When it comes to characters or character animation, any studio doing anything remotely complex has to write their own FBX exporter. But why?
It’s true that the FBX export options dialog is so convoluted that even ADSK has created a front end for exporting FBX to Unreal or Unity, but the main reason boils down to one issue: Maya FBX Export does not bake animation properly.
I *WANT* to use the FBX Exporter core (from Python). As a technical artist, I want a C++ plugin efficiently traversing the dag and baking/exporting animation. I do not want to dupe a skeleton and walk the timeline using python, calling scene update on the entire DAG every frame. The FBX Exporter doesn’t even have python exposure, so we have to eval MEL commands; it’s just not ideal to say the least.
Where Have the Attrs Gone?
When exporting characters elsewhere, you want to use FBX to get important data there as well. Not just an animated transform. In this test file [fbx_test], you see a sphere, skinned to a joint. That joint has an attribute called important_data. In games especially, we can use this scalar to drive a material parameter such as a wrinkle on a face, a blendshape, to allow an animator to blend off a cloth solver, anything really. So here’s our important data, driven my a multiply-divide node:
Export this scene as an FBX, being sure to tell it to bake complex animation:
mel.eval("FBXExportBakeComplexAnimation -v true")
Now import it back into an empty Maya scene, your important_data is gone!
To make matters worse, in the FBX ascii file I see an anim curve for my important data:
C: “OP”,1519473056,205108448, “important_data”
So I am at a loss as to why programs using the FBX SDK do not get this data on import, including Maya.
DISCLAIMER: On multiple occasions I have reached out to ADSK asking them to please address this issue, but it has not happened. From the image above (new game export options), you can see that, on some level, ADSK wants to make this experience better, so please echo me in asking them to fix this issue.
In line with the title of this post, I have written, and would gladly give out an exporter for UE4, but as it uses the C++ bake / FBX Exporter from Maya, I would prefer to wait until this gets fixed. The ‘Bake Root’ option was actually created by Kevin Vassey at Epic because UE4 imports custom attrs on the root joint, so we just bake that if needed. This is a little puny exporter; internally we use Jeremy’s A.R.T. Toolkit for exporting animation in production.
UPDATE 1: Thanks for the shares and responses. Some of you have told me that you have also talked to ADSK about this, and others say it was fixed at one time, but is now broken. ADSK has reached out in the comments and has created a bug number in their tracking system. I will update later on it’s priority/timeframe if I get more info!
UPDATE 2: I can verify, this is fixed if you grab FBX 2016.1.2 or later from here. It should be fixed in future versions of Maya, and the bug was fixed before I wrote this post, but was not in Maya 2016. In the comments, Chris Dardis said that the fix was available in a non public cut of Maya he was using. As the link is not compiled, I have uploaded a compiled Maya 2016 FBX 2016.1.2 plugin here.