layers of shortcuts, fixes, and styles, building a library of personalized processes.”
After that, these nodes can be made into examples that artists can bring to studio jobs and pitch as tools that can help whole teams. This makes it easy for team members to work together.
If you are good at coding and can come up with answers, you are a valuable member of a team. If you can help fix problems in the last stages of a project, you are more likely to keep your job.
“Creating functions that make it easier for the next person in line to do their job makes you a strong team player that employers will want to hire again.”
Studios will ask these kinds of questions during interviews, so be aware of where you are in the line and how you can make things easier for the next person. Blockages in the pipeline are always a problem for studios, but if you can show that you won’t be part of the problem but will instead help clear the way, you will be seen as an advantage.
NXT demo 2: Complex Graphs – Building a Rig
The demo’s graph shows how complicated studio-level exports would be when it comes to layers. It is an example of an NXT-built biped humanoid rig. Studios will make archetypes for different characters, like a basic model that will be used for all bipedal figures on the project. From these basic rigs, new characters will be made, and changes will be added to make them more interesting.
The software lets new, customized code be put into nodes. This makes it possible to make changes that affect all of the rig’s settings in one central place.
This makes it easier to make changes to code by putting it in one place and making it easy to find. It can also help you package things and work with USD files. These can be hard to work with, so NXT is being added on top of USDs to make things easier.
We hope this has given you some ideas for how to use NXT – Node Execution Tree to speed up your animation or visual effects process.