While this section may present more technical "Under The Hood" information than the typical artist will need, or even want, to learn, it genuinely pays to have at least a basic understanding of how an Asset functions.


Plumber is an Asset-based production system, which means that every 3D element used on a project is more than merely a Maya object within the scene file. The objects exist within a unique data structure and have certain characteristics that provide significant flexibility in their use. For example, after an Asset has been used thoughout 20 shots, the Asset can be edited and the 20 shots will automatically have the newly revised version.


Plumber provides of all the tools to create and manage Assets within your show, but it is important to learn how Assets work and what different options are available in order to use them effectively. Below is information regarding the data structure tree of Assets, the different elements of an individual Asset, what Asset workflows are available within the Plumber system, and what Asset Types are available.



Structure Tree


An Asset in Plumber exists in the following structure:


Plumber Asset Tree



The top level of an Asset is the Asset Placeholder. This is essentially the container for all the parts of an Asset. When you use the Create Asset feature in the Asset Editor, you are creating a Placeholder.


Underneath the Asset Placeholder is the Level of Detail. There can an unlimited number of LODs, but there must be at least one. While LODs are completely unconnected to the Componenets of other LODs, they are both part of the same Asset. LODs can be used for different versions of the same Asset that can be switched back and forth at will. Here's an example. . .


In your show a character is going to be wearing a raincoat in one scene, and a tuxedo in another. Three LODs are created -- Lite, Raincoat and Tuxedo -- with Lite being an extremely Low res version for quick animation. All of the production work can be done with the Lite LOD. Then when it is time for lighting, the switch is made to the proper LOD -- Tuxedo or Suit.


Within each LOD are the Asset Components -- Model, Puppet and Surface. There can be very close relationships between the components depending on the Asset Workflow chosen in Preferences (See Workflows for more details), but the components of one LOD are completely unrelated to the components of another.


Finally, within each Component is a series of incrementally saved Versions of that component.





The Asset Workflow determines both the order in which Asset Components are created, and the relationships/inheritance schemes the three Components have with each other. There are two general types of Workflow -- Linear and Parallel -- with several internal variations. These workflows are determined by the Assets Preferences set in the Preference Editor.




Plumber Asset Workflows


Flow Types

The Flow Type determines the order of Component creation. Whatever the Workflow choice, the intial Component created for every Asset must be the Model Component.

  • Linear Flow - In a Linear Flow, each of the Components feed into each other like an assembly line. In the first entry in the Asset Workflow image above, the Model is created first. It is then used to produce the Surface, which is then used to make the Puppet.

  • Parallel Flow - In a Parallel workflow, the Puppet and the Surface are not interconnected, and are created in parallel from the Model Component. Since the Puppet cannot drive the deformations of the Surface Component, tools or additions to the User Def scripts will need to be put in place for this Workflow to be used. Many rendering pipelines function this way.

Connections: Referencing vs. Importing

Another consideration in determining Workflow is the type of connections between each of the Components. For example, in a Linear Flow the Puppet can flow from the Model or the Surface. If the flow has been determine to be Model-> Puppet-> Surface, the Puppet can either be made by Referencing the Model, or Importing it. Additionally, the Surface can either Reference or Import the Puppet. Referencing or Importing is an important decision to make early, and there are pros and cons to each.

The Workflow choice should be made at the beginning of the production of a Show. While Referencing offers some benefits, there are some risks as well. A mix of Referencing and Importing might work best. The overall recommendation is that Importing is Safer from the standpoint that you always know that Child Components will need to be updated. With Referencing, a five minute task may suddenly take hours to complete due to problems with History, and such.



Each LOD is made up of the three Asset Components -- Model, Puppet and Surface. While they may be deeply or loosely interrelated, the initial Component must always be a Model. Each Component can only exist as a single hierarchy. In other words, when a Model is Committed (a Plumber complient form of saving) only a single Maya hierarchy is Committed. The same is true of all of the other Components, so that despite there being 3 individual Components, there is only one tree.

Set Assets


While there are Char, Effect, Envir, Prop and Set Asset Types, they are all the same except for Set Assets. Most of the types are only used to help organize your Asset Library, and are in fact no different from the other Types. Set Assets, however, are unique from the stand point that they are a collection of other Assets, and exist only in Puppet form. The Set Asset Type is an efficient way to bring in groups of Assets that will be used together repeatedly in a consistent position relative to each other.


For example, if a Set Asset is created for the interior of aDiner, then the Diner_Int Asset can be created with all of the tables, chairs, plates, forks, salt shakers, etc. In each production shot, only the Set Asset needs to be brought in, not the individual elements. Additionally, if a Set Asset is being used and one of the booths in the Diner_Int is shifted in the Set Asset, then every shot using the Diner_Int will have the newly changed position automatically.


A Set Asset can even be made up of other Set Assets. This is a very powerful Asset Type for many reasons. See the Tips section for more uses of Set Assets.