Maya Complete ready for beta, Alias|Wavefront says

Maya Complete for Mac OS X will be shipping to beta sites by early next week, and is poised for final release in April, May or June, said Richard Kerris, director of Maya Technologies for Alias|Wavefront (AW) in a recent interview with MacCentral sister site MacWEEK. His comments appeared in the first installment of "Mac 3-D," a new weekly column devoted to 3-D graphics applications.

Apple has announced a March 24 ship date for Mac OS X, and Kerris said that AW wants its beta users to have some time to test the software with the final release before going golden master. "We'll be one of the first to ship after OS X," he said. The software will sell for $7,500, the same price as the Windows and Unix versions.

Newtek and Maxon, whose respective Lightwave 3-D and Cinema 4D XL packages also appeal to 3-D pros, have chosen to make their interfaces nearly identical across multiple platforms, on the theory that users can move from a PC to a Mac, or vice-versa, with minimal retraining. But with Maya, Kerris said AW chose to add Aqua interface features and other OS X touches throughout the product.

"It doesn't look like a Windows application," he said. "We know that's not what the market wants. Those things that are familiar in other (Mac) applications will be there for ours. Our intention is to be fully Mac compliant when we release."

Mac-only features

Getting there wasn't easy, he admitted, as the company struggled with the challenge of developing a new program for a beta operating system. "Beta code is not for the weak," he said. "A lot of things you take for granted on other platforms are not here yet, development tools, cross-compilers, things like that. You're out in the middle of the woods." However, he credited Apple with providing needed development support, and it worked both ways as AW assisted with the Mac OS X implementation of OpenGL, which handles 3-D imaging in the new OS.

Kerris said that AW has also met with other 3-D graphics developers and that it openly shares its knowledge of Mac OS X. "There is plenty of room for the applications on the platform," he said, adding that he sees no benefit in withholding the information. "We don't want to play that kind of game, where you give yourself a couple of months' advantage over someone. It's better for everyone if we can make sure that Apple does this right."

In addition to its Aqua interface features, Maya for Mac OS X will feature some under-the-hood enhancements not yet available in its cross-platform siblings. The Windows and Unix versions feature threaded rendering engines, but for the Mac version the company has also threaded other portions, including the audio functions. Animators, for example, can sync voice tracks to character animations with no performance penalty. "We'll be showcasing that in Tokyo," he said, referring to next week's Macworld Expo. AW is also looking at optimizing parts of the code for the G4's AltiVec extensions.

Boon for Mac sales?

Kerris believes that about 20 to 25 percent of existing Maya customers will purchase Macs to run the new version, though largely to supplement their current Unix or Windows implementations. "I don't think there is a large group that will drop their existing hardware," he said. However, he believes that the Mac's ease of use -- and artists' familiarity with the platform -- give it a competitive advantage among cost-conscious studios that want to maximize productivity.

He thinks the Mac version will also attract users outside the program's traditional areas of film, video and game production. These include graphic artists who work in Web or print media, or industrial designers who want to send product prototypes to clients. Within the film and video industries, he expects the Mac version to see extensive use in the previsualization stages of production, which "has the most iterations," he noted. And he thinks that people will be surprised to see "how many high-end places use Macs."

"One thing we've woken up to is that the Mac community is so much about professional graphics," he continued. "There are so many areas we've only just started thinking about. People think that because Mac users aren't making 'Stuart Little' that they're probably not going to look at Maya."

Future products

With a US$7,500 price tag, Maya Complete will appeal only to a narrow range of users. But without revealing any details, Kerris made it clear that the company plans to offer spin-off products over the next few years, products that will have an impact "across all markets."

Maya currently includes several plug-ins that provide Macromedia Flash output, and "we'll see more (Flash) stuff in the near future," he said. Maya will also produce output in the Shockwave 3-D format developed by Macromedia and Intel. Noting the plethora of competing Web 3-D technologies, which also include Metastream and Pulse 3D, he said the company's goal is to "support whatever the customer wants," but it's clear that he sees a big advantage for Macromedia. "There are millions of Shockwave players out there," he said. "Macromedia is going to have a huge impact."

Kerris lauded Apple's recent embrace of Nvidia's graphics processors, noting that AW's own customers have made it clear that they prefer Nvidia's GeForce chip. However, he said he is also impressed by the performance of ATI's new Radeon chip, as well as the Rage Mobility processor in Apple's current laptops. "I think what's happened here is a little competition between the two," he said. "You've got ATI working really hard to produce fine graphics cards, so in the end, you can't go wrong."

Having taken delivery of a Titanium PowerBook -- he ordered his on day one -- Kerris said he can attest to Maya's performance on the G4 laptop. "The Rage Mobility is really nice," he said. "I've been able to run the Macworld SF demo."

Mac 3-D appears every Friday on

This story, "Maya Complete ready for beta, Alias|Wavefront says" was originally published by PCWorld.

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