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A:M Tips...Coming soon...Poser and Vue


 

The following tips were posted a few years ago, so some system tips may be outdated now for most users with the latest CPUs and memory, etc., but other tips may still be useful, especially the power and cooling tips. Users of other software still get crippled by the same issues since all CG programs are processor intensive. They may not know it, or want to place blame elsewhere, but power and cooling are the biggest stability issues out there now that Windows is much more stable.

I've been delving into Vue Infinite and exploring the uses of Poser models lately, but I still dabble with A:M as its animation tools are the best.

Kevin 9/12/06


Here's my contribution to the A:M community.

Reports of stability always seem to increase as more work is done on each update of Animation:Master. It's been that way since I purchased v2 in 1994.

Now, following are tips and ideas many have told me that they've found useful in their work with Animation: Master. Your mileage may vary given differences in systems, but they should help you. Intel or AMD processors, high priced RAM memory, low priced systems, nVidia, ATI video cards, Alien, HP, Dell, home built...it doesn't matter. These are good basics for everyone. (If you are looking for new components, I recommend online www.atacom.com, www.newegg.com and Micro Center has good deals to can find from time to time and for hardware information/reviews www.tomshardware.com. Those four places will help you in comparisons between Intel P4 and AMD Athlon CPUs, memory brands, drives, you name it).

Thanks for visiting!

Joe Williamsen posted these stability tips at CgTalk.com. They are used here with his permission. Joe says...

In regards to stability of the app, it depends a huge amount on how you use it. I have the opportunity to see how some of the best AM users in the world work, and for those who know where the "mines" are, AM can run for weeks without bombing (just as an aside, I STILL tend to get it to implode from time to time).

Some of the things I've learned from the likes of Jeff Bunker and Tyler Lybbert:

1) Try to not have more than one window open at a time -and if you must, maximize them so that they don't overlap - or if you have two open simultaneously, use the "Tile" commands under the Windows menu item to make sure they're using up the screen space.

2) Don't use the tabbed "Workbook" mode.

3) Save often, and it's a good idea to save versions. Tyler told me he can easily go through the alphabet in a day of working on a model (Bottle_a.mdl, Bottle_b.mdl, etc). I tend to save after every major change, and I don't see crashing nearly as much as I used to.

4) Use Undo with patience - in 10, it's actually pretty good. I still save versions, though....

5) One key is *patience* - let the software catch up to you, and if you make it through a huge copy/paste or Undo, save your model immediately. One thing I can thank AM for, is my vastly improved "Save Discipline" in all the software I use......

6) AM is a memory and CPU hog. Don't run it simultaneously with another memory hog - like Maya, Max, or Photoshop - *expecially* if you don't have a ton of memory (512 MB or more). I try not to run it with anything going in the background (except Winamp, maybe

7) Of course, make sure that your drivers are updated, etc, etc.

Joe W

One more thing - the guys that get it to run pretty stably spend 90% of their time in wireframe mode - and don't leave background windows in solid shaded mode. They switch into solid shaded to check something - then pop right back into wireframe. Jeff tells me it's a habit he picked up a loooong time ago working in V4 and earlier...

Joe W


Thanks for the tips, Joe! I noticed that I have been following many of these same habits that I picked up with the early versions as well.

Glen Crowell submitted these great tips:

Hi Kevin,
You are doing a great service with your A:M tips page. Major kudos to you! :)
I'm one of those professionals who has worked with A:M, Alias, LW, and older Pixels 3D (Pixel Putty). Ironically, I found A:M to be the most stable of the bunch. (For whatever reason, I even found PhotoShop crashed much more than A:M did for me when I worked at Eggington.) I could go weeks, even a month, without a crash in A:M.
A:M has always behaved well for me on both Windows and Mac while others were having problems around me because of working style. Let me say that again: A personís working style will impact how A:M will respond.
The next big thing is ignorance about how the program works and this is compounded by the expectations a user brings to A:M. A:M IS a different animal. Not all its new features are well documented, but if the tools are worth using than people should allow for system issues, working style and the plain old learning curve inherent in new and alien software. What is intuitive for some people is not intuitive for others. It is not that A:M is so difficult, itís that A:M is not what a lot of people expect. 
The list that Joe Williamsen made covers most of working style issues:
-Waiting for the machine to do what you tell it to instead of piling it up with multiple commands one right after the other,
-closing all un-needed windows, (It is VERY easy to use the number pad keys switch views in a single window instead of having multiple windows always open),
-shutting off shaded mode when not needed,
-facing the reality that there is a limit to the number of shaded patches any system can handle and to deal with it by switching back to wire frame display when your system hits that slow wall,
-Understanding that there is a difference between the preview renders and the final render to file. For example people will freak trying to make the post process volume lights work with the preview progressive render. The volume lights are not flaky itís just that the quick progressive render isnít designed to calculate for AA or 2D post process effects like volume lights, glows, streak particles, etc.
-Sometimes the default model bone will get stuck in shaded mode display and cause the famous waits for ďFinding Patches, finding normalsĒ as you Join or break CPís/splines. If no CPís are attached to this bone than the user may not notice that with even a moderately sized model that looks like it is in wire frame, your window is actually calculating an update for shaded mode with each modeling change where splines are joined or broken. To fix this select the model name and then hit Shift X to put all bones into shaded mode (there will be a wait) then Shift X again to toggle all bones out of shaded mode.
-Save and save named versions as you work. Seems to dramatically cut down on crashes. I assume this clears out the temporary buffer that grows as you work without saving.
-After you undo SAVE. I use undo and rarely crash.
-Shut down A:M and restart your CPU before doing any massive final rendering chore.
-There is no problem with model surface creasing if a user understands how the modeling tools work. Every modeling methodology has strong and weak points. All of them are a trade off. For characters that deform during animation A:M has the finest solutions for a character animation pipeline. Especially for poor hobbyists who donít have a team of specialists to work under their direction.
-If you want super smooth (such as for a woman or baby model) use Porcelain on your model from the *beginning*. Model to it's effect. It's not an after thought.
-Check out Yve's Gamma tutorial http://www.ypoart.com/. This will teach you to keep your CP's evenly spaced and your patches equilateraly shaped. No long thin or stretched diamond shaped patches
-Use only continuous spline/patches. Have no spline end in the middle of a mesh.

 

Glen
Artist & Animator
me@glencrowell.com
http://www.glencrowell.com/


Thanks for the great tips, Glen!

Windows system stability tips...

IMHO, stability also depends on your system being in good shape. This opinion has been formed by me and others after bringing back ill-performing computers to a good state. If your system is stable, you can run almost anything and you are capable of doing more things at once in many instances. Be sure to check all the FAQs (http://www.hash.com/hashfaqs/) and tips for increasing stability. (I can't speak for the Mac side since I don't own one, though my brother does and he says his Mac can crash with any program. Mac users send me your tips! Email me! One Mac tip...out of memory? Set your memory to 256Meg, if you have it. Use more if you have to but avoid using Mac virtual memory. Memory is more affordable than it was years ago. Buy some if you need it. Same goes for PC users...especially if you're running Windows XP..you should have at the very least 256 Meg of RAM and now 512MB is recommended by many. For CG work you really should try to have at lease 1GB.)

Any program can freeze, crash and/or crash Windows if things are not right with Windows itself, if memory is not being managed properly or even if your video card is experiencing problems with driver issues, etc. Some crashes could even go as deep as chipset/Windows compatibility issues. And even scarier, an IT guy at the station told me that Windows 98/ME can degrade over time, with Windows files becoming corrupt with usage, so a fresh re-install may be in order for some. Or just upgrade to XP.

Repeatable crashes could be A:M related. Repeatable is generally the key. Some folks will tell you that random crashes can happen after a combination of events that are hard to repeat. Those kind are many times memory related. Let me say right here to make it clear that A:M can crash and has. Often times it is software related. Please do us all a favor and write down what you were doing and what happened and any error message (but no stack dumps) and send it along with version and OS information to support@hash.com so they can fix it or, if you're registered at the Hash Forum, there is a section for bug reports. Be sure to include version info and OS and you may include the project data as well if you're e-mailing, so they can try to duplicate the problem at Hash, Inc. You should always make sure you have downloaded and installed a more recent version update (not upgrade) than the one installed from your CD. The best things about the Animation:Master CD are the data files, models, etc. It makes a nice software lock. But more often than not, it's an older version of the software and improvements and fixes are always being made. Also, you might want to be sure you have downloaded and installed the various "stuff" files appropriate for your version from the Hash FTP site. ftp.hash.com/pub/updates/
They are there to take care of some possible driver issues. For example, the 2001 version of A:M may require 2001stuff.exe for your PC, say for instance, if you installed another program that overwrote one or more of those commonly shared files. The 2003 version may require v10stuff.exe (Will Pickering posted this a while back..."You won't need this unless the am2003 installer prompts you to download it. Most machines already have the dll packages installed that are contained in the 2003 stuff.") v10.5 has a separate file for this... v105stuff.exe

I for one (at the original time of this writing back in 2003) had a pretty stable older motherboard using the hardy, time proven BX chipset, 384 Meg of SDRAM and an older 32MB ATI Rage Fury video card.  It's not real fast, but it is paid for and more importantly it still works! I run my virtual memory on the second hard-drive, not Drive C. It helps speed things up a little. The "Typical role of this computer" is set as Network Server in the System Properties/Performance/File System settings. My OS of choice at this time for this box is Windows 98SE. XP is more stable and I have it installed on my newer PCs. I do not recommend buying new components (except additional memory if you need it and an upgrade to Windows XP) unless you are sure they are the problem.


I do not leave my computers on all the time, even my XP machines. My experience from work computers that are left on all the time is that they have to be rebooted. Some daily, some every few days. No way around that. Recent evidence is pointing to the idea of "not turning computers off is good" when they aren't  being used is in reality a myth, besides being a waste of power. A freshly rebooted computer usually works better, IMHO. 

I use the network version of A:M with a dongle on the parallel port. The network version allows you to spread your rendering among many PCs (number depending on the license you bought... if one crashes, another can still be rendering away). Contact Hash, Inc. for pricing and other information about NetRender.

A few things that have worked in the past for me and other PC users to get more stability...

*Some computers can become unstable if the power supply is not putting out properly regulated voltage/current. Extra memory, new processors and added devices can tax a power supply if the system wasn't originally designed for it. This can lead to system freezes and crashes. Check to see that your power supply is rated for what you have. If you had your computer built from scratch, it's probably fine. If you bought a name brand PC off the shelf, they often use lower power output power supplies...sometimes 250 watts. If you are adding drives, memory, etc., you may want to upgrade your power supply. There have been articles in Maximum PC indicating how much power certain components require.

Another wise investment in areas where the electric company's supply is not stable, or the weather is hot or stormy, is a battery backup. Most also include circuitry that evens out the power which makes for a happy PC. I use an APC 300. 

*Make sure your PC's air vents aren't blocked. Overheated PCs can freeze/crash. This is more true than ever with hotter running AMD and Pentium 4 chips. If you have a motherboard and utility that monitors CPU temperature, you will see it rise substantially as it's crunching the calculations for your renders.


*Run ScanDisk once in a while (found in Windows' System Tools). Use the standard setting (thorough can cause problems, use it sparingly). Have the "Automatically fix errors" option checked. Run ScanDisk with the standard check a couple times just to really make sure Windows files are fixed. If you have had a crash of any kind, it's wise to run ScanDisk after the crash. It will often find errors after a program has crashed.

*Cleanup your start up programs. If you're running Windows, run msconfig and go to the startup tab to disable programs you know you don't need to load into memory at boot up. If you don't know what a program is, you can leave it checked on, but many are obvious. SystemTray, ScanRegistry and Explorer are needed, but most of the others are not. This will free up system resources. You can always go back and change these settings if you have to. It's very easy. Most programs do not need to be idling away in your system tray. Some can make calls that will interrupt the processing for the program you are using.

*Defrag your C drive. And when you do, make sure that virtual memory has been set to zero so the area it uses is defragged as well. Be sure to reset it to your old setting or let Windows manage it again after you've defragged your hard-drive. This will mainly help speed things up, which could result in more stability for those who are impatient and click too fast for the program and your PC.

*Disable any power saving features (Power Management in Windows' Control Panel). Your computer should be set to function as if it's always on (even though you may shutdown as you please). Windows 98 especially would cause A:M to freeze up when it thought it needed to suspend or sleep. It would think nothing was going on and shutdown a hard-drive or other systems, causing tremendous problems for A:M as it was doing calculations in RAM. It would always crash a render in progress. This problem went away when everything in Power Management was setup for always on operation.

*Disable Auto-Insert Notification in your CD-ROM/DVD-ROM/ZipDrive properties. It steals part of a processing cycle of the CPU and is not needed. It's only there to load programs instantly when you put in a CD-ROM, DVD or ZipDisk. You can always turn it back on if you want it. A:M can use that extra CPU processing.

*Disable screen savers. They have the potential to disrupt renders. You can always turn those back on when you're not
using A:M.

*Virus scan programs are notorious for sucking up system resources, especially if their logging features are enabled. If you're not going through email, you probably don't need it running, especially when running A:M. We found at work that virus scan logging caused glitches in running various programs and actually slowed some down. Note...If your computer has slowed down, you may want to make sure your virus scanning program is up to date and do a scan. Slow downs and other problems can be caused by viruses.

*Constant connections to the Internet can also cause problems, especially if you are being pinged. Go off line to work with A:M. We had a problem at work where random crashes/freezes were happening to programs on a server. Turned out that server was having problems every time another company server, in another city, was trying to connect to it. The problem went away when our server having problems was taken off the Internet.
In addition, if you have DSL and are using a modem provided by your phone company, chances are it is of the variety that also uses your CPU to do its work. I've heard reports of those modems knocking available system resources down to as much as 54% available, a low level that can cause many PCs to freeze or crash at will.

*If you are experiencing crashes and freezes you shouldn't really be running other apps, other than maybe a paint program (only when you need it) or media player, when using A:M until you can make sure your system is stable and/or you determine A:M is at fault with a repeatable crash. A:M may need all the system resources it can get. Microsoft Word, Outlook and Internet Explorer suck up resources and they don't always return them when they are closed down. Now some users report no problems running many apps with A:M at once. They have done the work to make sure their system works. Until you have done that, scale back the use of other programs with A:M.

*Make sure you have the latest or recent drivers for your video card. Latest isn't always the best, but drivers more recent than what your video card came with are usually better and cause fewer problems for A:M.

*If you are experiencing many crashes/freezes, try a lower setting in resolution and/or color bit depth. In the "old days" some video cards worked better at 800 x 600 and 24 bit...now days many seem OK working at 1024 x 768 and 32 bit. Video cards can be finicky. Just because they can display higher resolutions doesn't mean they are stable at those higher resolutions. Higher resolutions take more memory and processing power. Use a lower resolution that will be less taxing on its resources. Less stress is good for people and equipment. And the latest gamer cards don't necessarily make good graphics cards out the door. Wait until the card has been on the market for a little while. Besides the price dropping, you'll benefit from more stable drivers and bug fixes resulting from the early adopters' problems.

Anything mouse related can also be video card or driver related as it has to display what the mouse pointer is doing. You can experiment with a lower acceleration setting for your video card if you get random crashes/freezes when clicking with your mouse. You could also be experiencing settings conflicts. You can check in Windows' Device Manager for those.

*Use a memory manager program if you want. My favorite for my Windows 98SE box is FreeMemPro! It's an excellent $19.95 program that has prevented what would've been many crashes in the past with other programs and Windows! They have a 14 day Free demo to try. Do that first to see if it works well for you.

http://www.real.com/accessories/?prod=freemem&src=111102realhome_2,rcais

*(For Windows 98SE & ME) You can also do tweaks to the VCACHE setting in the Windows system.ini file. That will help Windows regulate the amount of memory it reserves for caching. There are utility programs that will adjust that for you. You can run sysedit (or msconfig in ME) and do it yourself.
Before editing your system.ini be sure to make a back up.

If you are using, for example, 384MB or higher of RAM enter MaxFileCache=61440

It should look like this when you have finished.

[VCACHE]
MaxFileCache=61440

Save the new setting.

For other RAM settings...

256 MB
[VCACHE]
MaxFileCache=30720 

192 MB
[VCACHE]
MaxFileCache=24576

128 MB
[VCACHE]
MaxFileCache=16384

64 MB
[VCACHE]
MaxFileCache=8192

I obtained these settings from:

http://www.frugalsworld.com/tweaking/vcache.shtml

That site has all the info on why this setting could be crucial to you.

I have 384MB and my Windows 98SE box runs well with this setting. I've tried other settings based on 1/4 and 1/8 RAM size but this has worked the best for me.


*
Larry B. sent a couple tips...here's one... "If an app crashes, and claims there is a problem with a DLL, do a search of the hard drive, and look for the file that had a problem. There might be 2 or 3 other DLLs that are the same, but an older version. If a program starts up with Windows, and loads the DLL file (made for that version lets say V 3 for example), and then you load another application (that has its own DLL, and version 5). There will be 2 revisions of the same DLL and the newer apps might not be able to understand some instructions. Usually, the way to solve the duplicate DLLs is to close any app that uses it. Make a separate folder (call it whatever. For the DLLs, find its location, and right click properties. Then look through the tabs (the 2nd one I think). There is a version line, and it'll show you the version of the DLL. Do this for the others. Move the other Older DLLs to the folder made (to keep in case it is needed, but out of the systems reach). Once done, move the newest file to the windows\system folder. The older app should run (since the DLL is based on the older version of DLL) and the newer app can run also. If not, then you still have the DLL file to use to fix it with."
And another from Larry B...
"It is a good idea to keep at least double of your ram free on the hard drive. The Linux swapspace setting is recomended for that size, and it is just the Linux name for Windows virtual memory."
-Larry B.

Thanks, Larry!


There are more tweaks you can do to get and keep your system running right. Maximum PC and other computer magazines have tips occasionally that will help get your system running top notch. You can do searches on their websites.


If you work on making your system more stable, you will have won a good portion of the battle. Another portion of the battle is this...

If you experience crashes, please file a bug report with Hash, Inc. as outlined above so they can fix it. Many bugs continue on because people never take the time to let the programmers know what is wrong. The mail list rules prohibit talking about crashes, but you can at CgTalk.com if you're seeking another opinion.

If you have a stability tip or workaround for others to pass along, email me!

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