Autodesk's Maya 2012 in Review

July 18, 2011 11:58 pm

Tags: 3D, Animation, Autodesk, Maya, MotionBuilder, Softimage

Product Review: Autodesk's Maya 2012

I've been a Maya user for some time (the first version I tried was around 10 years ago), and while some releases could be considered as maintenance releases (like Maya 2010, which I called evolutionary), others offer a lot to like, and that's the case with Maya 2012.

Maya 2012 is more integrated with the rest of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite applications than in previous versions, and many of the new features are are designed around this. However, some of these features also help to offer a better and easier workflow by changing core functionalities.

In Maya 2011, you could send your models directly to Mudbox for detailing, which worked like a breeze. This release takes it one step further since you can now exchange scenes between any of the installed EC Suite applications. You can send a model (or a full scene) to Mudbox for detailing, or MotionBuilder for animation, and even to Softimage. The corresponding "send to" submenus are enabled only for the installed applications (for example, in my case the Send to Softimage submenu doesn't appear because Softimage is not installed on my system yet).

Exchanging data between the applications creates a link between them, allowing you to update an asset in any of the applications. This link works exactly like the Adobe Dynamic Link used to update media across the Adobe CS applications. Maybe you have a model you sent to Mudbox, but then you made some changes in Maya, changed the shape a little and so on. Simply click the "Update" button on the lower right corner and the model in Mudbox updates automatically to the latest version. This same link works in the opposite direction.

Ever since I first used MotionBuilder (when it was included in the Maya EC Suite 2010), I slowly switched to it as my main character animation tool. Maya 2012 is more integrated with MotionBuilder 2012 now, which makes an animator's life even easier (for a full MotionBuilder 2012 review, you can read Kurt's review here). They both offer a similar toolset, and are also able to exchange data between them more easily, so you no longer need to export a character in Maya and import it into MotionBuilder for animation. Animating the FBIK rig in both applications is virtually the same, and you even use the same tool now.

Setting up a character using HumanIK in Maya is even easier now, since you only need to select a bone in the HumanIK panel, then the corresponding bone in your rig, and when you're done the entire rig is finished and ready to be animated.

In previous versions you could create a motion trail that describes the movement of an animated object. However, it could only be used as a reference. Now you can edit that trail, and by doing so, it will update the keys, animation curves and anything else related to the movement of that object. Other animation packages have offered this functionality for some time, and now Maya users can take advantage of this as well, since sometimes editing a motion trail is a lot easier than trying to edit animation curves.

If you're like me, you find yourself editing timing of your animation in the Graph Editor instead of doing it in the easier-to-use Dope Sheet (yeah, sometimes I am a very complicated animator). This usually required selecting the keyframes, and then using the scale tool and hoping you got it right. Now, you can use the select region tool to select your keyframes and use a Dope Sheet-like selection box to retime your animation.

Some years ago, I used to have a script that could project curves on polygonal surfaces. However, due to changes in scripting, it no longer worked. Maya 2012 adds this feature by default, and it works just like projecting a curve onto a NURBS surface. Once you've projected a curve, you can use it to split your model, or trim a hole.

The software also offers the new Interactive Split Polygon tool. To me, it's more of a replacement of the old Split Polygon tool since it works the same way and yields the same result, although this new tool is more accurate when splitting polygons.

As you may know, Maya uses projects to help users keep things more organized. Maya 2012 has changed the look of the Project Window so it's more organized, and also makes it easier for users to edit a project once it has been created.

Maya 2012 offers many performance improvements over the previous versions. However, being able to use Nvidia PhysX to speed up simulations is the biggest of them all (only available to Nvidia video card users). By now, everyone should be familiar with PhysX and how it can speed up dynamic simulations, and being able to take advantage of it inside Maya is more than welcome.

If you're familiar with Softimage, you should be familiar with ICE. Maya 2012 adds ICE interoperability, so you can now use ICE simulations inside Maya. This does not mean Maya includes ICE now. Simulations are created inside Softimage, not Maya, and this integration only allows Softimage ICE simulations to be used inside Maya.

The Maya Fluid Effects module lets you run real liquid simulations now. You can also convert that Flud Effects simulation to geometry for rendering, in case you need a specific shader or look for that liquid.

Just as in other Autodesk Entertainment Creation 2012 releases, the Maya Help is found on the Autodesk website, so every time you open Maya Help, the software will load it from the web. Autodesk is doing this so that everyone has access to the latest version of the documentation. However, if you prefer to have a local copy, you can easily download it.

It's nice to see how the integration between apps evolves with every release of the Maya Entertainment Creation Suite, as it's more than just bundling a bunch of applications together. Besides, it adds and improves functionality in different areas, like animation and dynamics. I especially like how this new version is integrated with MotionBuilder, since it's become my main animation tool in recent years. On the other hand, I still believe some areas are being left behind, like Maya Fur, which hasn't been updated in years. Save for issues like this, Maya 2012 is a remarkable release, and if you get it as part of the Entertainment Creation Suite, I'd consider it a must-have.

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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.

July 18, 2011

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