Maya 4.5 Review for Mac OS X
This new version is as full of wonderful functionality as its predecessors but also brings the product family to OS X; this version has all the features of the 4.5 product on other platforms. If you had a previous release, then this upgrade is a must. If you are new to 3D animation and want the best, here it is!
Installation is a complex process, but well carried-out: literally tens of thousands of files are installed into your Applications folder from one of the two CDs (the other contains documentation, examples and tutorials) which come as part of the package along with two fat, printed user guides. You than have to submit an activation key via the Alias website to be sent (by email or fax/letter) a license key: this is a professional package with an industry-strength feel to it in every way. The install process also provides for the presence on your disk of an earlier version and allows some flexibility over which components are installed.
If you don’t know Maya then you have a treat in store. In a carefully planned work area, which at times resembles the proverbial aeroplane’s flight deck, you design, map, refine, edit and render 3D objects which are then animated according to fully-controllable geometrical and trigonometrical principles.
Surfaces, timings, camera-angles, intersections, paths, tracks, internal (e.g. skeletal) kinematics and lighting, shadows, and — perhaps most fun — deformations/distortions can all be made to control how you want your “scene” to look and behave. If you want to produce cinema-quality performances with anywhere between relatively realistic and completely stylized feels to them, Maya can do it. If you want to dabble and are not interested in professional-level movie effects or have no need to achieve the convincing polish needed by games designers, say, then Maya would probably be overkill. The learning curve, while not necessarily steep (thanks to the product’s designers and its extremely well-conceived presentation), is still a long one.
Maya is to 3D animation what Photoshop is to 2D composition, and the work space is almost as complex. But a different approach is taken to juggling all the many menus needed to achieve the sophisticated and flexible results possible with Maya: menu sets. Instead of Photoshop’s dozen or more tear-off pallettes controlling things, Maya has a main menu set dropdown at the top left which switches in and out sets of menu bar menus for Animation, Modeling, Dynamics and Rendering operations as needed. A simple and highly effective way to navigate and bring into play the appropriate commands. This works very well.
If you know earlier versions of Maya, then several new features will be welcome: multi-processor support; 3D Paint (new smear, blur and clone etc brushes); some enhancements to workflow; Maya Complete now includes Advanced Modeling functionality (previously only part of Maya Unlimited); better snapping; volume lights and Ramp Shader rendering effects; integrated poly power tools and bevel plus; smooth proxy and subdivision surfaces — including subdivision to NURBS conversion. All these terms are well explained in the extremely comprehensive and easy-to-use documentation.
It’s clear not only that many of these key enhancements have come at the request of Maya’s users, but have also been fully integrated into the software, rather than just bolted on. For example, there are improvements to the user interface with respect to such areas as: layouts previously saved, better lasso and rotate tools, selectable colors for wireframes and greater interactive feedback during saving.
The user now has greater control over smoothing and the hierarchical relationships between objects. On the other hand the multiplicity of combinations of tools has led to some tool icons which look pretty similar; be patient and be prepared to spend time really understanding what each one does, how and why.
It would be hard to think of any operation that could not be performed in the course of an average experimenter’s (or even professional animator’s) development cycle. As is often the case with this type of GUI-led program, though, MEL (Maya Embedded Language) is a scripting tool with similarities to C which can on occasions take the animator further than the GUI can. Again, the outstanding documentation which comes with this package provides everything except the most basic starting points.
Maya 4.5 performed faultlessly during testing and evaluation for this review. It is clearly a high quality product going from strength to strength. But make no mistake, it is also a highly complex package with so many features and such rich functionality that it is going to take time to learn. Just to familiarize yourself with the menus and icons will require a good few hours. Note that, although it is possible to use a one or two button mouse with Maya on the Mac, the user wouldn’t be able to use the track or pan tools or navigate effectively. As a result, Alias|Wavefront highly recommends a 3 button mouse.
While you’re at it, you can rest assured that the flexible and comprehensive support apparatus run by Alias|Wavefront and the Maya community is a good one and can almost be guaranteed to get you what you want in terms of ideas, advice or fixes. Further indication of the solid quality of this product.
The instruction manuals and online materials will stand you in good stead for logical, purposeful and usually obvious paths through what the product has to offer. If you are familiar with both OS X by now and perhaps with earlier versions of Maya, then to see that there are over 300 pages of introductory material on what’s new in this version will be a delight.
You will find the interface completely consistent with what you are familiar with in Aqua and will see pretty quickly that this much enhanced — with a price to match — is no toy to dabble with but something special, efficient and well-deserving of the “Best-in-class” tag invariably applied to it. Thoroughly recommended.