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Maya Complete 6, the latest version of Alias’s do-everything 3-D-animation and -effects system, doesn’t offer bucketfuls of flashy new features. But it has enough of them, as well as enough welcome improvements in usability and performance, to make an already good package significantly better. The upgrade is a no-brainer. And while newcomers might balk at the $1,999 price tag, Maya Complete 6 competes with visual-effects packages that cost thousands more.
Alias has squeezed some cool new features and improvements into Maya Complete. The new Soft Mod Deformer tool allows smooth sculpting of any group of objects. For instance, if you select and move the points that form a character’s nose, the region surrounding the nose will also deform with a smooth falloff, as if the whole face were made of elastic putty. Other modeling enhancements include better beveling tools, and a new curve-editing suite that lets you lock the length of a curve or deform curves with Curl, Bend, Straighten, and Smooth functions.
Maya remains one of the most comprehensive dynamic animation systems, on any platform, for creating natural effects such as smoke, fire, and water. One new feature in version 6 that will delight effects artists is the ability to use deformers on particle systems. It’s now easy to make smoke curl around an overhanging lamp, for example. And Paint Effects, Maya’s unique effects feature for painting everything from three-dimensional fur to flowers on a surface, can now be used directly on polygonal objects—it’s far more user-friendly than it used to be.
Maya also includes mental images’ mental ray rendering engine, which offers advanced rendering features such as natural sky lighting. And mental ray is more tightly integrated with Maya 6 than with previous versions; many features, such as Paint Effects and particle effects, now render correctly in mental ray. It’s also now possible for almost any Maya scene to benefit from the realism that mental ray rendering offers. Maya 6 also includes support for advanced hardware shaders, and you now have the option of creating high-quality hardware-rendered previews in standard working windows.
Maya still lacks a built-in rendering manager for queuing jobs on one or more computers. You’ll have to rely on your own command-line scripts, or third-party distributed-rendering software, to do something as simple as batch-rendering two jobs on a single machine.
Perhaps the biggest productivity boost for many artists will be the support for Adobe Photoshop files as textures. The new PSD texture node acts like a standard layered texture, but it links to individual layer sets within a Photoshop file. You can now add, delete, and change layers in a Photoshop texture and have them instantly update in Maya.
In previous versions, the Hypershade module, which acts as a catalog and an editor for textures and shading networks, simply lumped everything together in one disorganized mass. In Maya 6, this module lets you sort resources into named folders, and you can now use filters based on name or other criteria to display only certain nodes. It also caches data, and it’s many times faster after loading for the first time.
Alias has substantially rebuilt the Trax editor, which lets you compile sequences of animation as you might in a typical digital-video editor. Adding characters and subcharacters to the Trax control panel is now easier, and you can readily copy animation from one character to another, even if the characters have different proportions or skeletal hierarchies. It’s now much easier to redirect a character’s animation. For example, a character animated with a walk cycle can be made to continue its walk around a corner or down a flight of stairs. And blending different clips is easier, too.
Maya 6 also incorporates a Web browser, which can be opened in a standard Maya window. Web pages can be populated with MEL scripts, which can then be executed as if run in Maya’s Script Editor. This feature makes it easy to distribute custom tools along with corresponding documentation—a good thing for software as complex as Maya. And the program’s online documentation system has been completely revamped; it’s much more reliable and functional.
Unlimited on the Mac
Maya veterans know that the program also comes in a high-end version, Unlimited, which adds a variety of advanced effects (such as fur, cloth, long hair, and fluids) and costs about $7,000. In the past, we’ve criticized Alias for its failure to offer a Mac version of Unlimited—anyone who wanted its specialized features had to switch to Linux or Windows to upgrade. Version 6 marks the debut of Maya Unlimited on the Mac. This may be academic to users with a more down-to-earth budget, but studios that were hesitant to buy a product with no upgrade options can now worry about price, and about which users need the extended functionality, rather than about cross-platform parity.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
This isn’t a radical upgrade. But for people who need an all-purpose visual-effects app, Maya Complete 6 packs a bunch of new features and improved usability, and it’s still less expensive than most of its competitors.Maya’s PSD texture node lets you use layer sets from a standard Photoshop file as texture layers.Maya’s new Soft Mod Deformer turns surfaces into elastic putty—it’s great as a modeling tool and for creating animation effects.