One of the limitations of Maya’s IK animation has always been it’s limited influence on a body. Maya’s IK solvers have only worked up to the nearest root joint. Pull a finger and the arm will move, but only as far as the nearest shoulder joint. Alias has integrated the Full-Body IK solver from Kaydara’s Motionbuilder into Maya 7. (Alias acquired Kaydara several months ago.) As a first implementation, the Full Body IK is pretty impressive. Setting up a character’s skeleton works best by using a standard naming convention for joints – these map automatically to the solver. You can then animate the character to move very naturally with a minimum of effort. For example, by pulling on its hand, you can animate a character reaching up as if grabbing something from a top shelf, and the hips, shoulders, and back will all rotate and bend appropriately. With Maya’s other solvers, you would have to keyframe separately the motion of the hips, shoulders, arms and neck to avoid the character getting bent into strange, stiff looking poses. (While the new solver works really well in general, we did encounter a bug that caused a character’s parts to scale randomly when the joints were animated, but also of an associated fix, which was to disconnect the character’s scale nodes from the solver.)
Working as a special effects and dynamics TD much of the time, my expectations are probably more extreme than most, but I was somewhat disappointed with the changes to dynamics in Maya 7. On one hand, Maya has an amazing feature set for rigging and controlling dynamic effects; on the other, animators are unreasonably handicapped by some of its ongoing limitations. One that comes to mind in particular is that while Maya 7 changes the way you can script particles – by adding per-object/per-particle goal weights (finally!) the “conserve” value that determines how much a particle’s dynamics compete with its momentum, is still controllable only on across an entire particle field. It’s like giving someone the keys to the car but leaving the tank empty. Why Alias won’t just make every attribute of a particle controllable on a per-particle basis continues to frustrate me, and if I could have just one particle of complaint peel off and make a beeline for Alias’ product management team, this would be it. To Alias’ credit, there are some more pleasing changes in the Dynamics realm. A new falloff feature makes it dramatically easier to create useful fluids simulations. It’s now easy to create a fluid system that doesn’t run into the edges of the fluid container – a persistent problem in previous versions. And the hair, fur and cloth systems all have lots of nice changes that make it easier to create realistic simulations. (Fluids, Hair, Fur and Cloth are all features exclusive to Maya Unlimited.)
Maya 7 may be the last version you ever see from “Alias,” but it it’s a far better product than it was a year ago. We can only hope that the Autodesk merger will result in a faster better Maya in the future.
Sean Wagstaff is a 3D gun for hire, currently working out of his home in Palo Alto, California (near San Francisco). His credits include the films “Hellboy,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” and “Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow,” as well as the recent game “Psychonauts.”
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alias Maya 7
Alias also added some big change to file referencing. It’s now possible to load a file with references, but defer the loading of the referenced file until it’s called for. This is great for working in heavy scenes when you want minimum of stuff on screen. You can also create proxy references – low-res dummy objects that stand in for high-res reference objects. A related change is that it’s now possible to swap a character’s skin after it has been rigged, and there are smart tools for transferring the weighting. (This is still not possible with an object that has blend shapes.)
There are no major new modeling features – unless you include beveled type -- but as with the interface, Maya’s modelers will enjoy lots of small improvements in version 7. It’s now a simple matter to create 3D objects from Illustrator documents. And taking a cue from Luxology Modo, poly modelers can now select edge loops and rings (continuous strips of edges and faces) and quickly make modifications to selections, such as splitting along edge rings. Also, you can now step through sequences of points, faces and curves using the keyboard arrow keys.
It’s also much easier to convert one type of selection to other types, for example, you can select a single edge, then with one command, convert the selection to all of the edges radiating outward in a continuous line. New primitive types include pyramids, pipes, helixes and miscellaneous platonic solids – even the unclassifiable, but apparently in-demand, soccer ball. One change that was long in coming, but great to finally have, is the capability to sculpt subdivision surfaces with Maya’s ubiquitous Artisan pressure-sensitive interface (a Wacom tablet is highly recommended). One capability I’d like to see in Maya that still isn’t there, however, is fast refinement of detailed areas in sub-d surfaces, a la, ZBrush. Adding levels of detail in Maya sub-d surfaces still imposes lots of performance overhead.
|UV mapping — the association of points on a 3D surface to points on a 2D texture map — is the bane of polygonal and Sub-d modelers (Nurbs proponents have their own issues). Maya 7 has at least eased the burden by regrouping the UV mapping menus into one logical menu, and coming up with a functional “Unfold UVs” method, that takes a complex surface, such as a human head, and unwraps it into a usable UV layout that can then be tweaked with the usual UV tools. This can save hours of cutting and stitching UVs, and will spare many artists the embarrassment of having stray bits of eyeball mapped to the ends of their character’s noses. In my experience, the Unfold UVs tool did a remarkably good job of giving me nice evenly-spaced and fairly square UVs from shapes such as human heads. Maya’s Automatic Mapping method — best suited to UV mapping of flat-sided objects — is also greatly improved: You can now manipulate the mapping planes used by Maya like other geometric shapes to change the angle or alignment of projections on the various planes of a surface.|