Product Review: Page (1) of 5 - 01/28/03 Email this story to a friend. email article Print this page (Article printing at page facebook

Syflex Cloth Simulator, Part I

Plug-in for Maya delivers amazing results By Chris Rock
While I was working for Square in Honolulu on the film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, there was one piece of technology that I was in awe of: the cloth simulator we used. It was an amazing system, and those who worked with it could weave magic. About a year and half after I left Square, I heard a rumor that the developers of Squares cloth system were going to be releasing a commercial cloth simulator called Syflex. My first thought was, would it be as robust and powerful as the one I had seen in operation during the films production?

Well, after working with Syflex for over two months, I have to answer those questions with a resounding yes. Syflex has a very robust feature toolset, and the sheer power it brings to solving everything from simple to complex cloth simulations in Maya is nothing short of amazing, especially when you consider the price. In this multi-part review, I will be reviewing both the Windows and Mac OS X versions of Syflex.

Installing Syflex on both Windows 2000/ Windows XP and OS X 10.2 was as simple as could be. The Syflex documentation is easily accessible from within Mayas interface, located under the standard Help menu on the main Maya menu bar.


Syflex is currently available as a plug-in for Maya 4.0/4.5. A Softimage|XSI version is in the works.

Irix, Linux, Windows 2000/XP and MAC OS X

On Irix, Linux and Windows, Syflex uses floating licenses over your network, usable on as many computers as the number of licenses purchased. On Mac OS X, Syflex uses nodelocked licenses.

The price is $2,200 per license.

For more information, go to the Syflex web site at

At first glance, the documentation in the version of Syflex I used seemed a bit slim. But, after working my way through the documentation, and having set up a number of scenes, I feel that the documentation is indeed clear and concise. I like how every attribute on the cloth model has its own dedicated section in the documentation (which is easy to understand), and what the effect of the particular attribute you are working with does on the cloth model.

Syflex was designed from the ground up with the user in mind. You dont need special tailoring skills, and you are not forced to model your clothing objects using panels and stitching them together. You can use any polygonal object as a cloth model. You will get better results if you do use quadalateral faces instead of triangular ones, and if it also helps if your topology is clean and has a roughly equal gridlike distribution along the surface of your object.

I have had the pleasure (or the pain) of using other packages cloth systems, including, of course, Maya Cloth. Syflex is just about as straightforward as they come. The process of creating a piece of cloth is as follows:

1. Model your cloth garment;
2. Set up some basic parameters for how the cloth garment should behave. In the Syflex docs there is a nice Java applet that can help you determine some good base settings;
3. Add some forces, such as gravity, dampening and wind;
4. Set up some constraints if needed, such as pinning a flag to a pole, or pinning a necktie to a spot on your characters neck. Pins are also useful for setting your waistband for a pair of pants, for example;
5. Set up your collision objects. You can define an object in its entirety as a collision object, or if you know that your cloth will only intersect with a certain selection of faces, you can set that set of faces as a collision surface. This can help a lot in speeding up your simulations;
6. Play your animation and watch your cloth solve. If you are unhappy with results, you are able to tweak the parameters til you are satisfied.
7. Save an Initial State. This is handy if, for example, you are fitting a piece of cloth such as a T-Shirt to your character. Once you have let the simulation run for a while and you are happy with the resting position of the cloth you can save an Initial State for that piece of cloth. This allows you to have relaxed starting point to work from in your character, but as always you should have a run-up, otherwise known as a pre-roll, of at least 1 second (the exact number of frames is dictated by your frame rate -- 24p would be 24);
8. If you are happy with your cloth solve, you can then cache the data to your hard drive. Now the cloth garment reads its movement data from the cache instead of solving over and over again, allowing for scrubbing of your scene. If your characters animation changes, you will need to remove the cache and run your simulation again. As your cache files are just a set of files, you can easily back these up for storage, if say, you decide to go back to an earlier version of an animation for which you had a good simulation.

Syflex is not only an amazing package for simulating clothing dynamics, it can also be used to animate other kinds of flexible objects, such as curtains, mop strings, plants, and even hair. Normally, you might use Mayas internal softbody dynamics to simulate such things, but you would not get one important effect: inter-particle collisions. In Maya, if you were to set up a curtain as a softbody effect, the curtain would not be able to collide with itself, and hence when one portion of the curtain went through another, there would be nothing to stop this action. Syflex has inter-particle collision detection; hence, the curtain would be able to correctly flow along itself instead of through itself.

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Related Keywords:Syflex, Cloth Simulator, Maya, plug in, Final Fantasy, production, animation, Maya Cloth, Chris Rock, Square


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