REVIEW: Autodesk Maya 2012
Did the Best Animation Suite Available Just Get Better?
Though Maya was still lacking motion trails long after just about every other program had them, the new Editable Motion Trails were worth the wait. Now you can easily adjust the trajectory of an animated model.
The Camera Sequencer, which made its debut in Maya 2011, is an important tool for film and video editors and directors. The Camera Sequencer can import EDLs and all associated assets, including audio, to better integrate animation with the video editing process. In this version the Camera Sequencer features a new Shot Playlist for quicker access to camera settings and more efficient camera management. The coolest thing about the updated Camera Sequencer, however, is the Ubercam. The Ubercam can bake data from many scene cameras onto one main camera for those environments, such as game engines, that can't use multiple cameras. The Camera Sequencer is like having mini After Effects or Final Cut app inside Maya.
Maya 2012 has integrated the powerful Craft Animations plug-in, providing animators with two pre-rigged car and airplane proxy models. In general the Craft plug-in makes the difficult task of animating the natural motion of cars or airplanes simpler. For example, to animate a car, the car model is mated with the Craft car rig. The car can then be "driven" via custom inputs, like a joystick, to produce the animation, which is recorded as keys. The bundle also included several Craft camera rigs, such as the SoftMotionCam and ObserverCam.
The popular Craft Animation tools are now part of Maya 2012. Craft Animation provides two car and airplane rigs ready to mate with any model for straightforward, realistic animation.
In Maya 2012 the revamped the Characterization tool vastly improves the character rigging workflow, giving animators an intuitive rigging system that quickly and accurately maps a skeleton to a Human IK rig. A new Character Controls window provides a visual interface for managing IK and FK effectors on control rigs. In an ongoing effort to unify the look, usability, and data exchange between its applications, Autodesk has made the Human IK system in Maya consistent with the one found in Motionbuilder.
The new Characterization tool and rigging improvements mean faster character rigging all around. The character rigging workflow and UI now looks and acts exactly like the one inside Motionbuilder, making it seamless to move between the two.
Maya's core Nucleus Unified Simulation Network, introduced in Maya 8.5 with the nCloth module, has evolved into one of the best dynamics simulation packages available. Many of the most recent Nucleus improvements to Nucleus are under the hood in Maya 2012, including multi-threading for better performance. Nonetheless, the nDynamics Fluid Effects module features new attributes like Liquid Min Density and Tension Force for producing physically accurate and realistic fluid simulations. The evolving nCloth solvers have also been updated with new Rigidity and Deform Resistance attributes to simulate rigid objects. Nucleus is easy to use but to get the most out the solvers, you're best advised to run Maya on a hefty workstation.
The new Effects Assets presets are a bonus for non-animators because they provide a convenient starting point from which to create a myriad of realistic simulations fast. So for the videographer looking to quickly add realistic dynamics like fire, smoke or explosions, Maya's new customizable Effects Assets presets are perfect. Several other plug-ins help with simulations. Also included with Maya 2012 is a limited version of the Pixelux Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) plug-in for creating realistic deformation, shatter and destruction simulations. Also, the inclusion of nVidia's PhysX plug-in improves simulation performance by harnessing the computing horsepower of available GPUs on your system.
The new Effects Assets simulation presets provide customizable dynamics starting points, giving just about anyone, even non-animators, an easy way to quickly create convincing fire, smoke and fluid simulations.
Not everything in this new upgrade is awe-inspiring. Modeling in Maya, to say the least, is a bit underwhelming. While it is possible to model anything in Maya, it's the workflow that makes it below par. Sibling application 3ds Max has been brought up to date with modern subdivision surfaces and retopology workflows as part of the Excalibur (XBR) project. There doesn't seem to be anything related to this on the horizon for Maya.
The updates to the Edit Mesh workflow are impressive, however. Edit Mesh now features a new Interactive Split tool and additional tools for splitting and detaching polygons with projected curves, something you used to only be able to do with NURBS. This release also features one-step interoperability with Mudbox; you can now export a Maya scene to Mudbox for detailed sculpting. It will be updated automatically in Maya.
Maya 2012 ships with Substance Smart Textures from Allegorithmic. Substance is a library of 80 parametric, resolution-independent textures that can procedurally recreate almost any real world or other worldly material. The Substance node, found in the Hypershade 2D texture section, can be loaded with any Substance texture. Once the Substance node settings are complete, the app automatically builds all necessary maps like bump, displacement, specularity and diffuse for output.
Maya 2012 and 3ds Max 2011 both currently offer native support vector displacement maps. In Maya, vector displacement can applied with Maya or mental ray shaders. Unlike standard grayscale displacement maps, vector displacement can displace a surface in all three axes, for better representation of complex sculpted surfaces within Maya. Maya's support of Per-Face Texturing, or Ptex, the new texturing method from Disney Studios, is unique. Max doesn't support Ptex yet.
Rendering a complex scene only to find out that something is not quite right and having to re-render is a time-consuming problem. With Maya 2012's Viewport 2.0, however, it is possible to preview Maya and mental ray shaders, render effects like ambient occlusion, motion blur, and depth of field with antialiasing, and get a real-time preview of the pre-rendered scene or animation in the viewport. This lets artists focus on the composition of the scene and work out any problems prior to rendering. Viewport 2.0 is also available as a hardware render option in the Render Settings window. (3ds Max 2012 features Nitrous, a viewport preview system similar to Viewpoint 2.0.)
Support for iRay, already available in 3ds Max 2012, is noticeably missing in Maya 2012. Maya users will have to make do with node-based render passes in Hypershade, the main rendering improvement in this release. It is possible to create composting graphs via render passes to directly visualize the composite render in the Render View. While not as robust as Toxic this workflow lets users easily create, preview and batch-render passes.
But despite these missing pieces, Maya 2012 is a leap forward in character animation and dynamics and a must for serious animators of every kind.