List of the most common files encountered in CGI production

It is not uncommon during a production to come across a file whose extension is unknown. For instance, during a meeting, everyone is…

5 years ago   •   10 min read

By Gwénaëlle Dupré

It is not uncommon during a production to come across a file whose extension is unknown. For instance, during a meeting, everyone is talking about a .fbx file but you don’t know what it means. And of course, you don’t want to ask because you are scared to look dumb…

No worry, in CGI production, there is more and more software used for particular tasks. To create a character we can easily use many tools: we will start by sketching in Photoshop, then doing the sculpt with Zbrush. We will then make the modeling under 3DS Max (or Maya), make the textures under Substance, the clothes with Marvelous, the hair with Houdini, and so on. And of course, each software has its working file type and export file type. It also often happens that it is necessary to go through a specific type of file to build bridges between software. In the end you have to know a lot of different extensions to understand what people talk about.

That’s why we decided to make an exhaustive list of all the types of files you could see during a CGI production. Every time you will see a new file extension, you will know it!

.7z: A 7Z file is a compressed archive created by various file compression utilities, most notably, Igor Pavlov’s 7-Zip. It uses open-source LZMA compression, which has a high compression ratio and can include strong AES-256 (256-bit) encryption. 7Z files may contain multiple directories or files compressed to save space for storage or transportation purposes.

.abc: Alembic is an interchangeable computer graphics file format. Its primary focus is the interchange of geometry (models) between different groups working on the same shots or the same assets. Often different departments in the same company or different studios are working on the same projects.

.aep: Adobe After Effect working file, It contains a video composition that includes audio, images, and video clips, a timeline, and various effects that can be applied to the movie. AEP files are used for creating professional-quality video productions.

.blend: 3D image or animation project created with Blender, an open-source 3D modeling program; contains 3D mesh data, lighting information, vertex painting, animation keyframes, NURBS objects, procedural textures, UV mapping layout, and realtime interactivity data; may also store multiple scenes in a single file.

.bvh: ASCII file that contains motion capture data for three-dimensional characters. It is used by 3ds Max’s Character Studio and other 3D animation programs to import joint rotational data. It was developed by Biovision as a standard format to save biped character motion data.

.c3d: Data file saved in the Coordinate 3D (C3D) format. It is used for storing biomechanical information. It stores three-dimensional motion capture data in a compact binary structure. It is used as a standard format for biomechanics data storage.

.dds: A DDS file is a raster image saved in the DirectDraw Surface (DDS) container format. It can store compressed and uncompressed pixel formats and is often used for texturing video game unit models. DDS files may also be used to store Windows desktop backgrounds or wallpapers.

.doc(x): text file, can be opened with Microsoft Word, Open Office, or Google Document. It may contain formatted text, images, tables, graphs, charts, page formatting, and print settings.

.edl: Edit Decision List File. Video editing file created by programs such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, and Apple Final Cut Pro. It stores an edit decision list (EDL), which specifies editing choices during production. It includes the location of source video data and timecodes for when to use video; allows the original project to be recreated in a separate editing system.

.exr: Bitmap image or raster image stored in the OpenEXR format, a high dynamic-range (HDR) image file format developed by Industrial Light & Magic; supports multi-layer images, lossy and lossless compression, and 16-bit and 32-bit pixels; used for storing deep raster images for high-quality graphics; used by raster graphics editing programs and imaging applications.

.fbx: 2D or 3D drawing saved in the Autodesk FBX format; maintains the full fidelity and functionality of the original file and can be manipulated by multiple programs; used for creating interoperability between 3D applications.

.h264: An H264 file is a video file encoded with H.264 compression, which is a popular format for high definition video. It is often used as the video format for AVCHD camcorders, HDTV, Blu-ray, and HD DVD. H264 generally refers to a video file that is an MP4 file.

.hip/.hda: Project file created by Houdini, a three-dimensional modeling and animation program; contains 3D shape definitions; may store points, lines, surfaces, fluids, and other objects; may also include project assets, such as embedded images; can be rendered into a 3D scene using Houdini.

.hipnc: 3D image file created by Houdini Apprentice, the trial version of the full Houdini 3D modeling software; stores three-dimensional objects and animation properties for a scene; can be rendered with the software, but at a reduced resolution from the full version; often used in educational settings or by artists for personal portfolio development.

.jpg/jpeg: A JPG file is an image saved in a compressed image format standardized by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG). It is commonly used for storing digital photos and used by most digital cameras to save images. JPG files are among the most common image files along with PNG, TIF, and GIF.

.ma/mb: A MA file is a project created with Maya, a 3D modeling and animation program. It contains information that defines the geometry, lighting, animation, and rendering properties of a 3D scene. MA files are saved in an ASCII text format, while binary Maya project files use the MB extension.

.materialX: MaterialX is an open standard for the transfer of rich material and look-development content between applications and renderers. MaterialX addresses the need for a common, open standard to represent the data values and relationships required to transfer the complete look of a computer graphics model from one application or rendering platform to another. It includes shading networks, patterns and texturing, complex nested materials, and geometric assignments. To further encourage interchangeable CG look setups, MaterialX also defines a complete set of data creation and processing nodes with a precise mechanism for functional extensibility.

.max: A MAX file is a three-dimensional scene file created by 3ds Max, a 3D modeling, animation, and rendering application. It may contain multiple models that include wireframes, textures, lighting effects, shading, animation, and other 3D design elements.

.maxscript: MAXScript is the scripting language of 3DS MAX. It allows you to automate certain aspects of the program, such as modeling, animation, and rendering,

.mdd (pc2): Model data file used by Point Oven, a commercial suite of plugins used for transferring vertex and fcurve data between modeling programs; saves “baked” vertex data for every animation frame of a specified mesh. It allows actual vertex mesh positions, or deformations, to be exchanged between other programs that have Point Oven MDD support.

.mdl: Simulation model created with Simulink, a simulation and model-based design application; contains the block diagram and block properties of the simulation

.mel: The Maya Embedded Language (MEL) is the programming language of the 3D Maya software. It is an interpreted language. Maya is characterized by its ability to be fully usable via lines of code knowing that a large part of the software (including its interface) is programmed in Mel, the rest in C++.

.mov: A MOV file is a common multimedia container file format developed by Apple and compatible with both Macintosh and Windows platforms. It may contain multiple tracks that store different types of media data and is often used for saving movies and other video files. MOV files commonly use the MPEG-4 codec for compression. It’s a video file that can be used as an export for animation or editing but can also be used as a delivery file.

.mp3: An MP3 file is an audio file saved in a compressed audio format developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) that uses “Layer 3” audio compression. It is commonly used to store music and audiobooks with near-CD quality sound (stereo, 16-bit) and roughly 1/10 the size of a WAV or AIF file. It can be used for music placeholders on a montage

.mp4: An MP4 file is a multimedia file commonly used to store a movie or video clip, but may also contain subtitles or images. MP4 is short for MPEG-4 Part 14, which is a container format based on the QuickTime File Format (QTFF) used by MOV and QT files. It serves as a preview for an animation scene, or a montage for example.

.mtl: Material settings file used by 3D object editing applications. It is stored with an OBJ file and describes how textures are applied to the object. It includes the name of texture bitmap files as well as the 3D positioning of the textures.

.nk: Nuke Working file. Nuke is a nodal digital compositing software.

.obj: An OBJ file is a standard 3D image format that can be exported and opened by various 3D image editing programs. It contains a three-dimensional object, including 3D coordinates, texture maps, polygonal faces, and other object information.

.ocio: OCIO profile used to manage used to modify the look of an image in a “creative” manner (as opposed to a colorspace definition which tends to be technically/mathematically defined).

.pdf: file for viewing a drawing or text. A PDF file is a multi-platform document created by Adobe Acrobat or another PDF application. The PDF format is commonly used for saving documents and publications in a standard format that can be viewed on multiple platforms. In many cases, PDF files are created from existing documents instead of from scratch.

.png: A PNG file is an image file stored in the Portable Network Graphic (PNG) format. It contains a bitmap of indexed colors and uses lossless compression, similar to a GIF file but without copyright limitations. PNG files are commonly used to store graphics for web images. It’s often used to export animation scenes, and each png file corresponds to an animation frame

.prproj: Adobe Premiere working file. It contains a timeline that is comprised of video and audio clips and includes transitions, special effects, and other applied edits. PRPROJ also files store project settings such as the settings for transitions, the video renderer, audio and video display format, and the capture format.

.psd: Adobe Photoshop working file. It is the native format used to save files in Photoshop. PSD files may include image layers, adjustment layers, layer masks, annotations, file information, keywords, and other Photoshop-specific elements

.py: Python is an interpreted programming language, multi-paradigm and multiplatform. It promotes structured, functional, and object-oriented, imperative programming.

.rar: Compression file. It uses a higher compression ratio than typical ZIP compression and incorporates a proprietary compression algorithm that is now used by other compressors, including 7-Zip for its .7Z files. RAR files may be extracted using a variety of programs.

.sbpz: ToonBoom Storyboard Pro archive file. This is the set of working files to make the storyboard.

.sbsar: An SBSAR file is an archive created by Allegorithmic Substance Designer, a program used to create materials for use in 3D content, such as animations, special effects, and video games. It contains a 3D material, such as concrete, carpet, glass, marble, steel, slate, iron, metal, wood, and glass. SBSAR files are used to share materials that have been made by Substance users or are available for download with a Substance Source subscription.

.sbbkp/.sboard: ToonBoom Storyboard Pro working file. It’s the main software used in the industry to create Storyboard. You can also edit the animatic within. It can store picture, drawing, sound (voices and music).

.tga: A TGA file is a file saved in the raster graphic format designed by Truevision. It supports 8, 16, 24, or 32 bits per pixel at a maximum of 24 bits for RGB colors and 8-bit alpha channel. TGA files are used for various types of images, such as digital photos and textures referenced by 3D video games. Each TGA file corresponds to an animation frame

.tx: Mipmaps texture file. Mipmaps save several resolutions of an image into a single texture file. It speeds up render time because it can load the high-resolution mipmap image if the object is close in the render, and smaller images when it is farther away. For this treason, both Arnold and Renderman default to using mipmap textures.

.usd: Pixar’s Universal Scene Description (USD) software tool included many features, such as importing models, creating basic primate models, and applying transformations. Transformations include organizing, rotating and scaling models, adding lights, adjusting and changing lighting and changing model materials. USD is designed to work with the modern 3D animation pipeline. Pixar uses USD to create 3D animated movies. USD uses an internal OpenGL renderer. Pixar released an open-source version of Universal Scene.

.wav: A WAV file is an audio file that uses a standard digital audio file format utilized for storing waveform data. tIt allows audio recordings to be saved with different sampling rates and bitrates. It is often saved in a 44.1 kHz, 16-bit, stereo format, which is the standard format used for CD audio. It’s mainly used for the voices as it’s uncompressed.

.wmv: is a video file based on the Microsoft Advanced Systems Format (ASF) container format and compressed with Windows Media compression. It contains video encoded with one of Microsoft’s Windows Media Video (WMV) proprietary codecs. It’s a video file used to export an animation or a montage.

.xaf: XML file created by the 3ds Max modeling and animation software; contains motion information for a biped, which is a model with two-feet; enables modelers to capture human accurately and creature movements for video games, movies, and other 3D animations.

.xls(x): spreadsheet file, can be opened with Microsoft Excel, Open Office, or Google Spreadsheet. It contains one or more worksheets, which store and display data in a table format. XLS files may also store mathematical functions, charts, styles, and formatting.

.xml: Extensible Markup Language) data file. It is formatted much like an HTML document but uses custom tags to define objects and the data within each object. XML files can be thought of as a text-based database. But most of the time it’s a file from editing software. This type of file is used to indicate the list of shots and their entry and exit points in the assembly.

.zip: compression file, it stores files separately from each other, allowing the files to be compressed using different methods and extracted without compressing or decompressing the entire archive.

.zpr: Zbrush working file. ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing, and painting.

That’s it! Now extensions won’t have any secrets for you! You will be able to understand all conversations and tackle problems effectively.

Feel free to let us a comment if you think that a definition is wrong or that an extension is missing!


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