Alias|Wavefront’s Maya for Mac OS X 3.5, one of the most anticipated and hyped applications ever to hit the Mac, is finally shipping. Apple and Alias|Wavefront have been demonstrating Maya for over a year, touting it as “the premier 3-D application for high-end visual graphics.” The program comes close to living up to this claim, but OS X compatibility and some features have to improve before it will earn a place next to Maya incarnations on other platforms.
Maya combines modeling and rendering tools; character and object animation; a customizable, scriptable interface; and a powerful production workflow, in one impressive application. Skilled teams of animators have used it to create effects for films such as Pearl Harbor, The Perfect Storm, and Shrek, and it has made many TV shows and video games come to life. Although there are 3-D applications that outperform some of Maya’s individual features, none provides such a comprehensive software package.
Modeling is one of Maya’s strong suits. The program performs modeling of 3-D wire-frame objects with both polygonal geometry–well-suited to hard mechanical and architectural surfaces–and NURBS (non-uniform rational b-splines), which are ideal for modeling organic surfaces. Maya lets you build a convincing representation of nearly any object, and it deftly converts organic forms built with NURBS into polygonal objects.
But Maya’s modeling features are not as strong as they could be, and some Mac users will continue to use other packages to build objects. Autodessys’s $1,395 FormZ, for example, has more-refined polygonal modeling tools, and LightWave 3D offers a subdivision-surfaces modeler that makes it easy to create difficult organic shapes such as human heads and hands; Maya has no equivalent feature.
Animation Is King
Maya adapts equally well to animat-ing spaceships, the complex squash and stretch of characters, and natural phenomena such as fire and rain. Key to its prowess is the ability to make animation object-oriented: the action of one object can drive the action of any other. For example, you can create a Set-Driven Key that connects the speed of a locomotive to the turning of its wheels, so the two will always be appropriately in sync.
Maya combines the object-oriented approach, borrowed from computer languages, with a comprehensive set of inverse and forward kinematics, deformations, and timing controls. Inverse kinematics make it easy to define how a character walks, while deformations can control the bulge and jiggle of muscles under its skin.
Dynamics, the animation of the effects of physics, is another testament to Maya’s depth. A compendium of particle effects and simulation tools allow you to create realistic smoke, fire, vortices, and other spectacles of nature, while body dynamics simulate springs and collisions to make objects react and bounce as they do in life.
A Lifelike Canvas
Shaders, which control the surface appearance of objects, are also object-oriented. You control them through an intuitive Hypershade window that represents elements of textures, such as color or bumpiness, as nodes connected by arrows and lines. For example, you can use a single node to apply a color map of bricks to an object and then use it again to align a bump map, creating realistic-looking mortar between rows of bricks.
Start with a Great ScriptMaya lets you access commands through Marking Menus, which appear in a circular fashion under the mouse pointer when you press a hot key. Like all tools in Maya, menus and hot keys are based on the objectoriented Maya Embedded Language (MEL) and are completely customizable. Also unique to the Mac version is the ability to call up a Marking Menu and tear it off.
Any Maya function can be captured, modified, and turned into a button or menu item for reuse. For example, it’s relatively easy to set up a script that lets an animator at her desk import the latest background scenery, props, lighting, and character rigging–each created by a different member of her workgroup–from a central server, so when she animates a character, she can see it in the context of the entire team’s contributions.
Trouble in Paradise
Alias|Wavefront has said it will bring Maya for Mac OS X 3.5 into parity with Maya on other platforms–all at version 4.0–as quickly as possible. In some areas, achieving this should be straightforward; for example, Maya
for Mac OS X does not yet run cleanly in OS X 10.1 or take advantage of the additional CPU in dual-processor Power Mac G4s. The Maya workflow is also hampered by the lack of high-end third-party 3-D acceleration hardware available for the Mac.
Some features that are becoming industry-standard, such as the simulation of hair and cloth and subdivision-surface modeling, are available only in the $16,000 Maya Unlimited, which Alias|Wave-front has not publicly committed to developing for Mac OS.
However, Maya’s features that are unique to the Mac, including QuickTime support and an elegant combination of the Maya and Macintosh interface conventions, are very welcome ones. QuickTime support is particularly useful, since it means that any QuickTime image format can be used in Maya projects, and finished animations and images can be dropped directly into editing applications. Maya users will be particularly gratified by the ability to render a movie, edit it, and burn it to DVD, all on the same machine.
Alias|Wavefront qualifies Maya to run only on OS X 10.0.4, and we can’t recommend trying it on OS X 10.1. When we did try, it crashed often, and many features simply did not work. Alias|Wavefront is working on an OS X 10.1compatible version, 3.5.1, which it will probably release by the end of 2001.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Maya is clearly among the very best 3-Danimation systems on any platform, and Maya for Mac OS X 3.5 is a sweet union for Mac artists who can afford the up-front cost and the time to master the program.
However, Maya won’t really sing until Alias|Wavefront improves multiprocessor support and overall performance. It’s a great product, but if you’re using OS X 10.1, you’ll be better off waiting for the update.
Editor’s note: On Dec. 13, 2001, Alias|Wavefront released Maya 3.5.1, whichadded support for OS X 10.1.1 and the ATI Mobility Radeon, Nvidia GeForce2MX and Nvidia GeForce3 graphics cards.
ILLUSTRATION CREATED IN MAYA BY SIMON DANAHER
Find Some Shade: The Hypershade window (top) allows you to connect shader parameters by dragging wires from one node to another.
Powerful CreationMaya’s NURBS modeling allows you to build almost any organic shape, from spaceships to humans.