Maya 2008 Review

Since the acquisition of Alias in 2006, Autodesk has surpassed expectations with the released of three significant Maya upgrades. Maya 8 featured performance enhancements and support for multi-processor systems (such as the Mac Pro) and Maya 8.5 introduced Autodesk’s revolutionary Nucleus Technology with nCloth. Maya 2008 continues the upward trend with much improved polygonal modelling, updated rendering, nCloth refinements, and new time-saving character animation tools.

Autodesk updates modelling in Maya with a host of new tools and significant performance improvements. Notably, the new Slide Edge and Pick Walk for Edge Loops give edge modelling in Maya a much needed boost, and managing scene objects is easier with new Position Objects along a Curve and Replace Objects. Enhancements include cleaner Booleans, optimised Bevel, improved Bridge tool, the ability to convert instances to objects, and Mesh Smooth has been streamlined so that edits may be carried out directly on the subdivided mesh.

Mud sticks
Maya 2008 is a significant step forward in terms of modelling, but there is still room for improvement. Inexpensive programs such as Silo have lured users away from Maya with superior and faster polygonal modelling. And programs like modo and ZBrush offer extensive digital sculpting and displacement modelling tools, which are not found in Maya. Autodesk’s response has been the acquisition of Skymatter’s Mudbox, an digital sculpting program. Autodesk plans to integrate Mudbox’s technology with Maya and other Autodesk solutions much like was done with MotionBuilder.

Regardless of modelling criticisms, Maya is unrivalled in terms of animation. Maya 2008 features remarkable improvements that promise to dramatically speed up character animation. Editing an existing character bound to a skeleton downstream can pose significant delays – Maya eliminates this problem with much improved joint management. Joints may now be easily added, deleted, moved, connected or disconnected on bound skeletons. When joints are moved, the position of child objects may be preserved, and newly added joints may be easily weighted. In other words, downstream editing of character rigs is non-destructive.

The new Smooth Skin Weights tool quickly adjusts weighting based on a percentage tolerance. And new Multiple Bind Poses allows a skeleton to be bound to a character mesh in any position, eliminating dependency on the original bind pose for skinning.

Other animation improvements include the ability to template (lock) animation curves in the Graph editor, preventing unintended changes. You can clamp playback frame rates for more accurate animation previews, and caching has been improved too, which helps enhance draw speed. Following 3ds Max’s lead, keys may now slide past each other to easily reorder animation.

Maya Unlimited offers sophisticated dynamics and simulations for cloth, fluids and hair. Introduced in Maya 8.5, Nucleus nCloth is an advanced cloth solver. However, much more than just cloth effects may be animated with nCloth, because it also calculates environmental properties such as air pressure and wind. To speed things up even more Maya 2008 ships with nCloth presets that provide a starting point for simulations.

Each recent Maya release has featured added support for multiple-processor systems. In this release Fluid Effects as well as Turbulence have been multi-threaded, for improved performance.

Autodesk has updated Maya to the current release of mental ray 3.6, which boasts numerous performance enhancements. More important, rendering has been improved with better integration of Maya with mental ray. For instance, Maya now supports native mental ray light linking and Maya particles may now be rendered in mental ray. Further mental ray performance improvements include an option for faster texture baking with mental ray shaders, and much better texture management through swatch size limits.

OUR VERDICT

To curb the exodus from Maya to advanced modellers, Autodesk has significantly improved polygonal modelling. However, Maya still lacks advanced displacement modelling and sculpting. But animators are in luck, Maya’s outstanding, new character animation tools, along with rendering and nCloth improvements make this release indispensable.

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