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Software Review – Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite 2012 Premium: Maya

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Autodesk has just released their 2012 editions of their Entertainment Creation Suites to offer artists and production facilities access to a powerful range of creative toolsets. There are two kits that have been released – the Maya suite, and the 3ds Max suite. They each come in a Standard and a Premium edition. Each suite also comes with Autodesk MotionBuilder, and Autodesk Mudbox. The Premium also contains Autodesk Softimage. I will break this down into three reviews. The first will cover Maya, the second will cover Mudbox, MotionBuilder, and Softimage, and the third will cover 3ds Max.

Autodesk Maya is a 3D animation and 3D modeling software application that is used for simulation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing. It is used in the TV industry for shows like NCIS and American Idol, major motion films like Avatar, Rango, and Black Swan, and in the gaming industry for games like Medal of Honor and EA Sports MMA.

Maya is an integrated node-based software application for 3D digital animation and visual effects. Using Maya, you can create and edit 3D models in a variety of modeling formats and animate your models using a whole host of animation tools. Maya also provides the ability for you to render your animated 3D scenes to achieve photo realistic imagery and animated visual effects. Complete system requirements are located at the Autodesk site.

Maya 2011

So what is new with Maya 2012?

• General – improvements include better interoperability when interacting with Softimage, MotionBuilder, and Mudbox making it much simpler to send new scene data or currently open scenes to these programs. There have been new options added to the cmdScrollFieldExecutor command; including a case sensitive replace all, a flag to query the total number of lines, and a flag to enable wrapping of the search function. There has also been an update to the Direct Connect Support as well.

• Performance – improvements include MDGContext matrix evaluation: evaluating of multiple matrices within the same frame time is improved. There have been two new options added to improve performance with Viewport 2.0: Vertex Animation Cache and Thread Dependency Graph Evaluation. Performance optimizations can reduce save times for Maya Ascii (.ma) files, particularly for scenes containing large meshes. Also improvements to Fluid Effects include enhancements to the interactive draw and fluid output meshing as well as Nucleus solver threading improves the performance of playing back nCloth and nParticle simulations.

• Project window – has been enhanced to make it easier to organize and customize Maya project files by giving you primary and secondary project locations as well as translator and custom data locations.

• Namespace Editor improvements – give you more control creating and managing the namespace organization of your scene objects. The editor features a new tree-view display making it easier to view namespace hierarchy. Some other improvements include List Contents – displays the list of objects, Select All Empty – working with empty namespaces, Collapse to Child – removes empty ancestor namespaces, and Set Current – gives a visual indicator and control for the current namespace.

• Sending objects to Mudbox – has been made easier through the “Send To” options from the file menu. Once you have modified an object in Mudbox, you can then send it back to Maya. The one-click functionality allows you to send various forms of data, including meshes and UVs on meshes, to Mudbox. This data can be sent as a new scene or as an update to an existing scene.

Maya 2011

• Editable motion trails – let you preview your animation and interactively adjust keyframes within the 3D scene. Motion trails provide a visual representation of keys right around your animated models, letting you adjust the timing, keys, tangents, and position of animation directly.

• Graphic Editor – has been improved to enhance curve editing workflows. You now have Adjacent key snapping that lets you set neighboring keys to automatically align as you edit. Auto tangent type can automatically self-adjust to ensure smooth transitions, without overshooting maximum and minimum values. Isolate selected curves will quickly narrow your focus in the graph view by showing only the curves you want to work with. Scale multiple keys through the Region tool provides a simple, more visual mechanism for scaling multiple keys in time and value. And a Simplified toolbar option where on the View menu you now have a Classic Toolbar option which toggles the Graph Editor between the classic, full toolbar, and a more simplified toolbar that displays a smaller set of options.

• Camera Sequencer – has been updated with an Ubercam to playback all camera shots in a sequence using a single camera. A new Shot Playlist window lets you quickly edit camera shot parameters, such as shot length or the camera used. Multi-track audio (Windows and Linux only) has been added where you can now add multiple audio tracks to a sequence as well as several enhancements to the Camera Sequencer let you produce XML files that can be imported in Autodesk Smoke.

• New HumanIK character – setup tools improve your HumanIK character workflow. These tools are designed to build on the existing HIK retargeting workflows, and add new features for keyframers, such as keying groups and rig synchronization. These include the Characterization Tool – which provides character animators with an improved, more visual tool for mapping and defining the structure of HumanIK characters and the Character Controls window – this gives you a visual interface for interacting with the FK and IK effectors on your Control rigs.

Maya 2011

• ICE Interoperability – gives you a one-click interoperability workflow that lets you transfer data between Maya and Softimage. ICE interoperability for Maya lets you take advantage of the ICE (Interactive Creative Environment) to create effects for your Maya scenes.

• New Liquid attributes – let you generate fluid effects that look and behave like real liquids. These include Liquid Min Density – specifies the density value at which the solver differentiates between liquid and air when the Liquid and Air simulation method is used, Liquid Mist Fall – applies a downward force to areas in the fluid that have density lower than the value specified by the Liquid Min Density attribute, Mass Range – defines the relationship between mass and fluid density when the Density Based Mass simulation method is used and several others.

• Rigidity and Deform Resistance – can now be applied to the individual polygon shells that make up your nCloth mesh. When meshes made from individual polygon shells are converted to nCloth, a new Use Polygon Shell attribute enables Rigidity and Deform Resistance on each shell.

• Local Force and Local Wind – attributes let you apply gravity and wind to individual nCloth objects. These forces are applied locally and do not affect other Nucleus objects that are assigned to the same solver. These Local Force and Local Wind attributes let you apply gravity and wind to individual nParticle objects as well.

• Viewport 2.0 – features include improved support for most parts of Maya, for example, manipulators, tools, shapes, and nodes. Two new performance options are provided: The Vertex Animation Cache option provides more interactive scrubbing of your animation, and the Thread Dependency Graph Evaluation option provides better performance by evaluating separate characters in separate threads.

Maya 2011

• Previewing in Render View – now lets you easily create render pass nodes through the Hypershade and view the output of these passes directly in the Render View. Furthermore, you can create basic compositing graphs using render passes and standard Maya shading utility nodes, and visualize the result directly in the Render View or a batch render using the new render target node.

• Vector displacement maps – now let you connect a vector displacement map to your shading group in Maya to create complex sculpted surfaces with displacement in arbitrary directions; for example, to create undercuts or overhanging features.

Maya continues its innovation in the world of 3D modeling and animation and helps drive the industry to new heights of achievement. This version brings, along with a lot of fundamental improvements, it now opens the pipeline for better integration within its own products as well as addressing new trends in television, movies, and the gaming industry.

I like the Viewport 2.0 enhancements with their full-screen effects, motion blur, and depth-of-field enhancements. I like the ability to edit motion trails directly in the view port, the library of 80 substance smart textures, the enhanced Graphic Editor, and the new simulation options.

I also like the four new camera rigs that allow users to create complex camera movements. These mimic real world setups nicely. Finally, I really like the NVDIA PhysX engine and how now you can create static, dynamic, and kinematic ridged body simulations in the viewport.

Maya 2011

If you have been looking to get into Autodesk Maya for digital animation and 3D effects you can get a free trial from Autodesk. If you are an existing Maya user, who is contemplating an upgrade to the latest edition, I think that with all of the changes that Maya 2012 brings to the table this time, this is a must have edition.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.