Anatomy of a Maya Binary Cache

DAGs all the way down.

On a limited number of occasions I have had need to reach directly into some of the raw files produced by Autodesk's Maya. There isn't much documentation I could find on the web, so I will try to lay out what I have learned here.

The generic structure is based on the IFF format, but with enough small changes to warrant this exploration (with lots of kudos to cgkit's implementation, which helped with some of the gritty details).

A Small Fluid

Lets look a complete frame from a binary fluid cache (in pseudo hexdump -C fashion):

0000: 464f5234 00000028 43414348 5652534e FOR4...(CACHVRSN
0010: 00000004 302e3100 5354494d 00000004 ....0.1.STIM....
0020: 000000fa 4554494d 00000004 000000fa ....ETIM........
0030: 464f5234 000001a0 4d594348 43484e4d FOR4....MYCHCHNM
0040: 00000014 666c7569 64536861 7065315f ....fluidShape1_
0050: 64656e73 69747900 53495a45 00000004 density.SIZE....
0060: 0000003c 46424341 000000f0 447a0000 ...<FBCA....Dz..
0070: 44898000 44960000 447c8000 448ac000 D...D...D|..D...
0080: 44974000 447f0000 448c0000 44988000 D.@.D...D...D...
0090: 4480c000 448d4000 4499c000 447a4000 D...D.@.D...Dz@.
00a0: 4489a000 44962000 447cc000 448ae000 D...D...D|..D...
00b0: 44976000 447f4000 448c2000 4498a000 D.`.D.@.D...D...
00c0: 4480e000 448d6000 4499e000 447a8000 D...D.`.D...Dz..
00d0: 4489c000 44964000 447d0000 448b0000 D...D.@.D}..D...
00e0: 44978000 447f8000 448c4000 4498c000 D...D...D.@.D...
00f0: 44810000 448d8000 449a0000 447ac000 D...D...D...Dz..
0100: 4489e000 44966000 447d4000 448b2000 D...D.`.D}@.D...
0110: 4497a000 447fc000 448c6000 4498e000 D...D...D.`.D...
0120: 44812000 448da000 449a2000 447b0000 D...D...D...D{..
0130: 448a0000 44968000 447d8000 448b4000 D...D...D}..D.@.
0140: 4497c000 44800000 448c8000 44990000 D...D...D...D...
0150: 44814000 448dc000 449a4000 43484e4d D.@.D...D.@.CHNM
0160: 00000017 666c7569 64536861 7065315f ....fluidShape1_
0170: 7265736f 6c757469 6f6e0000 53495a45 resolution..SIZE
0180: 00000004 00000003 46424341 0000000c ........FBCA....
0190: 40400000 40800000 40a00000 43484e4d @@..@...@...CHNM
01a0: 00000013 666c7569 64536861 7065315f ....fluidShape1_
01b0: 6f666673 65740000 53495a45 00000004 offset..SIZE....
01c0: 00000003 46424341 0000000c 00000000 ....FBCA........
01d0: 00000000 00000000                   ........

This is a very small fluid constructed purely for reverse-engineering purposes. It is 3x4x5 (all relatively prime to easily spot patterns in iteration order), and the densities have been set to 1000 + 100 * xi + 10 * yi + zi to directly read the coordinates of each density value. I have also left off velocity (which has a different layout).

High Level Overview

Nearly every binary file that Maya will generate has the same basic structure: a DAG (directed acyclic graph) in which every node has a 4 character type, a 32 bit size, and then a blob of packed binary data of the previously given size. A limited set of node types are known to be "groups" (i.e. non-leaf nodes) and the rest are data nodes (i.e. leaves of the graph).

In the case of groups, the packed data is a 4 character group type (so that it may have a purpose beyond simply being flagged as a group) and the group's serialized children.

In the case of data nodes, the packed data is interpreted as floats, ints (big-endian), strings (with trailing NULLs), etc..

Structure of a Group

Take a closer look at the first few bytes of the file:

0000: 464f5234 00000028 43414348 5652534e FOR4...(CACHVRSN

The first four bytes (hex 464f5234 or ascii FOR4) flags the start of a group node. There are four base group types ("FORM", "CAT ", "LIST", and "PROP") with three different alignments variations (defaulting to 2 bytes, a 4 suffix for 4 bytes, and a 8 suffix for 8 bytes). Ergo, FOR4 is a FORM group where its direct children are aligned to 4 byte boundaries.

(Don't ask me what the 4 different group types mean, as I don't really know at this point. Nearly all of the groups I have seen are "FOR4"....)

The next four bytes (hex 00000028) are a 32-bit (big-endian) unsigned integer indicating the size of this node's data. Every node in the DAG has this size field. In this case, our group's data type and children take up 40 (i.e. 0x28) bytes.

The first four bytes of the group's data (ascii CACH) indicate that this is a "cache header" group.

The remaining 36 bytes are packed child nodes.

Data Nodes

Look at the complete CACH node, taking up the first 48 bytes (4 for the group's node type, 4 for the size, and 40 for the group's type and children):

0000: 464f5234 00000028 43414348 5652534e FOR4...(CACHVRSN
0010: 00000004 302e3100 5354494d 00000004 ....0.1.STIM....
0020: 000000fa 4554494d 00000004 000000fa ....ETIM........

First we have the node type, data size, and group type (as discussed above).

Then we hit 3 data nodes in a row: A VRSN of length 4 with data 302e3100 (i.e. the string "0.1"), a STIM of length 4 with data 000000fa (i.e. the integer 250), and a ETIM of length 4 with data 000000fa (i.e. also 250).

Unfortunately, the interpretation of the values above into strings and integers is due to manual intervention on my part; the encoded data says nothing about the way the data itself is packed. I have slowly been building a schema of types and their interpretation, but it is extremely far from complete.


The size of packed data must be a multiple of the alignment of the group which contains it. In this file, all of the groups are of type "FOR4", and so the packed size of the nodes must be a multiple of 4. If the natural size is not, then NULLs will be added to the end, but the size field of the node will not reflect that padding; you must determine the padding size on your own as you read the file.

Notice that the second CHNM ("fluidShape1_resolution") is reported as being 23 bytes (22 characters and a terminating NULL), but it is padded out to 24 bytes because it is in a FOR4 group.

Interpreting It All

Running this file through WesternX's mayatools.binary parser, all of the structure is revealed:

CACH group (FOR4); 40 bytes for 3 children:
    VRSN; 4 bytes as string(s)
        0014: 302e31                              '0.1'
    STIM; 4 bytes as uint(s)
        0020: 000000fa                            250
    ETIM; 4 bytes as uint(s)
        002c: 000000fa                            250
MYCH group (FOR4); 416 bytes for 9 children:
    CHNM; 20 bytes as string(s)
        0044: 666c7569 64536861 7065315f 64656e73 697479 'fluidShape1_density'
    SIZE; 4 bytes as uint(s)
        0060: 0000003c                            60
    FBCA; 240 bytes as float(s)
        006c: 447a0000 44898000 44960000 447c8000 1000.0 1100.0 1200.0 1010.0
        007c: 448ac000 44974000 447f0000 448c0000 1110.0 1210.0 1020.0 1120.0
        008c: 44988000 4480c000 448d4000 4499c000 1220.0 1030.0 1130.0 1230.0
        009c: 447a4000 4489a000 44962000 447cc000 1001.0 1101.0 1201.0 1011.0
        00ac: 448ae000 44976000 447f4000 448c2000 1111.0 1211.0 1021.0 1121.0
        00bc: 4498a000 4480e000 448d6000 4499e000 1221.0 1031.0 1131.0 1231.0
        00cc: 447a8000 4489c000 44964000 447d0000 1002.0 1102.0 1202.0 1012.0
        00dc: 448b0000 44978000 447f8000 448c4000 1112.0 1212.0 1022.0 1122.0
        00ec: 4498c000 44810000 448d8000 449a0000 1222.0 1032.0 1132.0 1232.0
        00fc: 447ac000 4489e000 44966000 447d4000 1003.0 1103.0 1203.0 1013.0
        010c: 448b2000 4497a000 447fc000 448c6000 1113.0 1213.0 1023.0 1123.0
        011c: 4498e000 44812000 448da000 449a2000 1223.0 1033.0 1133.0 1233.0
        012c: 447b0000 448a0000 44968000 447d8000 1004.0 1104.0 1204.0 1014.0
        013c: 448b4000 4497c000 44800000 448c8000 1114.0 1214.0 1024.0 1124.0
        014c: 44990000 44814000 448dc000 449a4000 1224.0 1034.0 1134.0 1234.0
    CHNM; 23 bytes as string(s)
        0164: 666c7569 64536861 7065315f 7265736f 6c757469 6f6e 'fluidShape1_resolution'
    SIZE; 4 bytes as uint(s)
        0184: 00000003                            3
    FBCA; 12 bytes as float(s)
        0190: 40400000 40800000 40a00000          3.0 4.0 5.0
    CHNM; 19 bytes as string(s)
        01a4: 666c7569 64536861 7065315f 6f666673 6574 'fluidShape1_offset'
    SIZE; 4 bytes as uint(s)
        01c0: 00000003                            3
    FBCA; 12 bytes as float(s)
        01cc: 00000000 00000000 00000000          0.0 0.0 0.0
Posted . Categories: .