• Price: $3495 (£2366)

  • Company: Autodesk

  • Pros: 64-bit support Mac for Mac OS X, improved performance and productivity, enhanced character animation, new Camera Sequencer, and updated dynamics.

  • Cons: Comparatively expensive, steep learning curve, needs better 3D painting system.

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

Maya 2011 delivers important performance and workflow improvements including 64-bit support for Mac OS X. With 64-bit support Mac users can access valuable computing resources and take advantage of the performance improvements available in this release. Performance and computing boosts aside, much of what’s new in Maya 2011 focuses on its traditional strengths: character animation and dynamics.

Debuting in Maya 2011 is the Camera Sequencer which manages multiple camera shots in an animation sequence. The Camera Sequencer allows animators to experiment with camera choreography from scratch within Maya or to import an EDL from Final Cut for instance and compose and frame scenes and set up object and camera animations using the EDL data. The Camera Sequences can also import associated video, audio, and timing information. Once camera shots are orchestrated the Camera Sequences produces pre-viz movies of the animation. The new Camera Sequencer is like having a bit of After Effects or Final Cut inside Maya.

Maya is the defacto application for character animation, but even in Maya rigging a character for animation is often a tedious chore. Fortunately, in Maya 2011 rigging is a bit easier with new interactive skin binding which sets up initial skin weights via a weighting manipulator (like a scale or move manipulator). Once done the initial weights can be refined with the paint weighting tools which have also been improved with tools to copy, paste, and move weights, better selection, and improved colour feedback.

However, even with careful weighting deformations in some joints can cause the mesh to twist and lose volume producing what is known as a “candy wrapper” effect. To alleviate this problem Maya 2011 introduces a dual quaternion skinning option (in addition to linear skinning) that attenuates unwanted skinning artefacts.

Another character rigging time saver is integration of the HumanIK solver in Maya 2011. The Human IK solver makes it possible to quickly retarget (transfer) animation data like motion capture information from one character to another, regardless of differences in size, proportions and bone hierarchy between the characters. Once animation data is applied to the target character its animation may be edited via animation layers.

In a never ending effort to produce better fluids simulations in this release Maya Fluid Effects ships with important new options. The new Self Attraction and Repulsion attributes create forces between particles that more faithfully reproduce the natural behaviours of swirling or expanding gases. Geared towards improved computing performance the new Auto Resize option resizes the simulation’s container as needed instead of keeping it at a fixed size.

To improve the realism of clouds, plumes of smoke, and other gas simulations Maya 2011 ships with new additions to the Attributes Editor that control lighting inside the simulation. For example, Shadow Diffusion controls shadow softness and light scattering, Light Type produces internal illumination, and Ambient Lighting manages the intensity, colour and diffusion of ambient light in the simulation. All new lighting controls may be previewed in the scene prior to rendering.

Maya’s revolutionary Nucleus technology nParticles and nCloth have also been updated with new options. For instance, nParticles can now emit fluids (classic particles may also emit fluids). Additional attributes like per-particle rotations, collision ramps, and very cool surface tension and viscosity properties take nParticle simulations to a new level of hyper-realism. Not to be outdone nCloth features a new collide strength attribute that specifies the force of collisions between nCloth and other Nucleus objects. A new Bend solver resolves problems with intersections and flipped polygons and the new Rest Length Scale tool determines the texture and surface properties of nCloth objects.

Important productivity improvements in Maya 2011 include better assets management to more efficiently organize large scenes, create assets from templates, enable asset repurposing, and exchange asset data without file referencing. Also a new display option improves the display of very heavy scenes (many models and textures), and the user interface itself has been updated to the Qt framework shared by other Autodesk applications.