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Maya 2015 - what to expect!

Jahirul Amin gets a sneak peek at the coming release of Maya 2015 and reveals whether it will be worth the wait for Maya users. Find out in this special feature...

Jahirul Amin gets a sneak peek at the coming release of Maya 2015 and reveals whether it will be worth the wait for Maya users. Find out in this special feature...

A new year usually brings with it an updated release of Autodesks Media and Entertainment toolset. I was fortunate enough to be asked to head up to the UK capital (London) to have a sneak peek at some of the latest features that have been implemented into the upcoming version of Maya.

Now, usually, new releases do not inspire or excite me and I generally like to stay a version or two back to avoid teething issues. However, I must say that from what I saw I very much look forward to getting my hands on Maya 2015. Read on to find out more...

"Chris Vienneau, Director of Media and Entertainment, considers it to be one of the best releases of Maya to date"

The main theme throughout the presentation for Maya 2015 was that Autodesk is hitting the R&D; side of things very hard. There is a return to innovation, empowering users with up-to-date and beyond technologies. Autodesk is presenting a more forward-looking approach, and keeping customers in the loop regarding the direction of the product, where possible.

With XGen, which is the technology used by Walt Disney Animation Studios, creating environments,
combing hair or styling fur should be a breeze

The coming iteration of Maya is the first release with this new innovative spirit, and Chris Vienneau, Director of Media and Entertainment, considers it to be one of the best releases of Maya to date.

The 3 overriding areas of improvement and additions to Maya 2015 are in the reworking of basic functions, Viewport 2.0 and effects. Now the effects side of things seems to be where the majority of the R&D; has gone into so far, with Bifröst and XGen being the stand-out features in that area.

Before taking a look at the specifics of those, its worth covering whats been revamped in Maya as a whole as there are a heck of a lot of improvements to make Maya users rejoice...

Firstly, through customer feedback and discussion boards, such as the Small Annoying Things and the Ideas for Maya forum, there has been an overhaul and a reworking of hundreds of legacy issues in Maya.

"Its not just the modeling tools that have been refined: the animation tools have also been improved, creating a more robust, reliable toolkit"

The Modeling Toolkit has been refined to allow for a more streamlined approach to retopoly

Modeling

The modeling side of things in particular has seen a lot of attention. The Modeling Toolkit has been better integrated and should feel less like a plug-in now and more like part of the software. Boolean operations are more stable and you can use history to make changes more successfully to the tool. Operations that you would have handled manually as opposed to using a tool such as Bevel, have all been fixed and should give you the results you are after.

Boolean operations are now more robust and with the use of history, changes can be made more easily

It may not sound like much, but fixes like this and the rest, really should make a difference to workflow. Still on the theme of modeling, I got to check out Dynamo, which is a node-based procedural modeling tool that can also hook into Revit, allowing you to very quickly generate buildings, terrain and vegetation etc. And in a day and age where gamers are asking for ever-increasing worlds, Dynamo should help meet their expectations. Moreover, with Open Subdiv coming into play, there should be plenty to keep the modelers entertained.

UV tiling now supports multiple load methods for MARI, Mudbox and ZBrush

Its not just the modeling tools that have been refined: the animation tools have also been improved, creating a more robust, reliable toolkit. Skinning should also be less time-consuming now with the addition of Geodesic Voxel Binding. This method of binding will get you 80-90% of the way there instantaneously, allowing you to get a better idea of how the mesh will deform quicker than ever before.

Geodesic Voxel Binding should allow you to envelope your characters in a fraction of the time

Coming to UVs next, lets be honest, its never been a barrel of laughs unwrapping characters in Maya. Luckily, the latest iteration of Maya has integrated Polygonal Designs new UV-unfold plug-in and supports UV tiling with multiple load methods, which makes it more compatible with packages such as MARI, Mudbox and ZBrush. You can even view the results of multiple UV tiles through one file, rather than having to blend multiple files together.

With Open Subdiv, modelers can take full advantage of the technology used by companies such as Pixar

Viewport 2.0

Moving on to Viewport 2.0, taking advantage of the GPU, this will now be the default viewer in Maya and is fully equipped to view both particles and paint-effects. Mix this with Open Subdiv and the Ubershader, and you should now be able to get a very clear idea of what the final rendered image or the game asset will look like thanks to Viewport 2.0. The node-based Ubershader also allows you to compile out the code, ready to plug directly into a game engine. And with ShaderFX, the process of shader creation should be a doddle and more artist-friendly.

Substances are multi-output and dynamic. The one file allows you to get diffuse, normal, AO, spec,
etc in one hit, and all are viewable in the Maya viewport

VFX

So now we come to the effects side of things, and I think well have to start with Bifröst. This new fluid simulation tool is the result of 2 to 3 years development work by the original Naiad team and Autodesk.

The high-quality liquid authoring tool has been built from the core of Maya, but the technology itself has been created in a manner that allows it to be portable or even stand-alone. The coming together of Naiad technology and the visual programming language of ICE from Softimage form the user interface for Bifröst. The node-based graph allows both technical and artistic souls to get up and running very fast.

"The simulation solver for Bifröst is also a clever little thing in that it focuses its resources on the complex regions of the simulation rather than the
areas with little going on"

The development team has been focusing on pushing the GPU to allow for faster interaction with the fluids, and overall results demonstrate that it is twice as fast as Naiad. Over 6-million particles can be viewed in Viewport 2.0, you can render direct to mental ray or mesh out the simulation to other render engines, and you can also run multiple solvers in the background.

The introduction of Bifröst should allow for a wider range of dynamic effects than ever before

The simulation solver for Bifröst is also a clever little thing in that it focuses its resources on the complex regions of the simulation rather than the areas with little going on. Thus you can reduce the number of extra simulations needed for a shot.

Lets take an example of a shot with a dolphin leaping out of calm water and jumping back in. In the past 2 simulations would have been combined to create the scene: a background simulation of water and a foreground simulation of a dolphin jumping. With Bifröst you could handle this with one simulation by letting the adaptive nature of Bifröst figure out where it needs to do its magic. I think its safe to say, this will be a very welcome addition to Maya and the further development of Bifröst will be worth keeping an eye out for.

With better support for Ptex in mental ray, you could start waving goodbye to the days of UVs

Sticking with the effects, further improvements have been made to the XGen Arbitary Primitive Generator. Developed by Disney and used on animated films such as Bolt, Tangled and Toy Story 3, the technology was first introduced in the Extension release of Maya 2014. This tool allows for the easy creation of hair, fur, feathers, plant life and more.

Styling and grooming is handled very intuitively and as you are dealing with instanced data, the results are very fast and the interaction is very snappy. In this latest iteration of XGen, the UI has been refined to make it more artist-friendly and it now plugs into Mayas Nucleus solver to create more interesting and elaborate effects.

Just in case you did need to UV unwrap your characters, the new Unfold3D algorithm should make life easier

Lastly, we come to Bullet. This is now the rigid body solver in Maya and the updated UI should make it clearer for the user to figure out what is happening. Bullet is also accelerated by Open CL, allowing the user to create, view and edit simulations faster than ever before.

"Overall, this version looks and feels more complete, its like its been given a huge facelift, but still has the ability to smile"

The overall picture

So, could this be a release to look out for? From what I saw, Id say very much so. This finally feels like a release of Maya that is moving in a more innovative direction. There is more happening in this release than a few additional tools here and there. It seems that a lot more thought has gone into this version, with an emphasis on trying to bring back some of the processes you may have gone to additional packages to perform.

The Unfold3D doing its magic: highlighting areas of compression and stretching

UV unwrapping is a prime example of this, as is creating hair in Maya. Therefore, transferring assets from one package to another will be less frequent, as will having to learn different interfaces or how to navigate in multiple packages. Overall, this version looks and feels more complete, its like its been given a huge facelift, but still has the ability to smile.

Related links

Maya overview
Maya extension
Ideas for Maya forum
Small Annoying Things to Fix in Maya forum
Check out FX Guide's feature on Bifrost
Watch this video on Geodesic Voxel Binding for Production Character Meshes

To see more by Jahirul Amin, check out Beginner's Guide to Character Creation in Maya
and 3ds Max Projects

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