Maya 6
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 8 (August 2004)

Maya 6

A longtime professional user of Alias's Maya, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Version 6. Soon after I began using the upgrade, it was evident that Alias packed 6.0 with a wealth of user-requested features.

The Hair system (Maya Unlimited only) is a nice addition to Alias's animation package. Drawing on the company's strength in dynamics, the hair module can be used to create curves for rendering hair or essentially any other use you'd have for a curve, including surfaces. The upgrade's dynamic curves respond to regular dynamic fields and have a fairly adequate dynamic system of their own, similar to that of Paint Effects. It offers the user new options in making dynamic surfaces, as well as the option to make hair, of course. Animators previously had to resort to soft-body dynamics, which always left something to be desired, namely controlling the length of the curve or surface.

Maya 6's revamped hair module enables users to create dynamically controlled curves that can be used to render hair.

Effects artists will like the ability to add deformers to particle objects, helping control unruly particles. Given its performance improvements to cloth dynamics and fur, including the ability to add fur to polygons and render through Mental Ray, Version 6 is a strong upgrade for effects work all around. Effects houses or boutiques should strongly consider making the leap from Version 5 for these improvements alone.

It's not as if the other faces of Maya have been left out of the upgrades—far from it. One upgrade of particular interest is the ability to read and write Photoshop PSD files and layer sets directly. Texture artists will love being able to write UVsnapshots directly to a Photoshop layer, and assign different layer sets within a single PSD file to different shader attributes. Now many shader attributes may be contained in one easy-to-manage map file. It is an enormous work flow leap for texture artists as well as generalists.

The Hypershade window has been streamlined to load faster than before. I.still prefer the Multilister for quick shader work, considering it still loads in roughly one-third the time of the Hypershade.

Alias also improved Maya's rendering pipeline. Mental Ray is more tightly integrated in Version 6, which is nice to see. For example, you can now create Mental Ray shaders easily through the Hypershade, and you can render Maya Fur in Mental Ray.

The new Soft Modification Tool, a deformer that works like a cluster, allows for a soft selection around the deformer. You can adjust the deformer at any time and animate it as you would any cluster, which I immediately found helpful. Yet, it has its quirks: The soft modification handle sometimes disappears when you're trying to add several soft selections to a surface or curve. But it's still highly useful for animators.

Maya 6 enables the addition of lattice deformers to animation curves in the Graph Editor. Alias paid extensive attention to Trax Editor, previously considered by some as Maya's weaker link. You can mute tracks and create clips out of expressions or constraints in Trax Editor and work more easily with soundtracks.

Maya 6's work flow is made more efficient through the addition of node renaming and a faster Outliner, and faster subdivision surface performance. Speed gains are achieved with proxy and poly smooth functions, reworked file referencing, and custom node colors in the Hypergraph. Maya's on-line documentation was retooled for better, more intuitive performance in Version 6, in swift response to customer feedback—a tribute to Alias's commitment to users.

Alias also upgraded the Split Polygon tool. It now completes its function with a click of the right mouse button, which keeps the tool active; before, you had to press enter, and exit the tool each time. Alias reworked its command-line rendering for greater flexibility, adding render flags and easy command line interfaces for Mental Ray, Maya Hardware, and Maya Vector rendering.

All in all, I see a few major changes and plenty of smaller improvements and enhancements. Maya 6 is a worthwhile upgrade for its improvements to dynamics and effects work, and its rendering and texture-mapping enhancements. I look forward to seeing how Alias will continue to push Maya's limits and abilities. ..

Dariush Derakhshani ( is an effects animator in Southern California and author of several books.

Price: $6999 for Maya Unlimited 6 and $1999 for Maya Complete 6 (single-user versions)
Minimum System Requirements: Microsoft Windows XP Professional or 2000 Professional, SGI IRIX 6.5.15, RedHat Linux 9.0 or Enterprise Linux WS 3.0, or Apple Mac OS X 10.2.4 or higher (Maya Complete only); Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape; an Intel Pentium II or higher, AMD Athlon processor, or Macintosh G4 or G5; 512mb of RAM; a CD-ROM drive; a hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card; a three-button mouse; and 450mb of hard disk space.