Maya 5
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 7 (July 2003)

Maya 5

By Dariush Derakhshani

With Maya 5, Alias|Wavefront has tried to answer the needs of artists and production studios with a more refined implementation of current work flows. This newest upgrade of the modeling and animation software doesn't try to attract a larger user base with flashy new capabilities, but instead further solidifies Maya's existing tools.

The most noticeable enhancements include a tighter integration of rendering capabilities, with added native support for mental ray for Maya, stronger hardware rendering, and vector-line rendering. With the new unified Render Globals, users can output their animations through any of Maya's four native renderers to achieve a broad range of effects—from the subtleties of global illumination and caustic lighting to a hand-illustrated look.

Maya 5 has improved polygon reduction, a feature that should appeal to game model creators. Image ©2003 Alias|Wavefront. Courtesy Kevin Pinchbeck.

This new unified rendering workflow is truly elegant. Being able to natively choose among renderers, as opposed to using plug-ins or external renderers, is a welcome edge for production work and artistic exploration.

Full mental ray integration is a boost for some photoreal rendering needs. And the vector rendering enables cartoon and line art rendering. Maya's hardware rendering has good quality and high-speed output, but needs a wider hardware support base, which will come with time. The existing Hardware Render Buffer is left intact, however, and is as functional as before.

I was impressed with the improvement of constraints in Maya 5. It now has the ability to blend between an object's own animation and its constraints, and also comes with two new attributes to better control constraint relationships among objects.

Once animation is created, Maya 5 makes it easier to evaluate and edit with improved ghosting and new muting features, which have in some form already been seen in competing animation packages. Ghosting lets you view poses from previous and future frames of an animated object to better judge the motion. The new muting function lets you choose whether particular channels of animation play back on an object through the Channel Box, without needing to disconnect from the animation. This capability makes it easier to focus on a particular aspect of an animation. In addition, different types of inputs on attributes (such as keyframes versus set keys versus expressions) are distinguished by different colors in the Attribute Editor and Channel Box. These kinds of additions seem simple, but really add up.

Effects animators will also enjoy the expanded possibilities of Paint Effects, as well as work flow improvements with several new preset brushes and control attributes. One compelling feature is that Paint Effects can now be drawn as polygons or converted to polygons, without losing the connection to the dynamic abilities of the strokes. This will help overcome a previous limitation of Paint Effects in close-up shots where the stroke rendering was often not as effective as in mid- to long-range shots. Strokes output as polygons may also be exported to game engines, or they can be rendered using any of Maya's renderers alongside other objects in the scene (as opposed to rendering as a post-process).

Effects that rely on Maya Cloth simulations and Fur rendering will see a general boost in performance. Cloth's simulations and caching options have been streamlined to increase simulation speeds. Maya Fur now includes a clumping attribute to increase the realism of rendered fur, as well as better polygonal support for attractors. I am also happy to see—finally—the ability to map animated textures to fur attributes, which was previously accomplished only through MEL work-arounds. In general, Fur's dynamics performance could be better, which would make it more useful.

Fluid Dynamics, introduced in Maya 4.5, have a tremendous potential in effects work, and they too have been improved with new presets and a spring mesh solver to simulate true dynamic waves for small water surfaces, to name but two enhancements. I look forward to a dual fluid solver and perhaps stronger production capabilities over a network.

Modelers and artists will notice a slightly larger polygon tool set. To make complex shape creation easier, Alias|Wavefront has added new extrusion tools and enriched polygonal work flows with some new UV creation and editing enhancements.

All in all, Maya 5 is perhaps the best upgrade ever of this powerful 3D application, with speed and stability enhancements made to its existing core elements. The rendering enhancements alone make this upgrade worthwhile.

Dariush Derakhshani is an effects animator with Sight Effects in Venice, California. He is co-author of Maya Savvy 4.5 and author of the forthcoming Introducing Maya 5: 3D for Beginners.



Price: Maya Complete $1999; Maya Unlimited $6999

Minimum System Requirements: Windows 2000/XP, OS X (Complete only), Linux, Irix; 128mb of RAM