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Software Review: Autodesk Maya 2011

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 Heroes and American Idol, major motion films like Avatar, District 9, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, and in the gaming industry for games like The Beatles: Rock Band and Assassin’s Creed II.

Maya is an integrated node-based software application that provides a comprehensive suite of applications for 3D content creation. 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 to allow 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.

So what is new with Maya 2011?

• New interface – sports a look and feel that has been reworked to provide a more consistent user experience on all supported platforms. It offers a fresher, albeit a darker look, making for better visibility and a nice gradient background. Both make it much easier on the eyes and easier to work in. Other changes include a bigger and better file open menu, dockable UI elements, and a new color chooser.

• Faster Skinning workflow – will let you create more accurately skinned characters having more realistic deformations all in faster rendering speeds. With the new skinning tools and workflows you will have a dual quaternion option for smooth skinning, interactive volume binding, multiple enhancements to the Paint Skin Weights tool, deformer weight mirroring, and a surface falloff mode for the Wrap deformer.

• Non-destructive live retargeting – gives you the ability to more quickly and easily reuse, correct, and enhance motion-capture and certain other animation data. This new non-destructive retargeting workflow uses the Autodesk HumanIK (HIK) libraries. You can transfer animation from one character to another and adjust retargeting parameters live to see and edit results without the need to re-bake.

• 3D Editorial – capabilities in Maya will accelerate pre-visualization and virtual movie-making production. The new Camera Sequencer will enable you to layout and manage multiple camera shots in a single animation sequence. You start by laying out shots in Maya, or import an EDL in FCP or AAF formats from editorial with associated movie, audio, and time code information. You can then change the timings of shots, create alternate versions, and use Playblast to playback and review the sequence before optionally re-exporting an EDL to editorial for further refinement.

• Enhancements to assets – and file referencing will give you the ability to more easily segment, re-use, and exchange data with or without file referencing. Data can be exported and imported as offline files to flexibly partition scenes, while reference edits can be imported, exported, and removed without unloading. A new option to create assets with transforms (DAG assets) enables them to be directly positioned, parented, instanced, and light-linked, streamlining the most common assets workflows.

• Color Management – allows you to make better decisions and preserve creative intent throughout the rendering pipeline by working within the context of the final color space in which images can be viewed. A working color profile can be set globally and overridden on individual textures and render passes. With the new 32-bit support in the Render View, you can display images through LUTs, and control Contrast, Exposure, Tone Mapping, and Gamma. Initial support is through mental ray for Maya renderer, with a robust API to enable other renderers to take advantage of the system.

• Qt user interface toolkit – is available because Maya now uses the Qt user interface which results in a number of advantages for technical users. For example, users can more easily create interface components for proprietary tools with Qt Designer and load them directly into Maya. The Script Editor offers syntax coloring, automatic indentation, and auto-completion for recognized commands and DAG path names, and custom icons can now use a wide range of common image formats.

• Large scene performance – is possible because a new interactive viewport significantly improves display frame rates. Level editors and other users working with large scenes and many textures can achieve frame rates several times faster than possible with previous versions of Maya by enabling this display method. Additionally, texture loading is now significantly faster for BMP, JPEG, PNG, and Targa formats within the Maya software‘s interactive renderers.

• Vector Paint in Maya Composite – lets you perform complex rotoscoping operations such as removing or replacing elements from live action plates using the new vector paint option in Maya Composite. Vector paint strokes are animatable, and points can be controlled by trackers. Strokes can be used to paint color, or to reveal or clone data from another source, which can be offset, rotated, scaled, or sheared. Visibility can be set on a per-frame basis.

• 64-Bit support for the Mac OS X – provides Mac users the ability to access considerably more memory allowing them to handle larger and more complex scenes with the new 64-bit executable.

Autodesk Maya 2011 really has brought with it a wide range of enhancements. The first thing that you will notice is the redesigned UI. Not only is it darker with new icons, but it is the whole Qt interface that makes this work. This will give you the ability to graphically design windows and panels for your custom tools without writing code. This really provides a lot of flexibility.

The new Camera Sequencer is also nice as it lets you create different sequences in your timeline and switch between views. This will be very helpful if you need to shoot with more than one camera and view the scene at different points in time along the timeline.

Also the Viewport 2.0 really does offer higher visual quality as it includes better lighting as well as shader representation. Add to this the vector painting, color management and the updated 64-bit abilities for Mac, and you have a very sizable upgrade and so can highly recommend Autodesk Maya 2011.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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  1. friendly software