Review: Maya 2011
In this year’s update to Maya there are plenty of performance and workflow boosts, alongside a focus on the software’s traditional strengths.
Price: $3,495 | Developer: Autodesk | Platform: Windows/Mac
- New Qt-based UI
- More efficient skinning tools
- Camera Sequencer
- Human IK
- Improved Graph editor
- Better asset management
- Improved dynamics and particle systems
- 64-bit support on Mac OS X
Maya has regenerated: After years of bumbling around in its labcoat, the ‘designed-by-scientists’ look has finally gone, and had been replaced by a modern and voguish dark interface.
The new Qt interface enables panels to be resized or moved from one location to another
Based on the Qt framework, this release is slicker and better designed, and there are numerous improvements to the way the various windows behave. A more advanced file browser and colour picker have been implemented, which, together with the ability to drag elements of the interface around to place them where you would like them, gives Maya the modern feel it has been needing for some time.
Character rigging improvement
Interactive skin bind mode is one of the welcome additions in Maya 2011
Skinning has received a lot of attention in this release. There are now three options for the actual skinning solver itself; the original linear smooth skinning remains, but there is now also a dual quaternion solver.
Dual Quaternion skinning helps to eliminate collapsing geometry around areas like the inside of elbows and the back of knees, and also what is referred to as the ‘candy wrapper’ twisting effect that the conventional linear method leads to.
There is also a mode which allows the two to be blended, and the influence of each painted (as a weightmap) into the areas that best suit one over the other. Weight painting has also been enhanced.
Firstly an Interactive smooth binding mode circumnavigates the initial stage of weighting by visually representing the influence of each joint as capsules.
These capsules can then be adjusted interactively to change the falloff for each joint which will get you a good way along the road before having to delve into the dirty business of actually painting weights. However, when you do start painting, fear not, as there are several nifty additions in 2011 to make the experience less arduous.
A new Post Normalisation mode is now available, which affects the way Maya handles the redistribution of weightmaps. Often in the past, weight influences could get automatically reassigned to different joints and that invariably caused more problems. Post Normalisation helps avoid this common pitfall.
Other simple additions to weight painting include the weight hammer tool, which will quickly smooth out spiky wayward vertices by examining the surrounding vertices and adjusting accordingly. Now you can simply copy and paste weights between vertices, and quickly switch between weight painting and vertex selection.
Another character rigging time-saver is integration of the HumanIK solver (taken from Motionbuilder), which includes a Skeleton Generator, and also allows for non-destructive re-targeting of animation even between two differing joint hierarchies. Particularly useful when working with motion-capture data, the solver will transfer the re-targeted animation to one animation layer and create a second control rig layer above it, so the transferred motion-capture data can be easily refined.
On the animation front, the Graph editor has had some great additions, for example there is a very nice little feature to pin curves so that they remain present in the editor. Where previously as soon as you dropped a selection the curves would vanish from the editor, now you can choose to keep them around for future editing even though the object might not be selected.
There is also the option to filter curves, so if, for example, you had several objects selected, a simple checkbox isolates all the z translation curves temporarily removing all others from the editor. Curves can also now be viewed stacked as an alternative to the usual overlaid style where things can quickly get very jumbled. This new viewing mode can also be normalised so that multiple curves are given equal space when laid out.
Another small but useful feature that has been added to the animation toolset is the new constraint Point on poly. This welcome tool enables you to constrain an object to a vertex of a deforming mesh. For example a button on an nCloth shirt.
Also of note is the Time Warp feature that creates a curve for all the scene’s animation allowing it to re-timed by adjusting tangents and adding keys.
Fluid Effect containers now have the option to auto resize, which creates faster, less memory intensive fluid simulations and is also easier to set up
While some good, small touches have been added to Dynamics in Maya 2011, there are no major additions. In Maya 8.5 the new dynamics Nucleus system was introduced with nCloth, and then in Maya 2009 the new nParticles were referred to as the second module built on the Nucleus framework.
Two versions on and there have been no further Nucleus modules: with Hair and Fur both beginning to show their age, ‘n’ versions of these would have been welcome. Having said that, this 2011 update has made some welcome changes to fluid effects and nParticles.
Chiefly for fluids, containers now auto resize, whereas before a huge container would be required if the fluid was to move a large distance within the scene. This ultimately means they solve faster, use less memory and are easier to set up.
Self Attraction and Repulsion attributes allow fluids to expand and contract, so effects like swirling and expanding gases look more natural. A handful of new Lighting attributes have been added to Fluid Effects so that you can preview the lighting and shadowing of your fluid before rendering.
In terms of integration, fluids can now be linked to particle simulations and actually emitted from nParticles or classic particles, which is a small but powerful change.
Some handy new features have been added to nParticles. Per-particle rotations are now possible without having to resort to expressions, and there is a Collide Strength Scale ramp that also operates on a per-particle basis, meaning that you can dampen or disable collisions on individual nParticles based on properties such as age, speed, or radius.
Surface tension has been added, which creates more realistic nParticle liquid simulations, and once meshed those simulations will calculate faster, too.
You can now create motion blur when you render nParticle output meshes in mental ray, and additionally have UVs for texturing that are editable in the UV Texture editor. These last two additions are very welcome: it was particularly frustrating that RealFlow simulations motion blurred in Maya, but the nParticle meshes did not.
Rendering and display
On the rendering and shading front, there isn’t much change. Probably the biggest new rendering feature is in the display of the viewports. As well as the new UI, there is also a viewport rendering option called Viewport 2.0, which allows for much faster navigation of heavy scenes.
Hypershade itself has had a facelift in line with the new look, and in the name of progress the old (very basic) alternative to Hypershade, and the Multilister, has been removed which might annoy a few people.
The new Camera Sequencer allows for easy previz while the Curves can now be stacked in the Graph editor
Camera Sequencing is a new tool in 2011 which will help with the creation of animatics within Maya or even importing EDLs (Edit Display Lists) from applications like Apple’s Final Cut Pro. Somewhat like a non-linear editing system, represented as a sequence of clips along a timeline, each clip has an associated camera showing how the whole will cut together.
Alongside the raft of new features, there are a number of smaller improvements that will aid productivity: modelling sees the introduction of Bezier curves, a Spin Edge tool, and the Scale tool finally scales in object, local, world, and normal space in line with the Move tool.
Asset management has also been greatly improved for 2011, and the Script editor has an Auto Complete feature, and is colour coded making scripts easier to read.
Mac users can enjoy the performance improvements present in 2011 now, as it adds 64-bit support for Mac OS X.
All in all, Maya 2011 is a worthy upgrade that has radically changed the software’s feel and appearance and added enough under the bonnet to satisfy most, with the focus on skinning and animation.
Whilst this release sees no new Nucleus dynamics modules, there has been some great work on fluids and particle integration.
• Great additions to rigging and animation
• Modern, more customisable user interface
• Clever Camera Sequencer
• No major additions to the Nucleus system
• Fur, hair and texture painting need updating
Maya 2011 delivers significant workflow improvements to rigging and animation, and performance boosts, but it is still a relatively expensive piece of kit
Dual Quaternion skinning can be used in place of Maya's original classic linear skinning to help solve issues like the loss of volume in geometry around elbows and knees
The new Camera Sequencer allows for easy previz...
...while the Curves can now be stacked in the Graph editor
By Peter Duncan
Peter started his 3D career in computer games, later retrained at Escape Studios, and is now a freelancing 3D generalist working on television and film projects.
on Tuesday, December 7th, 2010 at 3:28 pm under Applications, Reviews.
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Tags: application, Autodesk, Maya, Maya2011, software