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A decade on from the launch of the first product known as Maya – a combination in part of Wavefront’s Advanced Visualizer and Alias’ Power Animator – the 3D modelling/animation scene is very different. Of course, there have been plenty of technological developments in the meantime, but perhaps the most significant has been the mighty embrace of Autodesk’s Media & Entertainment division which, using its access to corporate funds and its 3ds Max heritage, has built up a complete library of products, including Maya.
Certainly, for journalists after a headline, the lack of the yearly Maya versus Max standoff makes for less interesting copy, but in terms of the mundane things that let you get the job done quicker, such as performance, stability and inter-operability, artists seem to be more than happy with the situation. Still, it would have been nice to do something special for the tenth anniversary. But, alas, this has been precluded by Autodesk’s in-step marketing effort which sees the autumn roll-out of 3ds Max 2009, Mudbox 2009, MotionBuilder 2009 and, yes, Maya 2009.
As for what’s actually being offered in the new version, there’s the usual array of workflow tweaks, especially in terms of UV layouts and selection options, and an underlining performance boost thanks to better scene segmentation, multi-threading and improved algorithms. Other features include inter-operability and integration with features from other Autodesk products such as MotionBuilder and Toxik, and new muscle and particle features.
The latter is particularly interesting as it builds on the Maya Nucleus unified simulation framework. Called nParticles, the module works in conjunction with the original nCloth release, enabling you to mix high quality simulations such as liquids, gases, dust and smoke with objects constructed using nCloth. Crucially, the system is fully interactive and works without you having to cache and render out until you’re happy with the scene set up. You can also simulate complex effects such as pressurised objects and particle-to-particle collisions.
One component that underlines the advantage of Autodesk’s product library is the new animation layering system, which has been modified from real-time animation package MotionBuilder. It allows you to create non-destructive animation work in a similar way to working with non-destructive paint layers in Photoshop. These layers, which can be bought in from existing animation libraries or mocap sessions, can be blended, merged, grouped, and reordered, as well as add to preceding layers.
Control of UVs is always something game artists want to be improved, and Maya 2009 adds official support to the MEL scripts which enable the preservation of UVs released in the previous set of free bonus tools from The Area. And a new interactive unwrapping tool, with the same ease of use as that in 3ds Max, has been added to the UV texture editor. Other improvements to the daily grind include the addition of true soft selection, pre-selection highlighting, symmetrical modelling for soft seams, and a greater use of gestural controls to reduce the number of mouse clicks required to complete simple tasks.