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Software Review: Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate: Maya & SketchBook Designer

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Autodesk has released the 2014 editions of its Entertainment Creation Suites, which offer artists and production facilities a powerful range of creative toolsets. Three editions have been released: Standard, in which you pick Maya or 3ds Max, and you get MotionBuilder, Mudbox, and SketchBook Designer; Premium, which adds Softimage to the bundle; and the Ultimate suite, which gives you both Maya and 3ds Max and makes a complete suite. I am reviewing Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate and breaking this down into three reviews. The first covered 3ds Max and MotionBuilder, the second covered Mudbox and Softimage, and this one will cover Maya.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

Maya 2014

Autodesk Maya is a 3D animation and 3D modeling software application used for simulation, visual effects, rendering, and compositing. It is used in the TV industry for shows like Sid the Science Kid and MTV’s Shilo, major films like Elysium, Life of Pi, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and in the gaming industry for games like Resident Evil 5 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. With Maya you can also render your animated 3D scenes to achieve photorealistic imagery and animated visual effects. Complete system requirements are listed at the Autodesk site.

So what is new with Maya 2014?

Next-Gen Viewport display and shading through DirectX11 (DX11) integration. The DX11 shader offers centralized, real-time, easy-to-control shader effects. It is built on Maya’s native API with high level shader language support. Included is the Maya Ubershader, an HLSL shader that provides many of the effects seen in next-generation games. Features like vector displacement maps, real-time shadows, and blur reflections are now available through this shader.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

Maya 2014

Advanced modeling workflow, built on the NEX toolset from digitalRaster, will make your modeling more streamlined and efficient. You get a modeling toolkit panel that offers powerful modeling features and integrates selection and transformation tools within a single window. What this means for you is that tool switching is kept to a minimum. For this version, Autodesk has taken the NEX toolset and integrated it in the 2014 release so if you are familiar with the one from digitalRaster, this should be second nature to use.

Grease Pencil gives you the ability to draw directly on the Viewport. You can select a point in time and continue to add new frames into the Time Slider. This means that not only can you now not only outline workflow before any real animation has been done, but others can critique a scene by making suggestions or pointing out problems right in your scene, which will make it easier for the animator to visualize.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

Maya 2014

New Paint effects and volume attributes will help you control how Paint effect strokes react with surfaces, volumes, and each other. This gives you the ability to paint an object and then set it up such that when another object moves past, the object can react to the motion or collision in a way that looks really natural.

Enhanced Node Editor allows you to easily create, edit and debug node networks. This reduces dependency on the connection editor and enables nodes to be rewired in a more intuitive environment.

Enhanced file path handling gives you the ability to quickly diagnose and fix broken file paths in a clean and easy-to-use interface. The File Path Editor shows the location of all of the references, textures, audio nodes, and image planes in your Maya scene so you can fix unresolved paths quickly and easily.

Scene assembly tools give you the ability to create very large and much more complex worlds more easily.

Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate

Maya 2013

There is one final product that you get with all editions of Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites: SketchBook Designer. Sketchbook Designer helps you explore concepts quickly and easily, iterate in real time, and produce stunning artwork. With a unique hybrid paint and vector workflow, it offers creative professionals tools to explore and present new ideas for characters, props, and environments. It helps bring ease and agility throughout the product concept and iteration process giving you the ability to produce complex and intricate designs more easily with powerful vector workflows while remaining flexible for iteration. It also has advanced tools for concept exploration and quick iteration.

Maya 2014 is a really good upgrade that not only manages to address a number of issues important to users, but balances those developments with improvements that make the product more useful. With the added modeling tools, the DirectX 11 Shader and Viewport support, and the extremely promising Grease Pencil tool, I think that this is a very good upgrade.

When you add everything else – the improvements in 3ds Max, Softimage, Mudbox, and Motion Builder – the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites 2014 Ultimate makes for a really powerful package and so I can really recommend this product. If you want to see it for yourself in action, you can download a free trial.

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About T. Michael Testi

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