A Look at Maya 2014

August 6, 2013 9:32 pm

Tags: 3D, Autodesk, Maya

Maya 2014 is Autodesk's latest release of this digital content creation software. While it packs many interesting features, some of them are aimed to high-end animation production and VFX, something that’s now out of my scope since I am a game developer. However, game makers will also find features that make things faster and easier. Maya can be bought as a stand-alone software, or part of an Autodesk Suite that includes other packages, such as MotionBuilder and Mudbox.

On the modeling front, Maya 2014 now includes the Modeling Toolkit, which is a small window with a collection of highly useful mesh editing tools. This makes workflow much more efficient, as the Toolkit adds a convenient way to access these tools. When you perform an editing command in Maya, you can change the settings from the channel box, and that functionality is also available on the Modeling Tool via sliders (for example you can change the bevel width on the fly). Another nice feature when creating polygons using the Modeling Toolkit you can stick the created vertices onto a reference surface, useful if you want to resurface a model (on a side note, this is basically what TopoGun does, although TopoGun offers a variety of tools).

Polygon reduction has also been improved. Previously, half of the time I would get unwanted results when using the Reduce command, so I would end up performing reduction manually. However, these improvements make polygon reduction easier, faster and more accurate.

The Grease Pencil tool lets you draw shapes in the viewport. This can be useful if you want to add notes to a scene (for example, if you require changes or add specific information). You can also use this tool to sketch an animation, in case you need to try out timings or different things. The grease Pencil Tool does not create shapes based on curves, but on strokes, so it cannot be used as a starting point to model something. The shapes are drawn directly onto the camera, so these shapes cannot be rotated, and will “stick” to the camera as you move your view around.

If you read my articles frequently, you know I use motion capture to animate game characters (http://www.renderosity.com/ipi-desktop-motion-capture-indies-got-moves-cms-16634 ). This means I also spend some time retargeting and cleaning up animations, using the HumanIK module in Maya. Previously, you had to use a special command to add HIK controls to an animation layer, but now you can add controls to animation layers the same way you add any animated objects to a layer. This is a small change, but very convenient, because you are no longer forced to dig into different menus to do something so simple.

If you work on large scenes, maybe you use file referencing a lot. This is a way to load and unload scene sections on the fly, and helps keep memory usage low, and a quick viewport. Maya 2014 offers a new feature called “Scene Assembly.” Scene Assembly basically helps you load your geometry to build a scene, like you were referencing files. However, assembly files have a big advantage over referenced files, because the objects used to build the scene (called Assembly representations) can switch the display mode on the fly. For example, you can set them to display in full resolution (for rendering) or a cache representation (to keep things running smooth).

Viewport 2.0 has been able to represent DirectX shaders for some time. New in this version, you can view DirectX 11 shaders (if your videocard supports them). This is a very useful feature for game development because you can get a pretty good idea of what the final shader will look like in the engine, and you can also try out different shading features like real time tessellation or displacement maps. Note DirectX shaders in Maya will not look exactly the same as they do in your engine, because each engine has its own way to light and render elements (for example, most of the time you can clearly see a visual difference between a game developed in UDK or Unity).

Even with all the added features to provide better visual accuracy, my complaint with Maya’s viewport is the fact that it’s still slow compared to those from other applications, especially when I have to retarget and clean up animations.



This new release adds a couple of very nice visual cues. The first one is used to let you know what’s new and what’s changed from the previous version. New items in the menus (and also new buttons) are shown in green and with brackets around them. The second one is a small “bubble” that appears on top of your view and gives useful information for certain tools or commands (remember that “tools” and “commands” in Maya are two different things). Some users may think this bubble gets in the way of work, but personally I consider it useful because sometimes I press the wrong key, and when I do, things can go very wrong.



Maya 2014 also packs some other features in the dynamics, rendering and PaintFX fields, so if you are into visual effects, motion graphics, or pre-rendered animations in general (film, TV, commercials, etc.), you should take a look at those. You can also see what’s new in Maya 2014 here:  http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?siteID=123112&id=14504140&linkID=10809894

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Editor's Note: Be sure to check out all the valuable resources available right here on Renderosity, for all your artistic endeavors, starting with the following related links:

Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.




August 5, 2013

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