Alias Systems is offering Maya Personal Learning Edition 5 as a free download. (If the 130MB is too much for you to download, it is also available on the November 2003 issue of Macworld that's on-sale now for £4.99).

The company claims it "offers almost every feature found in the full commercial version of Maya Complete 5 including an industry-leading set of modelling, animation, rendering and effects tools".

It features a new hardware-rendering option that uses the latest graphics-card technology, a unified-rendering workflow, animation enhancements to constraints, forward/inverse kinematics and ghosting, and Maya Paint Effects polygon conversion.

Usage limitations The software displays a watermark on images and supports a non-commercial file format, restricting it to non-commercial use. It also ships without the Maya Application Programming Interface (API) and lacks support for Maya's standard plug-ins. The company says the application is "intended for personal, non-commercial use only, as a introduction to how Maya works".

The company has also made a $20 Learning Maya Beginner's Guide package available for purchase at the Alias online store. It contains a one-hour DVD learning guide, an Introduction to Maya booklet and a Maya Personal Learning Edition 5 CD.

Maya also accommodates a Web-based community that provides access to enhanced video tutorials, discussion forums, a 3D 101 section which covers the basic concepts of 3D computer graphics and Maya, plus an area where users can download free sample files, shaders, scripts and models.

The download is available from the Alias Website. Online documentation is also available. Maya Personal Learning Edition 5 is compatible with Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows.