• Price: £3,050; upgrade £1,525

  • Company: Autodesk

  • Pros: Unsurpassed character animation; top-notch dynamics simulation; great camera management tools; excellent interoperability with Motionbuilder, SoftImage, and Mudbox

  • Cons: Modelling tools need updating; Mac version has less features than Windows version

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

The bulk of the development in this release focuses around Maya’s character animation and dynamics toolsets. However, there are key improvements in other areas such as interoperability and modelling.

Modelling improvements seem modest when compared to enhancements in other toolsets. Nonetheless, this release features a new Interactive Split tool, plus new tools for splitting and detaching polygons with projected curves, previously only possible with NURBS. One-click interoperability with Mudbox makes it easy to export data for sculpting in Mudbox and then quickly update the model in Maya.

Critical thinking

Maya 2012 ships with critical animation improvements. Finally available are Editable Motion Trails. These project a visual representation of an object’s trajectory in the scene along with superimposed keys. Motion trails allow animators to interactively adjust the shape of an object’s trajectory as well as refining timing and weighting (without the graph editor), while previewing in real time.

Effects Assets allow animators to create convincing simulations like fire, smoke, and fluids fast by providing customisable dynamics presets

The Camera Sequencer sports important updates too. The best thing about the 2012 Camera Sequencer is the new Ubercam. After orchestrating multiple camera shots, the Ubercam can bake data of many cameras onto one camera for environments (like game engines) that can’t use multiple cameras. Also new is the Shot Playlist, which makes managing cameras easier by providing quick access to camera parameters.

The popular Craft Animations plug-in is now part of Maya and provides users with two pre-rigged car and aeroplane models to easily produce realistic animation. Animation itself can be created via custom inputs (like a joystick) and the resulting keys recorded. Also available are Craft camera rigs such as the SoftMotionCam and ObserverCam.

The Human IK system has been made consistent with Autodesk applications like Motionbuilder, so that not only is the interface the same but data exchange is seamless. New to the rigging workflow is the Characterization tool. This gives animators an intuitive system that provides feedback so they can quickly and accurately map a skeleton to a Human IK rig. And the new Character Controls window provides a visual interface for managing IK and FK effectors on control rigs.

Recreate the real world

Creating dynamics simulations like fire, smoke, explosions, and fluids is easier with the new Effects Assets presets. These provide a convenient starting point to create a multitude of realistic simulations fast.

Continued development of Nucleus Unified Simulation Network (nDynamics, nParicles, and nCloth) delivers better performance through multi-threading and improved liquid simulation, with new attributes like Liquid Min Density and Tension Force among many other enhancements. Also included with Maya is a limited version of the Pixelux Digital Molecular Matter (DMM) plug-in. DMM creates realistic deformation, shatter, and destruction simulations.

Rendering improvements include the ability to create render pass nodes in Hypershade and preview outputs in the Render View. Viewport 2.0 previews many Maya shaders, render effects, manipulators, tools and shapes, providing a real-time preview of the rendered scene in the viewport. Maya is currently one of the few applications that supports vector displacements and Ptex. Maya 2012 ships with Substance Smart textures, a library of dozens of parametric resolution-independent textures that can recreate almost any real-world texture.

Maya 2012 is a leap forward in character animation and dynamics. Rigging characters is faster, though not necessarily easier, but Effects Assets truly simplify production of common dynamics. Continued development of the Nucleus Unified Simulation Network provides advanced tools for custom hyper-realistic simulations. Maya 2012 is a must-have for serious animators.