Autodesk Maya 2013 review

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

  • Price When Reviewed: £3,660 (boxed), £3507.50 (download)

  • Pros: Lots of improvements to workflow including file referencing and the new Node editor, animation gets bulked up with HumanIK enhancements, heat map skinning, bullet physics and Trax Clip matching, Maya nHair adds more complex simulations while display quality in Viewport 2.0 hits new highs

  • Cons: Lots of small bugs, some flaws in the modelling tools, cluttered viewport, very steep learning curve, mental ray is awkward to use, some camera issues, lots of minor workflow irritations compared to rival apps, no full screen option

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Autodesk Maya is a huge, sprawling package that offers an entire workflow for the 3D process. However, some elements of it are better than others, with the modelling tools in particular, starting to lag behind, compared to both Autodesk and rival packages. Inserting an edge loop on a curved surface doesn’t automatically flow with the curve like it does in 3ds Max and Softimage for example.

So, any modelling tool improvements in 2013? Well, no actually, they will probably appear in the next version, but there are plenty of new features and improvements to the workflow, starting with better file referencing. This is handled in the Outliner window with a new file reference node showing what’s in the scene and whether items are loaded or unloaded.

References can be previewed to see if they have nested references embedded. These objects can then be reloaded quickly into the scene. You can also edit function curves on referenced objects which wasn’t possible before.

The Node editor now combines the functions of three different editor windows in one place and offers three levels of display

Meanwhile, the Node editor has had a complete overhaul, now combining the windows of HyperGraph, HyperShade and Connection editor into one workflow window. The display quality in the Viewport has really gone up a notch as well with transparent layers giving a much more accurate preview of what the final render will look like.

Speaking of which, if you were hoping that mental ray would be better integrated, bug-fixed and have camera issues sorted out, you’re out of luck. Instead, the effort has gone into the new nHair module which can interact with nCloth and nParticles for really complex simulations.

The mental ray rendering engine is a lot better than the other options but lacks time estimations, handy for complex scenes

Lots of enhancements on the animation side, starting with more accurate binding of geometry to bones so skin is assigned to the right area and the result require less manual tweaking afterwards. There’s a single, open source Bullet Physics engine from AMD that simulates soft and rigid bodies together. It features a continuous 3D collision detection system. The HumanIK system has some tweaks including continuous aligning the rig during manipulation and playback, mapping and retargeting animation on a custom rigged character and more control over Roll Bones.

There’s a new offline file format for transferring animation between characters called ATOM (Animation Transfer Object Model) so some animation you already have can be used with a new character. It supports key frames, layers and constraints. Just select the relevant nodes in the Outliner, save them into a template and export. The neat part is that different parts of the animation, say arms and head for a character, can be set to specific views which can then be filtered when re-imported so you only use that part of the animation you want for the new character.

Finally, if you use Trax Clip matching it’s now much easier to put them together because of the new ways the overlaps can be visualised. The start and ends of clips can be viewed as skeleton wireframes and either matched yourself or have it done automatically.

There’s a lot of new features in Maya 2013, mostly based around Autodesk’s target animation market. The nHair model, heat map skinning and bullet physics are the headliners here. Workflow has been tidied up and the new Node editor pulls a lot of functions into one logical place.

However, modelling is now starting to get left behind, the interface is still clunky, there’s still lots of little areas where other apps work better and mental ray integration hasn’t improved. If you want to work in visual effects though, this release cements Maya’s position as the number one ticket in town.

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