Leading the pack in Autodesk's upgrade of its entire line of entertainment-focussed products is Maya 2012. The new release includes single-step workflows to enable users to move 3D data directly between the latest versions of Maya, MotionBuilder, Mudbox and Softimage's Interactive Creative Environment (ICE) for better efficiency.

"Maya continues to drive creative innovation across the film, games and television industries -- from Black Swan to NCIS, new creative standards are being set in productions of all kinds," said Marc Petit, senior vice president at Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “With Maya 2012, we have continued our long-term focus on improving production efficiency as well as real-time creative iteration with enhancements to the Maya viewport, addressing new trends in previsualization, virtual moviemaking and games prototyping.”

The viewport introduced with Autodesk Maya 2011 now offers full-screen effects: motion blur, depth-of-field, and ambient occlusion, enabling artists to evaluate their work in a higher fidelity environment and without needing to render or export to a game engine. In addition, Viewport 2.0 now provides component and manipulator display to support modeling workflows, together with batch rendering capabilities, and a high-performance API (application programming interface).

Users can create and edit node-based representations of render passes directly within Maya 2012, and render the composited output directly through the mental ray renderer. A powerful tool for verifying and refining render passes prior to handing them to the compositor, node-based render passes also enable artists to perform certain simple compositing tasks without leaving Maya.

Edit animation directly in the viewport without the need to switch context to the graph editor, with new editable motion trails that provide a faster and easier method for fine-tuning motion animation. Animators can intuitively edit the position and timing of keyframes in relation to the animated object, while viewing the path of motion over time in 3D space.

First introduced in Maya 2011, the Camera Sequencer is now extended to offer a Sequencer Playlist -- enabling artists to manage their sequences through a configurable spreadsheet view that provides the ability to reorder clips, edit In and Out points, and change camera assignments -- together with support for multi-track audio and the new ability to output multiple shots as a single sequence for easier game cinematic rendering or export to a game engine.

There is a new library of 80 Substances smart textures and filters. Substances are tiny in size, multi-output, customizable, resolution-independent and seamless textures that can be rapidly converted into high-quality bitmaps for rendering or baking purpose. Alternatively, substances can be exported in any 3D game engines via the Substance Air middleware offering (available separately from Allegorithmic).

Some examples of dynamically editable and animatable parameters are: brick distribution, surface aging, and mortar thickness in a brick wall; pupil size, eye color, and extent of veining in an eye texture; and the age, roughness, curb borders, and lane markings of a street texture.

Four new camera rigs from the Craft Director Studio animation tool allow users to create believable, complex camera movements that mimic real-world set-ups. Use a joystick to record real-time input while driving the camera; stabilize turbulent or unnatural camera movements; add shakiness to an existing animated camera; or smoothly transition or instantly cut between different camera views and settings. Also included are four pre-rigged models— two cars, and two airplanes—that can be used to simulate complex vehicle motion, including terrain recognition, for previsualization or in-game cinematics.

Autodesk says animators can create compelling dynamic effects in less time, with new simulation options that incorporate industry-leading technology into Maya. Now artists can use the multi-threaded NVIDIA PhysX engine to create static, dynamic, and kinematic rigid-body simulations directly in the Maya viewport. And highly-realistic shattering simulations with multiple interacting materials are more easily achievable, with the help of the newly included Digital Molecular Matter plug-in from Pixelux Entertainment.

New single-step interoperability allows animators to directly move 3D data between Maya 2012, Autodesk MotionBuilder 2012 software, Autodesk Mudbox 2012 software, and the Interactive Creation Environment (ICE) of Autodesk Softimage 2012 software.

Maya 2012's motion retargeting system can be used witj 70 motion capture samples, which Autodesk says provides a useful starting points for creating previsualizations and developing character animations. Utilizing the Autodesk FBX 2012 asset exchange format, the samples can be shared between applications in the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites.