Rob Redman dives into Maya 2013 to see if Autodesk's latest upgrade is worth considering.
Maya has been around for quite some time now and has long been the choice for film and TV work, with quite a following in other fields. It has enjoyed a reputation for delivering the highest quality results, with a flexible and configurable workflow and large studios have taken advantage of the scripting options, which have essentially allowed them to customise the software for their own specific needs.
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As a solid all rounder, Maya supports a suite of modelling tools, texturing and UV mapping tools, dynamics of varying kinds, along with a choice of renderers. Favoured as a character animation tool it has found it's way into award winning movies and shorts, even winning awards itself.
As has been the case for many years, firing up Maya 2013 you are greeted by the welcome screen, with shortcuts to the basic lessons on Maya 2013 fundamentals, with hyperlinks to online learning resources. Perfect for the newcomer but thankfully switchable for the experienced user.
It all starts with geometry
The fundamental building blocks of any 3D work are the models themselves and these need to be created not just efficiently but appropriately. Maya caters for about as many types of modelling as you can think of; polygon, NURBS (non uniform rational B splines), surfaces and sub-Ds. The tools are neatly arranged into shelves, along with the related editing tools for those who prefer icons to shortcuts.
Navigating the many options for working with geometry hasn't changed much. In all honesty it didn't need to.
A simple click of the right mouse button brings up the first menu, where you can choose which aspects of a mesh you want to work with, from object level right down to the vertex level.
Press and hold the space bar and you are presented with this very comprehensive set of menus, meaning it is quite easy to work with toolbars and shelves hidden, if you want to maximise your viewport.
Taking in the view
Texturing and lighting tools are equally comprehensive, as are the Uving options. In previous versions of Maya the hypershade window was where a lot of this work would be done and it always felt a bit cluttered and unwieldy, as did a lot of the Maya interface. More recent upgrades have updated the GIU to use a much more neutral grey, with coloured icons, which is far less tiring to work with for long stretches.
Maya 2013 sees these developments taken even further, enhancing viewport 2.0 and a brand spanking new node editor, which is an absolute joy to use. It's easy to see how the teams from the Maya 2013 dev team have sneaked a look through the 3Ds Max office window, as the new node editor looks and feels like the much easier to live with slate.
Complexity is still there should you need it while the default settings let you get on with the job at hand without having to take in extraneous information. The nodes and connections just look nicer and are instantly understandable. A great touch here is that you can choose between the levels of complexity you want to work with, so the geekiest control freaks can be satisfied.
Layouts catered to you
There are simple layouts, which show the nodes only, plus the connections between them. Or can choose to see the nodes, connections and the actively connected attributes. Or finally you can choose to see the node, connections and all available connectable attributes, which is ideal for experimenting with node flow.
The node editor doesn't just do away with the hypershade window either, as it also incorporates the hypershade and connection editor, creating a simpler more unified user experience, in turn making the software more powerful. At least making the power more readily available and accessible.
Speed up your workflow
Viewport 2.0 is a viewport rendering system in Maya 2013 that gives high quality live feedback of camera, lights and material settings. You can preview blur effects and different lighting types, with realistic looking area lights and reflections look crisp and accurate. This helps speed up your workflow considerably and you will spend far less time rendering tests than you would have before. It's also a joy to work with. It's smooth and responsive and targeting lights or tweaking materials is fun and fluid.
Not new to Maya 2013 but well worth a mention are the animation motion trails, which can be seen and manipulated in the viewport, all with motion blur and depth of field available, as well as the area lights, ambient occlusion and other viewport 2.0 features. Motion curves are essentially splines that define the movement of an object over time. Think of them as rails and the object being animated as the train. You can pick points along the rail and move them around, adapting the movement to the needs of your scene. This is incredibly powerful way of working and feels somehow like a mix of digital animation and hands on stop motion animator.
Lets get physical
Maya 2013 has finally jumped on the bandwagon and joined the plentiful amounts of applications who have turned to Bullet dynamics. Bullet is an open source simulation system for both rigid and soft bodied objects, which are easy to setup and result in accurate, as well as, predictable animation.
Maya 2013 appears to be one of the last of the main applications to add it to it's feature set but it does so well. The bullet toolset is a simple one. It can be as simple as defining two objects as rigid bodies and hitting play. That will get you one object bouncing off another but don't let the simplicity of the tools trick you into thinking they aren't both powerful and versatile. Bullet is one of the easiest dynamics systems around and it is gaining in popularity for a reason. Fast, efficient and accurate.
Hair raising effects
Second up for dynamics in Maya 2013 is nHair. Maya has a infied dynamics system, which means that each part of your scene will react to others and now Maya's hair has been added to that overall system. In Maya 2013, it is very easy to use the hair system to add grass to a scene (or hair to a character) then make this part of a dynamics simulation. You could use bullet to bounce a ball along the ground and nHair will allow the ball to move the grass blades as it moves through them.
Similarly a hairy creature could be animated running through a scene and it's hair would interact with it's surrounds. nhair, like bullet is an easy system to use and the fact that it works so well with other areas of the software shows the thought that Autodesk have put into these creative solutions.
Although Maya has spent some time at the top of the heap when it comes to character animation, Autodesk have kept on top of things, refining the tools and adding to the software's capabilities. Maya 2013 brings us improvements in skinning, with the new Heat Map method, which recognises overlapping points, which should not be treated as part of the same area of geometry. If you have a model posed so that an arm overlaps the chest, for example, then heat map skinning will realise this and will create the skin, so that the arm bones do not effect the mesh around the chest. This could save hours of weight painting in itself and if you are a character rigger then this alone is probably worth the upgrade price.
Next up (and something we predict will find it's way into most applications very soon) is Alembic. This is a system for cached animations that are essentially treated like an xref, which can be read by various parts of a production pipeline. Alembic was written by Sony Imageworks and has been production proven on a number of feature films, so rest assured it does what it says.
Certain dynamic simulations work via the timeline, such as bullet, so jumping to a frame can break the simulation. But what if you need to work on a frame range in the middle of your timeline? This is where Alembic comes in. You export the bullet sim as an Alembic cache and delete the original mesh and bullet setup up. Re-import the cached file and continue working, with the ability to scrub through any part of the timeline you need to work on, without worrying about broken simulations.
This can be useful for one man studios but will soon become an absolute necessity in larger groups, as it solves many problems faced by production pipelines.
Written by Rob Redman.
£3050 Single user license, £1525 upgrade. For more information or to buy Maya 2013, visit the Autodesk website.
For 64-Bit Autodesk Maya 2013
- Microsoft Windows XP or higher, Apple® Mac OS® X 10.7.x, Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® 6.0 WS, or Fedora™ 14 operating system
- Windows and Linux: Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor with SSE3 instruction set support (or higher)
- Macintosh® computer: Macintosh computer with Intel-based 64-bit processor
- 4 GB RAM, 10 GB free hard drive space
- Certified hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card
For 32-Bit Autodesk Maya 2013
- Windows® XP or higher.
- Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon™ processor with SSE3 instruction set support (or higher)
- 2 GB RAM, 10 GB free hard drive space
- Certified hardware-accelerated OpenGL® graphics card
Our Verdict 10 /
- Huge amounts of power for the price
- Versatile and configurable
- High quality results
- Node editor is excellent
- Extra applications are a big bonus
- An awful lot to learn
- Expensive upgrade
- GUI is still fussy