Maya 6.0 Complete Preview

It’s been almost a year since the last major upgrade to Alias’s flagship 3D modelling and animation tool Maya, and the company has been working hard on version 6.0.

The software comes with a raft of features designed to increase productivity while countering the very real threat posed by the likes of rivals such as Maxon Cinema 4D, Form•Z and NewTek LightWave.

We had a week to put a pre-launch version of the forthcoming version through its paces. Apart from a few rough edges, the program proved to be remarkably stable and obviously very close to completion. As well as general improvements to the interface and workflow, there are also new tools and features that greatly extend Maya’s capabilities.

At first glance the program looks pretty much as it did in version 5.0. Indeed, even power users may have a little difficulty spotting the differences between the new and old versions. But differences there are - some major, some minor and many nestling away within the dark recesses of the hundreds of menus and sub-menus that can sometimes make your computer screen resemble the cockpit of a Boeing 747.

Among the more notable new features is the Soft Modification And Deformer Tool. Alias obviously believes that you’re going to be using this tool a great deal, as it’s been positioned directly beneath the Scale Tool in the Toolbox. This new feature combines selection with manipulation, letting users move, scale and rotate a selected point in a mesh with customizable falloff. This works in a similar way to the Sculpt Polygons Tool - treating an object as a flexible piece of clay. Using the Soft Modification And Deformer Tool you could, for example, intuitively create landscapes from simple polygon planes, which can be keyframed as you work.

Animation editing
Another important improvement to the Maya interface is the Trax Editor – which lets users work with scaleable animation clips - was invaluable in version 5.0, though its interface clearly needed a rethink. Irritations such as having to manipulate clip values in the Channel Box, select characters from the Current Character Set list, and navigate through track hierarchies using the Trax Outliner are a thing of the past in Maya 6.0.

All of these can now be done in the Trax Editor, as well as other features such as motion retargeting and motion redirection; organizing all clips for characters in one easy step; locking, muting and soloing tracks; and cycling, holding, trimming and scaling clips interactively.

Equally powerful for animators is the Motion Retargeting feature. This lets you transfer animation data between skeletons as joint rotations. Users can, for example, now adapt motion capture data for use with different characters. Also new to Maya 6.0 is Motion Redirection - this allows you to change the direction of animation data.

In other words, data such as motion-capture of a character walking in a straight line can be easily edited to have him turning corners.

Nips and tucks
These are just a few of the more noticeable improvements coming to Maya, but there are dozens of others designed to persuade you to upgrade. These include:
Adobe Photoshop integration Textures can now be exported to native .PSD format from the Hypershade panel or Texturing menu and then reimported after editing in Photoshop.

Hypershade enhancements New to Maya 6.0 is sorting bins in the Hypershade panel. These let you organize render nodes for individual scenes for greater streamlining of workflow.

Improved Paint Effects Paint Effects can now be applied to polygon objects as well as NURBS surfaces.

File Referencing This feature has been greatly improved, allowing artists to control which reference to load in the referencing hierarchy, thereby reducing load times for large files.
Dynamics In Maya 6.0, almost every type of deformer can now be applied to particle emitters. These can be interactively reshaped to allow greater control over particle flow.

Web Browser Maya now includes a built-in Web browser. This allows easy access to Maya’s help files, but can also be used to surf.

Scroll-wheel Support If you have a three-button mouse, you can now use the scroll wheel to zoom in and out of windows. Also new is support for one- and two-button mice.

Smooth proxy This tool has been overhauled, offering up to 18x speed improvement. Subdivision proxy manipulations are up to eight times faster than in Maya 5.0.

Mirror Cut This new tool creates a plane of symmetry that mirrors a selected object. Changes made to the object are then updated on the mirrored object. This is ideal for creating certain types of object such as environments with streets.

Interactive High Quality Rendering It is now possible to see high-quality representations in the scene views while working on a model.

Image Based Lighting This new feature, found in the Mental Ray Render Settings pane, automatically creates an infinite cube or sphere that surrounds a scene and enables virtual lighting from an imported image.

Rendering speed increases Maya 6 for OS X has been converted to a Mach-O application. This enables developers to create plug-ins using Apple’s own developer tools. Alias also claim that rendering times have been reduced by 20 to 50 per cent.

Improved support for other file types Maya 6 offers enhanced support for a number of popular image file types. These include multi-platform support for Studio and OpenFlight, as well as support for AutoCAD 2004 DWG files and improved IGES integration.

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