Thursday, June 17, 2010

Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2011 Review: Killer Productivity

With the Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2011 you still get Maya, MotionBuilder and Mudbox all under one license along with Maya Composite and Matchmove. While the last release was criticized by some as just being a bundling of software with seemingly slim improvements to the core software, Autodesk did not skimp this time around. The latest release of the 2011 Autodesk products -- Maya, MotionBuilder and Mudbox -- gives us fresh new user interface updates and some killer productivity enhancements. For me, the biggest improvements are the improved workflow between the separate software using the latest update of FBX file format and lots of speed improvements to existing tools along with some big new features.

While I will not go in to every new feature in Maya 2011, let's start with the most visible. Maya got a totally new user interface using the QT platform, allowing for drag-able and dock-able windows, realizable splitters to adjust window size and a darker color scheme. Previously coding a custom user interface with MEL was limited and lacked a fast visual tool to design with, but using QT Designer you can quickly create complex tool Uis and even dock them right in to the main UI.New to Maya 2011 is the Human IK retargeting solver, previously only available in MotionBuilder and as Game engine middle ware. This is great news for animators that are not able to always go to MotionBuilder in order to map or retarget animations between characters. For people new to the tool it can be a bit difficult to learn with the current UI but once you get past the learning curve and use it a few times, then you will be hooked.Animators that need to quickly create new animations from existing motion libraries or to create prototypes game assets from existing move sets, will find it a great help. Because you can control so many of the retarget parameters live and non-destructively it's easy to experiment with the resulting animation until it looks right on the new character, saving lots of hand fixing later.
On the scripting front, the script editor has been improved with syntax highlighting finely and auto-completes recognized commands and object path names if you enable the options. While python was introduced as a scripting option a while back, many users found it lacking and the guys at Luma Pictures created PyMel to improve and speed up using python in Maya. Many technical artists wanted to use PyMel in their pipelines but couldn't do so easily because it was not installed as part of Maya and there were questions about support among other issues. Autodesk wisely took care of this by working closely with the creators of PyMel in order to both improve the PyMel project and to have it installed with Maya as a default.

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