Advertisement
Current Issue
July 2014
Issue: January 1, 2008

REVIEW: AUTODESK MAYA 2008 UNLIMITED

By: Dariush Derakhshani

PRODUCT: Autodesk Maya 2008

WEBSITE: www.autodesk.com

PRICE: Maya Complete is $1,999 or $2,999 (for network). Maya Unlimited is $6,999 or $8,399 (for network). Upgrades are $899 for Maya Complete and $1,249 for Maya Unlimited.

- improved Mental Ray rendering

enhanced viewport feedback


Almost 10 years, a couple of owners, an Oscar, and a huge user base later, Maya 2008 has arrived. It's been a long road from the Maya 1 beta — my first experience with Maya as I transitioned from PowerAnimator — and in that time the software has seen incredible advancements.

This release from Autodesk provides several key improvements over Maya in its release 8 form, including enhancement in speed and rendering output through Mental Ray. You won't find shiny new features to glom onto and show off to your interns (like when Fluids or nCloth came out), but that's fine by me. I'd rather have little issues addressed and improved, which is what they did.

RENDERING

The best improvements I've seen since Maya 8 inclusive have been to Mental Ray output, especially using Final Gather. Rendering with FG seems to be smoother and less noisy than in previous versions (namely before release 8). These improvements are mostly due to using Mental Ray Core 3.6.

As Maya software rendering is sidelined more in favor of Mental Ray, I wonder how long it will take Autodesk to provide unlimited free rendering nodes for Mental Ray, as it does with Maya software rendering. I think Autodesk simply needs to, and soon. Maya's reputation, while strong, does take a hit with its rendering capabilities among users, and while Mental Ray has gone a long way to mend that perception, Maya is still behind the curve of 3DS Max, which has Mental Ray support as well as an impressive list of other renderers that work well with the 3D app.

WHAT ELSE?

Among the other improvements in Maya 2008 are better selection management (hooray for XRay selection highlighting in the viewport) and editing of polygon components to help increase modeling workflow efficiency. Various polygon modeling workflow improvements, especially for smoothed meshes, are helpful for organic modelers. Add that to the ability to have multiple bind poses for character skinning. Now, character TDs can work much better when skinning a character by using new tools for editing the skeleton of an already bound character. This is all very welcome and adds to the strong value of Maya as an overall animation package, especially for characters.

A host of other under-the-hood improvements and additions help make Maya more game friendly, with enhanced API hooks and support for DirectX HLSL shaders, allowing artists to preview shaders in Maya and expect the same output in the game. Furthermore, viewport feedback and rendering has been improved as well, starting with Maya 8 and continuing in 2008. Maya 8's High Quality Rendering support for viewport shading has been updated to allow for better feedback for lighters and texture artists. For one, you can preview layered shaders, multiple UV sets, and even negative lights.

Being able to better preview your work in the viewport is a huge asset to one's workflow, undeniably. Viewport feedback, in my benchmarking, has seen a slight increase in efficiency from Maya 8 in shaded and textured modes. However I saw a noticeable decrease in playback speed in High Quality Rendering mode in the viewport. I chalk this up to the increased quality of the shading, though I did not expect that much slower speed. That's not bothersome though; High Quality Rendering in your viewport is for getting your textures looking right on single frames usually. Just the same, a brass ring for Maya would be complete WYSIWYG viewports.

Dynamics fans will see some improvements to Hair, Fluids and nCloth, including new presets, and a membership editing tool for nConstraints (woo!). The sample files and presets are a huge time saver and make nCloth more easily useable out of the box. It's still hard getting dynamics to work exactly the way you need to though.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There are way too many little tweaks to Maya to cover them all, and I think that's just the key with this release. When you aggregate all of the improvements together, Maya 2008 is a solid release. By making so many under-the-hood tweaks and developments to the inner workings of Maya, the software becomes a more functional tool. You don't need huge bells and whistles with every release, and I doubt we should expect that, judging from the yearly integer release rotation of the past few years and the new naming scheme.

Overall, I have been very happy with the progress of Maya over the years for my work. I do wish a seat of Maya would ship with more, if not unlimited Mental Ray nodes to keep its pricing more attractive to studios (especially for boutiques) to avoid standalone Mental Ray nodes and the pipeline issues that can go with it. Getting Maya to be more competitive with the simpler, turnkey rendering abilities of NewTek LightWave, for example, should be an approaching priority for Autodesk, if it isn't already.

It may be a tough choice for non-support contract holders to make the leap to 2008 from Maya 8.5. But if you are using Maya pre-release 8, then you just have to. There was a large jump from Maya 7 to 8 alone, so if you haven't yet, I recommend you get out of release 7 and into Maya 2008.

Dariush Derakhshani is an Animator at Radium in Santa Monica, CA. He can be reached at: dariush@koosh3d.com.