Maya Complete 4.5

Alias|Wavefront Maya?s combination of tightly integrated and completely scriptable modelling, character animation, physics-based dynamic and particle simulation, and remarkably flexible rendering is unmatched by most other 3D-effects packages at any price, including NewTek?s LightWave 3D and Electric Image?s Universe. So when Alias|Wavefront shipped Maya for Mac OS X 3.5 late last year (Reviews, November 2001), we were delighted to see it running on the Mac for the first time. But it was a major release behind Maya on other platforms, and it was laced with performance problems and bugs to boot. Even after a bug fix, Maya still wasn?t fully ready for Mac. But version 4.5 addresses nearly every criticism we had of 3.5. What?s more, it?s a smooth, stable performer in Mac OS X 10.2 ? it doesn?t support Classic ? putting to rest any doubts we had about this release. Subdivision power
The headline feature in version 4.5 is subdivision surfaces, a modelling tool long standard in LightWave 3D. This tool allows 3D artists to build lifelike characters, as well as smoothly blended organic creatures and surfaces, using simple polygonal modelling. It often produces better results in less time than NURBS ? non-uniform rational B-splines ? which are also used for modelling organic surfaces. Combined with Maya?s top-of-the-line character-animation tools ? including a new Jiggle Deformer for realistic flab ? the addition of this tool allows artists who use Macs to readily create characters with the same type of detail and lifelike movement seen in animated films such as DreamWorks? Shrek. Character modellers will particularly appreciate a new Cut Faces tool that makes polygonal modelling ? and by extension, subdivision modelling ? much easier to do. Furthermore, this release introduces simple, one-step conversion of subdivision models to NURBS patches, so even studios that need NURBS in their pipeline have a powerful timesaving alternative to patch modelling. There is at least one major omission, from the renderer: Maya?s so-called Batch Renderer still lacks the capability to queue more than one animation on a single machine, or to manage rendering over multiple networked computers ? essential functions in environments where renderings are measured in many minutes or hours per frame, and productivity calls for offloading the process from the artist?s workstation as much as possible. But much to the relief of artists with an eye for nuances, a Mac-compatible version of Mental Image?s Mental Ray plug-in rendering engine is under way. We anticipate that it will address the majority of Maya?s rendering issues. Furthermore, Alias|Wavefront will offer this £3,352 plug-in for free to all version 4.5 users. (The Mac version of Mental Ray is expected to ship later this winter.) Nice and easy
Overall, Maya is now much easier to use, thanks to a number of minor additions and interface enhancements throughout the program. For example, it offers many new snapping options, including the capability to snap objects to one another based on multiple snapping points. Also new are a set of Align tools and many added constraints in the Transformation tools, such as the capability to scale an object on two axes while locking its third axis. Also to improve ease of use, Maya now ships with a nicely designed set of ready-made Shelves ? Maya?s customizable tool palettes ? and its Marking Menus (pop-up menus that give you access to commands) offer many new options and features. Critical to production environments where Macs and PCs share studio space, the Mac version of Maya has reached parity with Maya?s Windows, Irix, and Linux versions, and we had no trouble either sharing files or working and rendering interchangeably on Mac and Windows systems ? though negotiating the differences in keyboard layouts for standard key commands was a minor annoyance. More crucial, though, is the unavailability of a vast library of plug-ins for Mac users, including Alias|Wavefront?s Real-Time Author and Right Hemisphere?s Deep Paint, as well as dozens written by small, independent developers. Of all the usability enhancements in Maya 4.5, the most significant are its gains in performance. Although Maya now supports dual processors for rendering and other computation-intensive functions, users will mainly notice that the program is simply faster and more fluid than it was in the past, even on single-processor Macs. Actions such as painting 3D textures onto surfaces with Maya?s delightful Paint Effects brushes are now fast, fluid, and a joy to do. We enjoyed running Maya on an 800MHz titanium PowerBook G4, whose ATI Radeon Mobility 7500 chip set was able to keep up. Part of the reason for the change in speed and flow is the fact that we were running OS X 10.2; the other part comes from Maya?s greatly reduced dependence on specialized graphics cards with hardware overlays. We tested version 4.5 with the newest OpenGL cards, including ATI?s Radeon 8500 and the NVidia-based GeForce4 Titanium, on a dual-800MHz Power Mac G4; both cards offered big performance gains compared with older cards and finally laid to rest our criticism about OpenGL on the Mac.


It?s true that Maya?s rendering features and performance could use work, and it will be some time before Mac users have access to the variety of plug-ins available to users on other platforms. But despite these relatively minor gripes, Maya Complete 4.5 is a must-have program for graphic artists or animators who are serious about 3D animation. At a great price, the program offers many improvements to an already impressive feature set.

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