Autodesks latest release Maya2014 is a handy tool for animators to create visual imagery as close to real life as possible. Maya Specialist Chris Jupp gives the lowdown Maya 2014 offers a host of new features for modelling with its brand new modelling toolkit, a new Crease Set Editor, Polygon Reduction Tool improvements, and new […]
Autodesks latest release Maya2014 is a handy tool for animators to create visual imagery as close to real life as possible. Maya Specialist Chris Jupp gives the lowdown
Maya 2014 offers a host of new features for modelling with its brand new modelling toolkit, a new Crease Set Editor, Polygon Reduction Tool improvements, and new Edge Flow tools. The new Grease Pencil allows artists to block-sketch their characters key positions and there have been improvements to skeleton, allowing for automatic centring of joints to your mesh model and joint symmetry. There is a much improved Node Editor and a File Path Editor thrown in with some updates to paint effects and dynamics added for good measure.
If thats not all, the new colour is cyan with a glass twist, which fits in nicely with a slick new design of the Autodesk branding, showing off its extensive suite of products. The dragon has fled.
When you fire up Maya 2014 with your shiny new icon, it starts by giving you an option to display all of the new features highlighted in bright green. Im sure this is a borrowed idea from somewhere but its a quick and simple way to explore whats been added. Plus, there is a new help display panel that pops up at the top of the screen when you press the buttons 4 to 9, showing first timers the different shading modes available. And yes, you can turn it off.
So lets start with the Modelling Toolkit panel, which is located in the top right corner, next to the attribute editor. Contained in the interface is a wide range of polygonal modelling tools based on the NEX toolkit from DigitalRaster. There are a lot of these types of modelling extensions for Maya but this particular toolkit offers an array of powerful, easy-to-use functionality, aimed at enhancing character modelling in particular. Some of the best features of Maya 2014 include Quad Draw, which allows the artist to place dots on a mesh or grid and then fill in these dots with faces, plus do lots of neat editing. Using a feature called Polygon Strips allows you to make strips of quad polygons which stick to the surface of the model you are matching. It does take a bit of getting used to but the offshoot of this is an artist can take a very high-density mesh, say from a 3D scan, and by carefully placing your dots and building your faces, the artist can construct a much lower poly version with correct topology, which you can skin so the surface will deform correctly.
The modelling tool kit
Another favourite are the slider components along the objects surface by actually selecting the mesh you are editing as the actual transform constraint. This is also useful when using the multi-cut tool allowing you to slice holes in your mesh with the cuts always along the surface. Also, I noticed nice little reminder icons, the + or signs next to the mouse when selecting or deselecting components, great for the late nights and tired eyes.
An Edit Edge Flow feature is now available creating a node after edge selection controlling the surface shape when you edit the edge positions. You can increase the Adjust Edge Flow value to way above 1, making for some interesting effects when animated.
Creases can now be controlled by a new crease set editor. You can define and add weights in a compact easy-to-manage interface. Just like a crease in a piece of paper, creases allow the artist to pick edges and cause the surface to look bunched together. I did, however, notice that when I used the Crease tool in 2014, I did not receive any interactive feedback for the Crease Weight. Maybe a bug that needs ironing out?
Staying with modelling, the Polygon Reduction tool has been updated featuring a new algorithm. By taking complex mesh objects and reducing the face count, the algorithm retains the meshs shape with far fewer polygons. There is more control for reducing the number of faces in a mesh allowing the artist to keep existing lines, reducing by vertex count, triangle count or by percentage.
Lets now walk over to Character Animation with new joint tool enhancements. Maya 2014 has introduced a Symmetry Constraint which allows the artist to create a symmetrical copy of the rig as you construct. While you are carefully mapping out a left hand skeleton, the right hand is created at the same time and if you edit the thumb joints on the left thumb, the right is tweaked accordingly.
Also introduced is a Snap to Projected Centre feature, effectively calculating the middle Y value from your characters mesh. Very useful! I mapped out my joints for a hand (which was modelled with the fingers curved downwards) in about 30 seconds. And, if like me, you have a preferred custom rig setup, your placement markers will also snap to the middle of the mesh so you just have to worry about tweaking the X and Z positions.
Grease Pencil is a brand new feature allowing the artist to stretch on a set of transparent canvases which can be added at particular frames. Ghosting is available so that pre- and post-frames can be imaged at a lesser transparency, and Colour and Brush types allow you to add more information and detail, thus mimicking your scene more closely. Its a useful feature for blocking and since the drawings are not in 3D space so to speak, more like the old placing cling-film on the screen technique, it seems like a very fast and easy-to-use addition.
I think the oil paint on canvas and then, adding turpentine and watching it melt down the paper is one of the coolest features in Maya. Anyway, now Paint Effects has collided with a mesh feature added. So, if your character is walking through the Paint Effects grass, the grass will interact with the characters feet. Another addition allows the artist to create more realistic plants in Paint Effects by offering random leaf and flower sizes with the new Leaf Size and Flower Size random attributes. Plus, you are now able to fill an object with Paint Effect strokes using the new Occupation Surface and Occupation Volume feature creating a forest at the click of a button.
Interface: The Node Editor, introduced in the 2012 extension package, has been very much improved in the new edition. It is worth remembering that the 3D Maya software was one of the pioneers of procedural modelling and animation using nodes, attributes and channels. Maya was built ground up with an extensive editable history in mind.
The Node Editor allows the artist to plug attributes from one node into an attribute on another node, thus one drives the other, in a much more intuitive and clearer way as compared to the Hypergraph / Connection Editor combination. You have handy shortcut keys 1 5, which allows information to be expanded and compressed and lots of colour coding. Maya Assets are now represented in the Node Editor, which will let you create connections to and from published attributes, and display details on the connections are highlighted with a mouse hover.
Maya 2014 introduces a new File Path Editor as well. This will list path information for your files, including referenced files, and even displays a resolving status icon, indicating file path issues plus an Auto Resolve function much like in an editing software. Using the re-path window, you can access the replacement string tool, searching and replacing elements selected in the browser window. Effectively, any path issues can be easily corrected. Personally, I think this is about time because paths are such a basic part of 3D but its great to see an editor built in to Maya now.
A final note on interface matters, N-dynamics have been given funky new icons in the Outliner. I especially like the nucleus and talking dynamics, the curvature attribute in the Non Linear Bend Deformer now uses degrees rather than radians for people who were asleep in Maths class. You can also delete N-Hair and not delete the group nodes above the curves, which is great.
Select All is green? I thought that had always been there! Turns out, it now has a short-cut combination and if youre in component selection mode, it will select all your components such as vertices, faces, NURBS control vertices, and so on.
With the ongoing buzz over real-time rendering, ever driven on by the games industry, Viewport 2.0 in Maya 2014 now supports the DirectX 11 rendering engine for Windows 64-bit. Using either DirectX 11 or OpenGL mode, a built-in DirectX11 shader allows the artist to manipulate displacements, translucency and even blurred reflections in real-time, utilising the power of the users GPU. There is greater interoperability between Autodesks Mudbox and Maya so the user can visualise displacement results of the Mudbox model directly in Maya 2014 without having to access software rendering.
A Skip Existing Frames option has been added, which used to be flag in the batch render exe, but I think it was removed. If you have two or three Maya licences and you just want to set a render off on each machine without using a Render Manager because you are using a plug-in thats not supported maybe, this allows each Maya to just render what is not yet completed. This feature gets filed under the “oh thats useful category and its nice to know little things like this are being included and not just stuff for the big studios.
The majority of upgrades and new features in a Maya release tend to be focused on ensuring its position as the number one character animation software in the market place. In my humble opinion, this is, without doubt, true. If you are an ambitious company wishing to produce a 3D animated film or a television series with CGI heroes fighting computer generated monsters, then this is the software package of choice. Not only because of Mayas extensive offering of powerful ever-evolving tools but because the Maya developers understand that each Maya seat has to act like a brain cell that can communicate in a greater network, allowing the flow of data along the complex pipeline of 3D production.
Maya 2014 is a solid release with a host of useful, well-implemented features and upgrades in cyan with a twist of glass.