Autodesk recently released Maya 2009, which is marked as the 10th Anniversary Edition. With all the company and management changes, it is hard to believe that Maya has reached its tenth version, but its continuing development is a testament of its benefit. If you look at all the advances that have happened to the software over those 10 years, it is quite remarkable.
The 2009 version, like all the previous new releases, includes an impressive array of new features that make the software more productive than ever. Some of these changes are simple new improvements such as the Preserver UV option that end up being huge time-savers and others are radical new approaches, like the multi-object selection mode that will speed up performance every time you use Maya.
New Modeling and UV Features
On the modeling side, Maya 2009 includes a new global Soft Select mode that lets you smoothly transform multiple selected objects based on a defined falloff (Figure 1). This helps to insure that the components change is gradual up to a maximum point. Soft Select can be used to affect a specific volume, the surface of only the selected object, or globally so all objects within the falloff range are altered. It also allows you to make changes to the entire model without combining all objects into one.
Figure 1: Global Soft Select lets you smoothly make changes across several objects. Image provided courtesy of Autodesk.
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Another new modeling change is the improved symmetrical modeling feature which can be used with any of the transform tools. It also allows you to work on either side of the defined axis. There is an option to preserve the seam to prevent unwanted changes along the central axis.
You can access the new Multi object selection mode from the right click pop-up menu. This mode lets you highlight and select vertices, edges or faces without having to switch between the different modes. You can also move the current selection marquee by dragging with the Alt key held down.
Another key selection feature is the ability to turn on the Camera-based selection option for marquee or drag selection. This option limits the selected components to only those that are visible by the current view. The components on the opposite side of the object are not selected thereby preventing unwanted selections.
Maya has had a great way to work with edge loops for several versions, but the new face loop selection features are new to Maya 2009. With these new features, you can select a single face and double click on another face that is in the same row or column as the selected face and all the faces in between the two faces are selected. Once selected, you can use the arrow keys to pick-walk or select the row or column of faces adjacent to the current selected set of faces.
For closing holes or gaps, the Merge Vertex tool lets you drag from one edge vertex to an opposite edge vertex causing the two to instantly be merged together. This is much quicker than having to select and move the vertices on top of each other before welding. You can choose to merge the vertices to an average location or to the target vertex’s position.
The new Preserve UVs option keeps any applied texture maps in place while moving the vertices around them. This is a huge time-saver allowing you to make modeling tweaks to objects even after the textures and UVs have been worked out.
For working with UVs, the new Smooth UV tool lets you interactively unfold or relax the selected UVs. For example, if you drag with the Unfold feature, the UVs stretch out as you drag with the mouse. The farther you drag, the more aggressive the unfold is. The same works for relaxing UVs. You can also constrain the unfolding or relaxing to a single direction by holding down a control key.
Borrowed from the MotionBuilder playbook, the new Animation Layers feature (Figure 2) lets you work non-destructively with animation results loaded on different layers. This new feature is located as part of the Display and Render layers interface. Once a set of animation layers are set-up, you can blend between different layers to get different results. This allows low-level animation clips to be re-used to create more complex motions.
Figure 2: Animation Layers let you isolate and reuse specific motions. Image provided courtesy of Autodesk.
Individual layers can be weighted more heavily to emphasize a particular motion providing a way for animators to experiment with multiple different results quickly and easily. There is also a ghosting function that you can turn on to see the difference between a blended layer and its original motion.
Animation layers can also be imported and exported to create a library of motions that you can reuse between several different characters.
Maya Muscle is a set of tools for creating realistic, easy-to-work with muscle and skin deformations. Muscles can now be created using NURBS. The Jiggle behavior includes the ability to define the damping direction so that the muscle only jiggles in one direction.
Maya Muscle also includes a way to define how the skin relaxes, so wrinkles can be easily created along specific folds. You can also paint weight maps for defining the stickiness and sliding of the skin. Collisions between the skin objects and collisions with other objects allow deformations to be simulated without any pre-processing.
Overall, the muscle system has been significantly improved to run several times faster than before.
When building a complex model, artists can easily create hundreds of attribute nodes. These nodes can include animation controls, modeling changes, effects, special shaders, etc. When turning over a complex model to a technical director or an animator, time is lost as the artist has to educate the technical director or the animator on all the model’s attributes and controls and if an animator can’t find a specific control, they probably won’t use it.
Maya 2009 includes a handy new feature called Maya Assets. Using this feature, you combine multiple nodes into a single container. There is also a new handy utility called the Asset Editor that you can use to publish and organize specific attributes. That way when the technical director or an animator gets the model, they see an organized list of only those attributes that they need in order to do their job and the artist can get back to building their next model rather than spending time helping the animator find and understand a specific animation control.
Maya Assets appear simplified in the Hypergraph, the Outliner and in the Attribute Editor. The published attributes can also be locked so that only the artist can make changes.
Maya’s render passes have been overhauled to allow you to break down each shot into the necessary elements (Figure 3). This provides excellent control over the pieces that are loaded into a compositing engine.
Figure 3: Render Passes let you output only those rendering details that you need. Image provided courtesy of Autodesk
There are over 50 different render pass options including reflection, refraction, shadows and lighting. Render passes can be associated with a unique render layer and the interface allows selecting multiple different render passes at once.
Maya 2009 also includes render support for Stereoscopic output (Figure 4) including a bundled viewport viewer for displaying rendered results. The Playblast interface can also output previewed scenes in the red and blue anaglyph format that can be viewed in 3D if you have the right 3D glasses or a 3D monitor.
Figure 4: Maya 2009 includes the ability to render scenes as stereoscopic images. Image provided courtesy of Autodesk.
The Interactive Preview Rendering (IPR) window now supports smooth meshes without requiring that they are converted to polygons. Mental ray can also be used in IPR windows and lights are also supported providing immediate feedback to any changes.
The new version of Maya also includes support for mental ray 3.7.
New Maya Unlimited Tools
Included within the Maya Unlimited package is a simulation framework called Nucleus. This framework includes NCloth and now the new NParticles modules. NParticles is a robust particle generation set of features for simulating clouds, dust, and smoke. NParticles can also interact with NCloth.
NParticles can be set to fill a given object. There is also a stickiness property that causes NParticles or NCloth to stick to other surfaces. Cloud emitters can be displayed in real-time using an interactive preview.
The Fluid Effects modules have also been improved to offer smoothing for fluid to poly interactions.
Each new version of Maya makes the complex software easier to use. Maya 2009 adds a whole host of new features along with a diverse set of critical improvements, any one of which would be enough to warrant an upgrade. Collectively, the new and improved features make this the best version yet. We can only hope that the development team does't run out of new ideas and improvements that can be made.
Maya 2009 is available as 32-bit and 64-bit versions for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. You can learn more about Maya 2009 and other Autodesk products as www.autodesk.com.
Kelly L. Murdock is the president of Tulip Multimedia, a design firm specializing in 3d graphics. He’s written extensively on 3d graphics including books on 3ds max, Maya, LightWave and Poser.
by Kelly L. Murdock