Top 10 plugins for Maya

Studio Head Paul Hatton explores some of the not-to-be-missed plugins that are available for Maya – check out his top 10!

Studio Head Paul Hatton explores some of the not-to-be-missed plugins that are available for Maya – check out his top 10!

Plugins such as Golaem Crowd are incredible tools that will make your life as a 3D artist easier. You'll also be able to deliver better results than if you just relied on the native Maya tools. © Golaem Crowd

Maya is a comprehensive piece of simulation and animation software. It sets itself apart from 3ds Max in areas of animation, lighting and VFX. Despite the extensive nature of the software there is always room for improvement and that is where bespoke plugins come to the fore. Maya has a strong community of developers that have set about making our workflows easier by putting easy to use tools in our hands. In this article we're going to take a quick whistle-stop tour of 10 of the plugins which you should take a look at.

Maya Carbon Scatter

Real-world environments are made easy with Carbon Scatter. It can handle millions of plants, trees, stones and other objects allowing you to create incredibly varied and beautiful scenes. They also have a shop which contacts a huge variety of plants and trees for an easy drag and drop solution.

Scatter objects naturally with this simple to use plugin

Maya HDR Light Studio

This is not technically a plugin but I thought it was worth a mention all the same! It's a brilliant solution to lighting your model as it lets you set up custom designed HDR images that can then be used in any renderer. Its interface is visually led making it very intuitive to work with.

Create custom lighting setups that bring your lighting and reflections to life

Maya Phoenix FD

This plugin is an absolute steal from Chaos Group. It allows Maya users to create a variety of simulations including fire, water and smoke. It is quick, versatile and incredibly straight-forward to get quickly realistic results. Check out the trial and you'll never look back.

Fluid simulations can be achieved inside of Maya but not as simply as with Phoenix


Another major player in the fluid simulation market is Realflow. If you're used to using Maxwell then Realflow will sit nicely in your workflow. Realflow also includes GPU acceleration and impressive simulation solvers that enable users to create what they need with impressive speed.

Finding a reliable fluids simulator is vital if you need it to deliver on a tight deadline

Maya MiArmy

This one is a little random although I hope some of you find it a helpful recommendation! It's called MiArmy and it is a crowd simulation plugin. It allows for AI and behavioural led animation and creates crowds that interact in a believable manner.

Crowd simulation is made easy with MiArmy

Golaem Crowd

Another plugin for crowd simulation purposes is Golaem Crowd. What I love about this plugin is that it has a diverse array of free characters and motions that can be utilised in your scenes. It also has a physical simulation feature which can achieve some pretty cool results.

Crowd simulators have come on leaps and bounds in recent years and Golaem is one such example

Maya Keyshot

KeyShot is a real-time ray tracing solution and as of 2016 it is now compatible with Maya as a direct plugin. This is good news for Maya users. KeyShot's speedy and efficient workflow makes it a perfect rendering solution for both product visualisations and interior renders.

Keyshot is definitely an emerging entity and well worth checking out their trial software


Pixar have released their famous RenderMan software for Maya. RenderMan will helpfully work with all your Maya geometry, materials and lights and so on, and translate them for use in the rendering process. It is stable and quick and can be utilised right from within the Maya user interface.

There are now more renderers than you can shake a stick at but RenderMan is well worth a look


This plugin has been utilised by an incredible variety of clients in the games and VFX industries. Its track record speaks for itself. It is compatible with all the major renderers and can be relied on for creating impressive results. It is largely texture map driven enabling users to increase realism.

Shave has a very impressive list of clients that have utilised this technology


This is a quick Voronoi based solution to shattering and fracturing geometry. When doing this kind of work you want a stable solution and Pulldownit providers that. You can shatter geometry accurately based on materials such as stone and glass. The fracturing is also captured in key frames so is perfect for animation.

Shatter and fracture geometry with ease with Pulldownit

Keep up-to-date with the latest plugins

Many of the plugins I have selected for this article have stood the test of time. They are plugins which are utilised in industry pipelines, making them reliable and trustworthy solutions. I would highly recommend that you keep an eye on Maya forums to keep ahead of the game in terms of developers releasing plugins to make your life easier. Anything that can save you time, will save you money and therefore makes it a no-brainer for investment. There are plenty of paid plugins out there but it's important to not discount free ones as they often do an excellent job.

Related links

Take a look at Maya's overview
Wiki's list of Maya plugins
Autodesk's app store
Simply Maya – a resource website

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