Maya 2010 full review

Compared to the raft of new additions in Maya 2009, this version might seem rather light in terms of groundbreaking features. What is new is the amalgamation of Maya Unlimited and Maya Complete into one unified product.

This is good news, in that previously many of Maya’s coolest features were reserved for the much more expensive Unlimited version. The downside for entry-level users is that pricing is now over £3,000 for the standalone product (more than the equivalent US price).

This seems steep, until you consider that this buys you an advanced motion-tracking and matchmoving package, an advanced built-in compositing system, and the Backburner network render queue manager. Also included in the even more expensive NLM version are five mental ray for Maya batch rendering nodes. The result is a fairly complete CG pipeline system in your Maya box.

Stereoscopic 3D imaging – the creation of films and other projects that appear 3D when viewed through special glasses – is the hottest topic in film post-production at the moment, so it’s no wonder that Autodesk has updated the support in Maya.

Maya really does makes short work of setting up in stereo – you just take a collection of objects arranged in a suitable layout (such as near, middle and far positions from the viewpoint) and Select Create > Cameras > Stereo Camera. This creates a camera with three fixed heads and opens some more options in the Panels menu.

You can switch between different viewing modes, such as Horizontal Interlace or Anaglyph by selecting the Stereo viewing mode and adjust the attributes of the cameras to fine-tune the stereo effect. For example, you can increase the 3D effect by decreasing the Zero Parallax setting. This moves objects closer to the camera and lets you see more depth. The stereoscopic effect is most realistic when the Zero Parallax Plane is exactly situated between near and far objects in your scene.

One of the benefits of the unified version of Maya is that the nParticles system is now available to all users. Based on Autodesk’s Nucleus technology, these make creating and tweaking realistic simulations of physical objects a breeze, quickly boosting the realism of your scene and minimising manual tweaking.

Maya 2010 offers more nParticles presets in the Visor, including interactions such as an egg cracking into a frying pan, a gas flame, jet exhaust trail, nParticle rain, nParticle and fluids interaction, and others that you can manipulate to fit your scene.

The highly useful Visor window also features a new set of motion-capture example files. Switching to the Mocap Examples tab lets you import from the list directly onto a rigged character in Maya.

Add a twist

Animation Layers were a new addition for Maya 2009. These allow you to create and blend multiple types of animation onto a model – for example ‘mixing’ a walk with limb twists to create a dance – or create layers to organise new keyframe animation, or to keyframe on top of existing animation without overwriting the original curves.

Maya 2010 allows you to add constraints and expressions to animation layers – so you could use a sine wave to make limb twists move in time with a beat without the need for manual keyframing, for example.

You use the Animation Layer Editor to drill down through the Hypergraph to identify the nodes that control the animation. Then you use the Expression editor to write an expression and connect it to the node you want to drive. It’s a complex process, but once you’ve mastered it you can use expressions to drive sophisticated layered animation.

Although Maya already has a matchmoving component – Maya Live – the bundled MatchMover is more advanced. For example, we used automatic tracking to let MatchMover select the best location to place track points in the image sequence. It displayed these as an array of crosshairs superimposed on the footage.

A 3D view option displays the tracking points as a cloud of 3D cones – all the better for checking the quality of the tracking before exporting into Maya. It’s fast and straightforward to use – and there’s a motion-capture module allowing you to capture data from a non-rigid bodies, such as humans, or cloth objects.

Compositing comes to Maya in the shape of the bundled Toxik application, which has been killed off as a standalone product and renamed Maya Composite. The new integration adds the ability to export render passes as a pre-comp file from Maya then generate and pre-visualise compositions in Maya Composite. Maya Composite also provides support for stereoscopic content creation and can import geometry using the FBX file format. Autodesk needs to add a ‘minimise‘ button, though – Maya Composite currently takes over the whole screen space when running.

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