By George Maestri
Alias|Wavefront's Maya is the de facto standard for high-end 3D character and effects animation. Maya 2 adds to this heritage with several upgrades, particularly in rendering and animation, making it even more robust and efficient. Also new is a Relationship Editor, which lets you edit the way objects are grouped and linked.
|With Maya Complete 2's Relationship Editor, you can edit the way objects are grouped and linked. This capability includes linking lights to objects, and editing shading groups, sets, deformers, partitions, and layers. |
Maya 2 is available in two versions. Maya Complete ($7495) includes modeling, rendering, animation, and dynamics tools, the Artisan and Maya FX modules, and MEL, an open interface for programming and scripting Maya. Maya Unlimited ($16,000) adds Maya Live, Maya Fur, Maya Cloth, and numerous advanced modeling features. Maya Complete, reviewed here, contains plenty of power for most modeling, animation, and effects applications.
In terms of modeling, Complete 2 sports enhanced NURBS capabilities. One of my favorites is the ability to move control vertices along the surface of an object in the U and V coordinates. This is handy for rearranging the underlying detail of an object. One of Maya's best modeling tools is Artisan, which enables you to deform and sculpt a surface using a virtual paintbrush. Last year, Artisan was a separate module that cost $5000, but now it's part of Complete 2.
A modeling limitation in Complete 2 is that the software's subdivision surfaces do not animate, which means you can't model polygonal surfaces in low resolution and then automatically smooth them to a higher resolution, something you can do in Maya Unlimited 2. Although this is certainly a drawback, you can get around it somewhat by using the software's new wrap de former tool, which uses the shape of a second ob ject to deform a first.
Additional en hance ments to animation include sev eral non-linear de form ers that en able you to bend, flare, twist, and squash ob jects. Char acter an i mators will also like the smooth skinning func tion, with which vertices can now be influenced by more than one joint, which reduces the need for flexors and lattice deformers.
Complete 2 also includes a character set. In 3D animation software, most characters are built from different objects-from the skin of the character to the skeletons that deform it-and managing these objects can be a chore. Complete 2 addresses this issue by allowing these disparate objects to be grouped as a character.
For keyframing, Complete 2 adds some new features aimed at character animators. These include a breakdown key that affects the keyframes surrounding it so that moving the breakdown maintains the shape of the animation curve, and an in-between function, which inserts time into an animation, again without changing the shape of the curve.
Though still slower than in other packages, rendering is noticeably faster in this version of Maya, and the renderer now takes advantage of multiple processors. The biggest enhancement is Maya's new IPR (Inter active Pho torealistic Ren derer), which allows you to render only those pixels that changed since the last render. This speeds up workflow tremendously.
The next version of Maya, 2.5, was announced several months ago and began shipping at press time. It will provide a feature called Paint Effects, which lets users paint and animate complex organic and painterly detail into 3D space. Additional features slated for the 2.5 release of Maya Complete include Maya Builder, which will enable game developers and programmers to create polygon-based content.
Altogether, Maya 2 boasts several great new features, particularly IPR and the new animation tools. The package still needs tweaking in terms of polygonal modeling and animation, but for the most part it's robust and powerful. Maya is an excellent all-around package, and is certainly at home in almost any production environment.
George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.
Minimum system requirements:
Irix: Version 6.5, 24-bit graphics, 128MB of RAM, 220MB of disk space
Windows NT: NT 4.0 (service pack 5), 128MB of RAM, 220MB of disk space, three-button mouse, approved OpenGL card