Ok, I need some advice. I'm doing an elaborate scene involving an extremely large variety of alien plants. I've got to arrange them all over, and they have to blow gently in the wind. Now, before you say "paint effects", let me just say that they are not an option. The models I'm working with are custom, and not based on tubes. I was going to (and have) set up a particle system for distribution. I've written a script that will swap out level of detail models in the particle system, so that as the camera moves in closer the models become higher resolution. That works great.
My problem is happening with the rigging. I've rigged them using a hair system that drives a spline ik on a simple joint rig. Now, when I apply the rigged model to the particle system I'm getting the most unworkably bogged down scene imaginable. I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions that would give me a similarly easy to distribute setup that will still blow in the wind, but not make the scene unworkable. To help elaborate just how bogged down its getting, I'm also using a series of low res proxies that are called on when it renders.
If anyone is interested in this sort of thing. Here's another step that I've taken that may have generally solved my problem:
I'm using references to pull the plants into the main scene, so that's also been a benefit. Now, I've used the Geometry Cache to basically bake in the animation and then use that setup to allow me to eliminate the rig I've created. So now, while the scene's still relatively slow (which I'm not too surprised by, given what I'm doing) it's not unworkably slow. It may not be the ideal solution, and I'm still open to suggestions on this, but this has improved performance quite a lot.
Actually, on further inspection, the Geometry cache may not be the way to go. It seems that the animations get kind of fried when distributed in a particle system, AND especially when there's any kind of particle scaling involved. Oh well. back to the drawing board.