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July 2014
Issue: March 1, 2010

REVIEW: AUTODESK MAYA ENTERTAINMENT CREATION SUITE 2010

By: Oliver Zeller
PRODUCT: Autodesk’s Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2010

WEBSITE: www.autodesk.com

PRICE: $4,995

· Toxik now included
· Mudbox shines with enhancements
· MatchMover’s inclusion is a game changer

Autodesk's rise to dominance in 3D content creation software continues to mirror Adobe's success in 2D graphics. Among their latest releases, the Entertainment Creation Suite bears resemblance to Adobe's Creative Suites, except it doesn’t offer the bountiful collection of tools one receives from Adobe. Only Mudbox and MotionBuilder are added to a base package of the Maya and 3DS Max Entertainment Creation Suites.

Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2010 best epitomizes the notion of a suite, as Maya itself now incorporates Maya Composite, also known as Toxik, and adds to the Maya Live tracking component with MatchMover, formerly from RealViz. Both are standalone programs with the latter also available to 3DS Max users on subscription.

MatchMover's inclusion is an industry game changer. Under RealViz, MatchMover was a highly regarded $4,000 motion tracking package comparable to Boujou, 3D Equalizer, PF Track or SynthEyes. Known for its manual tracking capabilities, combined with an easy-to-use interface, Maya users now have a more cost-effective, high-end solution than even SynthEyes.

Toxik is perhaps the most surprising addition; originally Autodesk's response to node tree compositors Fusion, Shake and Nuke. Now defunct outside of Maya, Toxik's integration with Maya's Render Layer Manager makes it a logical inclusion.

It's a convenient system, not only capable of reading render layers, Mental Ray passes and cameras straight from a Maya file, but also from a separately saved precomp file. Precomp scene anchors and instruction templates simplify updates to a composite even with different scene iterations. This cohesion between Maya and Toxik, makes it a worthwhile addition to the Maya family. Toxik's seamless collaborative capabilities only bolster this workflow.

Maya Unlimited is also no more in 2010. Its plethora of simulation tools, from Fluid Effects to nCloth, are now available in a singular Maya package, along with five additional Mental Ray render nodes and Autodesk's Backburner batch render system.

Otherwise very little has changed since Maya 2009. Considering its haphazardly evolved interface, Maya's clutter is certainly in need of consolidation and streamlining. I'm a little disappointed this aspect did not receive at least some attention.

Likewise with Maya's integration of Mental Ray, the poorest among its Autodesk peers. Ridiculous six- or seven-digit light intensity ranges persist. Layered shaders don't depict the result of connected Mental Ray shaders in hypershade, severely hindering workflow as one may not realize an incorrect link was made in the connection editor until rendertime. More problematic when similar layered shaders are easily accomplished in a fraction of the time using other 3D software.

Maya may offer more power and under-the-hood accessibility than its competitors, but a focus on usability has languished. It's a testament to Maya's original design and some brilliantly conceived interface features that manage to glue it all together.

MUDBOX

Mudbox however doesn't suffer from such interface deficiencies. Rather interface is Mudbox's greatest selling point. This third iteration of Mudbox is also far more efficient in handling complex geometry compared to its first release, bringing it closer to par with its chief 3D sculpting rival ZBrush.
What first caught my attention about Mudbox was how easily the mesh resolution could be altered during the sculpting process. Shift D subdivides the geometry and Page Up or Page Down switches between subdivision levels. It's all extremely intuitive, and with Maya's navigation controls and camera bookmarks, it's also second nature.

Unlike Maya, numerous enhancements grace this latest version, from enhanced interoperability between Photoshop, Maya and 3DS Max to an API and increased undo support. My favorite additions include two new brushes, dry and clone. The former allows painting relative to sculpted details, so for example on a reptile, the tops of scales can be textured while the cracks remain untouched. The clone brush is industry standard and I was pleasantly surprised to see it could sample off reference images, though unfortunately only when images overlay geometry.

MOTIONBUILDER

MotionBuilder completes the suite. Its robust character animation toolset allowed me to easily clean up motion capture data and create a library of motions. I imported an animated 3DS Max biped used on a previsualization project and continued animating with greater ease, especially in mixing footstep-driven animation with other motion. I was then able to merge it back onto a biped in 3DS Max; an impressive unison.

FINAL THOUGHTS

MotionBuilder's standalone pricetag makes the Entertainment Creation Suite an easy recommendation. Granted, I would like to see the suite expanded to accommodate tools that don't just skew toward character artists — Stitcher and ImageModeler perhaps,considering Autodesk's 2008 acquisition of RealViz's numerous technologies. But never before have we seen such an impressive array of visual effects tools in one bundle.

Oliver Zeller is a Partner/Creative Director at NAU in New York. He can be reached at: oz@nau.coop.