Hard Mesh is a plugin for Maya that provides a suite of highly adjustable non-destructive boolean tools. I wanted to share my findings for the benefit of Maya-users who would be interested in such a thing.
For modelers with boolean-heavy workflows, Maya is a pain. The tools are rigid and destructive. You’re forced to create backup meshes and not much is editable besides a few basic parameters, though it’ll work well at a basic level and is positioned conveniently in a default hotbox. 3DS Max’s Boolean tools allow edits to operands, has a boolean explorer for easy navigation, the ability to remove operands, and uses algorithms that perform better than Maya’s. Yet as for adjustments to the boolean operation themselves, Max does not offer much more than Maya.
Enter Hard Mesh, which allows edits to operands and the ability to change their subdivision levels independently. It also gives control over the interpolation’s offset distance, it’s section spans, the weighting between operands, or the adjustment of it via custom ramp. It’s fast, intuitive, and flexible.
Installation and setup is automated with a Maya ASCII file, and immediately you’re given the paths to important files. Documentation is online and succinct and my request for a trial key was answered promptly. Usability makes getting started painless.
Stability is fairly solid, considering a few understandable things. Hard Mesh is heavily dependent on scene scale and it’s recommended to keep your scene less than a range of 100 centimeters. Even then, sliders are very sensitive. In my experience, this is where a majority of the crashing occurred. Treat them gingerly or hand-key incremental values and things go smooth. Getting careless with the offset slider will undoubtedly crash a scene. If you’re reading this, you’re a Maya user, so I shouldn’t need to emphasize saving often. It’s no different here. That said, crashes I’ve had were all attributed to user-error.
Anyone familiar with a boolean-heavy workflow will intuitively understand the rules for best results. Hard Mesh is no different. For those who are new or inexperienced, divisions are everything. Giving the algorithm enough values to perform calculations makes or breaks an operation (HM has special features concerning this that I’ll get into later). Nonmanifold geometry and holes make calculations unstable as well, as airtight geometry will always be more predictable. Alignment is another factor, but for the purposes of this review I won’t get into it. Please look over Ben Bolton’s Proboolean+Dynamesh Tutorial for other practical boolean tips.
There’s a few key features in Hard Mesh I want to highlight. first and foremost is independent control of subdivision levels. All subdivisions are calculated pre-op, so the blending updates in real time. If there’s pinching or jagged curves, a click subdivides the input or output. There’s also global control so you can step the entire HM mesh up and down similar to ZBrush, something that’ll be handy for heavier scenes that need to compartmentalize resources.
Adjustable offset is another feature that simplifies the modeling normally required for turning a boolean operation into a clean hipoly model. The flexibility allows flowing curves for organic modeling or rigidity for hard surface all editable on-the-fly in the same operation. Expensive backtracking through post-boolean cleanup isn’t needed, nor intense management of operands. This means matching a variety of edge widths by material groups is possible (something the Proboolean+Dynamesh method lacks). With precise control of subdivision and offset, finalizing a hp model inside Hard Mesh is not only doable, it’s logical.
At any time, you can remove the last operand in the chain. Changing your approach to a modeling problem is hassle free. Also, this allows you to rewind from a completed model to base components that’ll make retopo simple. Keep divisions low, and you can walk through the Hard Mesh process again to setup lowpoly versions with minimal cleanup.
Ramp control is another awesome feature that can let you get creative with the blending. Create insets and bevels in a snap, and when used along with the panel operations, can simplify the arduous task that is paneling curved objects. Which are then all editable in real time as well. Getting creative with the alignment of operators and custom ramps offers possibilities I’ve only scratched the surface of.
As for cons, the obvious is that Hard Mesh is resource intensive. Between subdivisions and calculations, things begin to crawl pretty quick. You expect that, and it’s manageable, but it’s nonetheless a factor. It also puts out a ton of objects in the scene that’re all dependent on each other. So you can’t export a HM mesh and expect it to be editable on the other side. For these reasons, I’d keep scenes smaller and organized into logical sections. Then swapping the cleaned (HM “clean” removes all connections) hp meshes, if needed. I have no doubt that things would go wacky with 30 HM operations in a scene. It’s also pricey at $100, which I wouldn’t necessarily say is too expensive, but prevents an impulse buy.
To summarize, Hard Mesh is a useful toolset that’ll streamline tedious busywork and allow flexibility and a non-destructive element where there previously was none (in Maya). You really need a place in your regular pipeline to justify the purchase, however. But if it saves you in the paneling of a single project, my opinion is that you’ve got your money’s worth already. If you’re worried about stability or quality, don’t.
Hope this review has been helpful. I made this Mettaur as I played with the features, which you can see more of HERE.