Autodesk Maya 2014 review

The new Grease Pencil tool allows for basic animation markup to be done on an existing scene without affecting it.
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  • Price When Reviewed: £3,200 plus VAT . Upgrade £2,240 plus VAT

  • Pros: Industry leader adds scene assembly to reduce memory overheads; new Node Editor; Grease Pencil is handy for quick markups; new Paint Effects features; integrated modelling feature set.

  • Cons: mental ray is still slow compared to V-Ray; 3D Paint tool is poor compared to Cinema 4D’s BodyPaint; custom HumanIK doesn’t support fingers; liquid simulations getting dated; doesn’t support fractions for Imperial measurements; Illustrator support weak; text modelling tool inflexible; modelling tools are better in both Max and SoftImage.

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With Maya being an industry-leading, monster of a package, each year sees fixes and tweaks that don’t qualify for headline treatment yet, when discovered, have a positive effect on your workflow. That can be a good enough reason to upgrade if those headline-grabbing new features aren’t compelling enough.

So let’s see what 2014 has to offer, starting with the scene assembly tools which allow complex scenes with large memory demands to be more easily managed. It revolves around creating references for individual objects that can then be displayed in lower resolution formats to save memory. The trick comes when using a scene file that contains lots of references. The resulting file can be very small, say 100k, but the data it is referencing is Gigabytes in size. When loading the scene assembly file it can be edited and manipulated immediately, while the actual referenced objects are loaded in the background.

On the creative side there’s the Grease Pencil which allows for mark-up animation. It’s basically so you can sketch in a series of animation key frames for other members of the team to then implement. It’s not an animation feature in itself because while it features onion-skinning for before and after frames, there’s no automatic frame-filling or complex facilities. A choice of pencil, marker and soft pencil and the eraser are all the tools on offer. It also requires a special Grease Pencil layer to be added to start with.

If there’s one area where Maya has lagged behind other 3D apps it’s modelling tools. Most of the tools aren’t quite as good as those in Max or SoftImage, though whether that’s to retain separate identities for each package is open to debate. Compared to Modo 701, Maya looks fairly antiquated with, for example, the new Bridge tool in Modo does an excellent job of filling in gaps in large and complex holes to make a seamless surface. In Maya this is more use connecting elements rather than filling complex gaps.

The main improvement though is in adding a modelling toolkit panel that builds on the Next toolkit from Digital Raster. This increases the speed and accuracy of modelling by integrating the selection and transformation tools into a single window to reduce tool switching. The polygon strips feature in particular is very handy for building geometry over the top of imported hi-res meshes from other sources for a re-topology workflow. There’s also some neat selection processing which can be done on object types so they can be selected and retained in a group selection together, while selecting other types at the same time.

PaintEffects allow numerous types of effects from environment to plants and skies to be painted directly onto a scene and interacted with.

The new Paint Effects feature is the eye candy part of this year’s release. There are hundreds of brush types and these can be used to paint objects and effects directly onto a scene. The fun part is setting the other objects in the scene to interact with them so that they move them out of the way, interact or allow them to follow the geometry of the original objects in the scene.

The Text modelling, unfortunately, hasn’t benefited this year, where it’s usually faster to go to something like CINEMA4D rather than use Maya’s text tool which can also be unpredictable. The sculpt tool as well is fairly limited. On the plus side the DX11Shader works with Viewport 2.0 better and File Path Editor and Uniform Resource Identifier support tools have been added. 

Maya is all about power and the pipeline and for this it’s still top dog in the entertainment industry. The bundles, rather than the standalone version, deliver better value and more overall functionality. This year’s enhancements are welcome additions, tweaks and fixes, rather than must-have killer features, though the reorganised modelling toolkit is very welcome.

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