Alias has announced Maya 6.5, an update to the 3D modelling, animation effects and rendering package that Alias bills as "a performance-driven release".

Maya 6.5 gains optimizations to help improve performance for designers working on games, film special effects, broadcast and digital publishing, the company claims. The software is being made available today to Maya Platinum Membership Program subscribers; it'll be available worldwide beginning in February 2005.

"Maya artists today are doing work that's an order of magnitude more complicated than before," Alias industry marketing manager Chris Ruffo told Digit. "We realized we needed tools the help people manage massive data sets."

Ruffo said that Alias 6.5 can handle data sets 10 to 100 times larger than what Alias users have been accustomed to.

Among the new performance features of Maya 6.5 is "scene segmentation" which allows multiple artists to work on the same scene file. New scene segmentation features in Maya 6.5 include file referencing options like proxies, reference locking and the ability to save changes back to a reference. Existing file referencing features have been updated, as well.

Artists working with large CAD datasets can now import that information into Maya 6.5 using a new STEP translator that works with most major CAD packages. "A lot of graphic designers are starting to use CAD data assets -- designers working with automobiles, for example, and consumer products. With 6.5 we've made it easier to bring in CAD data to do photo-realistic renderings," said Ruffo.

Alias last year acquired MotionBuilder developer Kaydara. Also new to this release is the inclusion of a plug-in that supports the exchange of 3D assets created using Kaydara's FBX file format.

"Orders of magnitude" faster

"There are a lot of significant performance enhancements in this release," said Ruffo. "Redrawing time is faster, as is polygonal modelling. And improvements have been made to mental ray for Maya."

Alias describes polygon and UV texturing operations as "orders of magnitude" faster than before, and Maya 6.5 also gains optimizations to toolsets, the soft modification feature and other changes to help boost performance.

Mental ray for Maya -- a renderer that offers options like global illumination, caustics and ultra-accurate lighting calculations -- now uses a new version 3.4 core that adds new features like rapid scan-line rendering.

Mental ray for Maya 3.4 is being offered by Alias as a stand-alone renderer and should be available to maintenance program customers beginning February 8, 2005. New customers should see mental ray 3.4 by the end of February.

Also new is mental ray for Maya Satellite, a network rendering capability that lets Maya users share the processing power of other CPUs on networked computers.

With the mental ray for Maya Satellite option, Alias says that Maya 6.5 users will see faster rendering results using Interactive Photorealistic Rendering (IPR), improved interactive and batch rendering performance and faster pre-lighting of textures and vertices. Maya Complete users can use two additional CPUs; Maya Unlimited users can use up to eight.

Maya Complete 6.5 remains priced at £1,499. Maya Unlimited costs £4,899. Upgrade pricing is £650 for Maya Complete and £900 for Maya Unlimited. Both packages are available for Mac OS X, Windows, Linux and IRIX platforms.