Review: Autodesk's Maya 2017
Staff Writer By: Ricky Grove (gToon)
As a young reporter attending his first computer graphics conference, I found myself at a table with several veteran writers and asked them a question, "What's so special about Maya that makes it the number one 3D application in the world?"
The answer I got, if you boil it down a bit, was twofold : One, Maya has the deepest tool-set for artists and designers and, two, the API for Maya allows companies to completely rework the application to fit any company's tool-set and workflow.
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The answers to this 10-year old question was on my mind as I was starting to write my review of Autodesk's Maya 2017. I'm not going to address the API as I'm not a coder, although please note that Maya 2017 now uses Qt version 5.6.1 and PySide version 2.0; but I do want to talk about how Maya 2017 adds significantly to the already incredibly deep tool-set of Maya 2017 in ways that are unexpected at times and definitely ahead of the curve compared to other 3D applications.
Autodesks's Maya 2017 was launched in July, 2016 at the Siggraph conference. The Maya 2017 help documentation (which is fabulous) lists many categories for new additions including Basics, Modeling, Animation, Rendering, Simulation and Maya Learning. Now we aren't going to address all of the new additions to Maya 2017 as it would make this review much too long, but I am going to focus on 4 areas: rendering, motion graphics, graphic interface (GUI) and the new Time Editor.
Maya 2017 What's New
Focus: Motion Graphics
Focus: Time Editor
The ability to create, mix and edit animation clips in Maya like a non-linear video editor is a major advance for animation editors. You can even edit audio in the Time Editor. I found this new editing system to be an absolute joy to work with in Maya 2017. The possibilities for creative animation and the savings in time are huge.
Note: there are vastly improved tools for animators in Maya 2017 including a new "quick-rig" tool, an enhanced blend-shape deformer and a new shape editor. Check out the animation documentation here.
Focus: Arnold Renderer
Although those used to mental ray might find the transition a bit awkward, Arnold is fairly easy to use and the documentation both at Autodesk and at Solid Angle (creators of Arnold) is excellent. This should help new users make a smooth transition.
Note: additional ease of use improvements include a new content browser in Maya 2017. This new browser is much easier and more powerful than anything previously used to search/find content.
Focus: Simulation and Effects
I was also psyched to see some great improvements in liquid creation with Guided Liquid Simulations (much easier to set up) and physically correct viscosity.
Note: Maya 2017 also has major improvements to its Character Effects including Interactive Groom Splines for Xgen hair and fur creation making this difficult process much, much easier.
Some Final Thoughts on Maya 2017.
For me, the new Time Editor and the addition of Arnold as the default renderer are stand-out features in Maya 2017. Being a video editor myself, I love the idea of using a non-linear approach to animation in Maya 2017. It's such a simple idea, but has a very powerful impact on how users can interact creatively with Maya 2017's animation system. This new feature alone is worth the price of the upgrade or first time purchase.
And it's easy to see why Autodesk chose Arnold for its default renderer. It's superior in practically every way to the older Mental Ray. I liked how easy it was to learn and on my NVIDIA Quadro M5000 card rendering just smoked in Maya 2017.
What has caused some stress in the 3D community is Autodesk's implementation of the Arnold renderer in Maya 2017. To quote the Autodesk Maya 2017 manual, "You can render a single frame or a sequence of frames interactively; however, batch rendering and calling from mayabatch.exe are not available and your images will appear with a watermark. To render images without a watermark, purchase Arnold batch render nodes from Solid Angle"
What this means is that if you want to batch render you have to buy a license from Solid Angle (creators of Arnold). Existing Arnold licences will work as well as other render plug ins, but the fact remains that if you working at a professional level and you need batch rendering you'll have to buy two licenses, one for Maya 2017 and one for Arnold. Not a pleasant prospect for smaller teams whose budget's are tight and who may have become very skilled in using Mental Ray.
Despite this slight stumble, I believe Maya 2017 is one of the most important releases of this powerful, industry leading 3D application. Autodesk has done an amazing job making Maya easier to use and more powerful for the 3D artist. I'm pleased to say that with Maya 2017, Autodesk has set the bar very high for other 3D applications to reach. There is strong competition from applications like Cinema 4D and Houdini, but there is only one Maya and with the new 2017 edition it is still the leading 3D application in the world.
Please take some time and try out the Maya 2017 demo to learn more about this do-it-all 3D application.
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For those artists who might not have the funds for Maya 2017 and are focused on game creation, Autodesk has a nifty Maya LT version which doesn't quite have the firepower of the larger application, still has a lot of functionality and power, plus you get free access to the Autodesk Stingray game engine. You can find out more about Maya LT here.