Alias today announced Maya 6, a "customer-driven release packed with hundreds of new features and enhancements".

Maya is industry-standard 3D-animation and special-effects software. This version features significant advances in character creation and animation. Maya 6 is now a Mach-O application, so plug-in developers can use Apple's increasingly popular Xcode development environment. Maya software rendering times on the Mac average 20-50 per cent faster than previous versions, the company said.

Alias general manager Bob Bennett said: "The intense pace of Maya development continues and Maya 6 is proof of this. Maya 6 is more flexible for artists and more powerful for developers than any previous release. It is the result of the largest 3D development team in the industry responding directly to customer requests in the many industries Alias serves.”

Maya 6 introduces a new Hair toolset, featuring a dynamic curve simulation engine designed to enable long hair to be added to characters. The ability to braid, curl and style hair is perfectly integrated within the Maya dynamics engine, allowing for strikingly realistic hair movement, the company says. The application's rendering features have been extensively improved in this release.

In addition to long-hair effects, the Maya Hair dynamic curves represent a major new entity that can be used anywhere NURBS curves are currently used. As well as lending themselves to other hair-like objects such as ropes, chains and wires, this allows advanced animation effects such as dynamic character rigs and surfaces to be easily achieved – providing dangling tail joint chains, or undulating underwater creatures, for example.

Clothing the deal

Maya 6 is better able to add digital clothing to characters and to animate creatures with realistic fur. Visual feedback of Cloth stress, new stitching options, easier manipulation of Cloth Objects based on geometry, plus extensive new caching functionality including the ability to view, edit and blend between multiple caches, speed the creation and manipulation of realistic clothing and cloth effects, Alias says.

The company also promises performance improvements of up to 50 per cent in this release, alongside better integration with Photoshop – PSD files can be read and written by Maya. The application also includes an embedded Web browser.

Maya 6 introduces an ability to apply deformers to particles, bringing "greater control to the dynamics toolset," the company says.

The Paint Effects feature has also been extended so that it can be used with polygon meshes. Modelling improvements include the ability to produce a crackless polygon mesh from multi-surface NURBS, enhanced polygon beveling; a new polygon mirror cut option and workflow enhancements for Smooth Proxy; in addition, a new Soft Modification tool and deformer allows users to move, scale and rotate a selection.

Maya 6 will be available for download on April 26 for Maya customers with current full annual maintenance agreements. Maya Complete for the Windows, IRIX, Linux and Mac OS X costs $1,999.

New Maya 6 learning tools are available now: Learning Maya 6 | Foundation and Learning Maya 6 | Unlimited Features. These are just two of dozens of Maya 6 Learning Tools that will be released over the next few months, according to Alias. Upcoming DVDs, books and CDs include Maya Beginner’s Guides, Discover Maya | Graphics in Motion and Learning Maya 6 | Modelling for Animation.