Another year and, like clockwork, another upgrade to Alias’s flagship 3D application, Maya. But whereas previous upgrades have tended to concentrate on attracting new users, this latest incarnation looks as though it has been put together in clear response to the wants and desires of its existing user base.
Maya 6.5 is a great big hairy beast of a program, endowing users with the ability to create and animate 3D models. To give a full rundown on all the features available in Maya is beyond the scope of this review. What I can say, however, is that in Maya you will find a more or less complete collection of all the tools that a high-end 3D app in this price bracket ought to include. Need a comprehensive modelling set? Want to animate your models, add dynamic effects and integrate them into existing movie footage? Need to create rich textures for your models and produce photorealistic stills or animations? Maya, as so many Hollywood film studios have already discovered, is capable of all this and more.
If there is one word that perhaps best sums up the general ethos of Maya Unlimited, it is ‘speed’. Alias claims to have delivered significant speed bumps to many key areas including polygon modelling, deformations, UV texturing and 3D paint. In reality, the overall interface seems a whole lot snappier than before. Even on a paltry 1GHz G4 the speed improvements were very noticeable; on a G5 the software positively zoomed along. Maya, always a joy to use, is most definitely quicker to react than before. Even rendering is faster. And the integration of Mental Ray now allows Interactive Preview rendering, as well as batch and command-line rendering for power users.
Indeed, it’s power users who are probably most likely to benefit from Maya’s other more noticeable enhancements: it now comes with a set of tools designed to tackle the increasingly complex models that are nowadays routinely created. Alias, for example, has included more scene-segmentation features in the new version. These include proxies, which allow users to temporarily simplify aspects of a scene so that work can easily be done on more complex parts of the same scene; scene sharing, which allows changes to a scene to be saved to be saved as references – particularly useful in a multi-user environment such as a film studio; and general enhancements to overall scene performance.
As always, all of this good news comes with a proviso: if you’re a long-time Maya user you’re going to be well satisfied with what you get for the upgrade price. But if you are a new user you had better be prepared for long weeks of sleepless nights as you attempt to come to terms with Maya’s vast – and I mean vast – toolset.