With Maya 2017, Autodesk has unveiled a landmark release. Why? Well for a start the Arnold Render engine has been integrated to replace Mental Ray as Maya's default render engine. This is the first fruit of the surprise acquisition of Solid Angle by Autodesk in earlier in the year.
Also we get to see more of the refining of Maya by Autodesk into making it a much more ‘friendly’ application, while losing none of the flexibility and grunt that Maya is known for as a digital content creator. Here in no particular order are our favourite new features.
01. Arnold integration
Let’s not kid ourselves, Arnold shipping with Maya is huge for so many reasons. For a start it gives Maya a bleeding-edge proven production renderer with a fantastic real time preview facility as well as some of the best AOV’s (render outputs if you're old) options and full Arnold Standin support. While it still feels slightly like a third-party solution, the new Arnold menu and Render View are baby steps in the right direction.
02. UI enhancements
Near enough all of the main panels in Maya are now dockable. Say goodbye to window sprawl. While this may seem like a small feature, or one that should have happened a long time ago, it does prove that Autodesk is trying to make Maya friendlier to new users, and with the addition of new workspaces for different workflows, Maya is becoming a lot less scary with Maya 2017.
03. Performance improvements
Maya has never been a slouch compared with other DCC apps, especially since the introduction of Viewport 2.0, but with Maya 2017, things have got even better. A good example is that mesh editing performance is three-to-five times better in Maya 2017 compared to previous versions when working with Uniforms Open SubDivision geometry.
04. Motion graphics
Even though MASH the motion graphics system for Maya developed by Mainframe North and then acquired by Autodesk had appeared in the last Maya 2016 extension. In Maya 2017, MASH gets even more tightly integrated. MASH and motion graphics now have their own dedicated shelves and the new Motion Editor Palette makes motion graphics and procedural modelling creation in Maya more straightforward than it is in other mograph-focused DCC applications.
05. Time Editor
The new Time Editor is a non-linear editing system for Maya which allows non-destructive editing with both animation and audio data. The Time Editor is a bit different than other editors in Maya as the data needs to be added from the scene or imported from another source. With the ability to mix animation clips such as a walk and a crouch into one seamless move combined with a raft of editing options for the assets, the Time Editor can vastly improve your animation workflow.
06. Graph Editor
The Graph Editor has been been given a new GPU enhanced UI and is designed to have the same feel as the new Time Editor, once more showing Autodesk’s commitment to increasing Maya friendliness to new and existing users. Elements in the Graph Editor are now interactive, such as the Play range and time slider, and interaction is now all single click, making subtle animation changes much easy to refine.
07. Render Setup
The Render Setup functions allow a huge range of options in your scene to be rendered whichever way you want with different looks or animations. While it doesn’t work with legacy render layers, the new system offers a massive and more intuitive improvement. For example, for a scene with multiple still images, it is possible using render layers to make one render layer control the qualities of a material for a different look in one specific image, which is HUGE, if you are working iteratively with a client or just want to try out different looks and moves for the scene. It may take a little more time in to setup, but it is worth it.
08. Bifrost improvements
The headline feature with Bifrost enhancement is the new BOSS (Bifrost Ocean Simulation System), this allow creates stunningly realistic interactive ocean sims which can be focused on only the areas where you need to see interaction. There are also improvements to the Foam system allowing much more realistic surface detail.
It is great to see Autodesk pushing the Bifrost system which comes as standard with Maya 2017, compared to many other DCC applications which depend on third-party solutions.
09. Quick Rig
I hate rigging, it makes my head hurt. Thankfully Maya 2017 has an answer, the new Quick Rig tool, which can work with a single click on a mesh of a figure and rig it with pretty good results out of the box, as well as provide you with a rig UI to start animating. If the rig isn’t working just as you would want it, thankfully Maya 2017 has a range of excellent tools such as the Delta Mush tool to help rigging noobs (including myself) to help out.
10. Autodesk's attitude
One of the best features of Maya 2017 is the way that Autodesk are re-embracing the Maya community and asking what new and existing users want and actually appearing to listen. Features like access to Maya specific content on creativemarket.com, as well as improved feedback tools are great to see.
Maya is definitely looking at the competitors and seeing what they do better and creating their own version or adding new systems through acquisitions and integrating them well into the core product. For an application that is 18 years old, Maya 2017 has never felt as fresh.