John Edgar Park takes a look at the new Maya 4 and reveals a solid redux. It might not be all brand new...but it is definitely better.
Alias|Wavefront recently hosted a Maya 4 launch event to showcase the new features and fixes found in the latest version of this 3D animation powerhouse. While not a major feature release -- you won't see anything as radical as Artisan, Paint Effects or Trax were when they launched -- this "stabilization" release has many of the enhancements users have been asking for. It's only been a year since version 3, so what's changed?
First off, the user interface (UI). Nothing has been totally overhauled here, but there are differences. Along the left side of the UI there now resides the Toolbox (formerly named the Minibar), evicted from its former residence next to the Shelf. Just below the Toolbox are the Quick Layout buttons, which allow you to switch your panels and layouts quickly. To be honest, these changes seem to be aimed at making the interface friendlier to novices, rather than at helping the seasoned user (who probably uses marking menus, MEL scripts or hotkeys for this type of operation).
Kleiser-Walczak transformed David Kirk's 2-D oil paintings of Little Miss Spider into a stylized 3-D world. Maya was used for character and scene modeling as well as animation and rendering. Composer and After Effects were used for compositing. © 2001 Callaway & Kirk Company LLC. All rights reserved.
Other additions to the UI include a progress bar when opening files, a lasso selection tool, a "name#.ext" option for file names, the option to open the Attribute Editor in the Channel Box area, and a number of new HUD display options like a frames-per-second counter and Character name. These small details add up to an environment that can be nicely tailored to your particular working style, increasing your speed, efficiency and chances to spend time with friends and family.
Navigation and manipulation of objects has been improved with the inclusion of rotation snapping, object alignment, Edit > Invert Selection and...(drum roll please)...(finally)...ghosting/onion skinning. Now all your 3D Studio Max-using friends will stop picking on you! The way ghosting works is that you can choose a number of frames before or after your current frame for which you will see a copy of the character. These time-travelling iterations of your model have different wireframe colors to distinguish them from the genuine one, and you can set your frame spacing to fine-tune the feedback.
Enhancements to animation are plentiful. The new Jiggle deformer is a great way to add secondary motion such as floppy ears or a wiggling belly. Motion trails give you a trajectory spline for an object's animation (they are informational only; you can't edit them). Perhaps one of the most important animation changes is the new FK/IK switcher. This allows you to animate an arm, say, using both forward and inverse kinematics. Sometimes you just can't get the pose exactly right with IK, but you don't want the tedium of a full FK animation. You may now keyframe the switch between the two systems.
In the modeling arena, sub-division surfaces have continued to evolve. You may now create Sub-D primitives, instead of first making a polygon or NURBS primitive and then converting it. Texture UV commands now work directly on Sub-D objects, as do the paint selection tools. Maya 4 has definitely stepped up the commitment to sub-division surfaces.
On the rendering and shading fronts there are some very cool new features and fixes. If you have ever used Illusion the Magic of Pixels (www.coolfun.com), you will be interested in the new Maya Sprite Wizard. This tool lets you create particle systems using lots of individual 2D sprites (like snowflakes or leaves) that can grow, rotate, decay and spawn other sprites. It is a quick and fun way to generate particle effects with a stylized look. The Hypershader has been overhauled; gone is the visor, in is a new thumbnail browser. The renderer is now much better at keeping bump maps looking good at the terminator of an object and deals with texture correction more effectively when objects like roads run off into the distance. The addition of a Display Render Globals window button to the status line is terrific.
These things probably don't seem like major features, but overall, Alias|Wavefront has listened to user feedback and built a very solid, easier-to-use Maya.
John Edgar Park is a 3D animator, instructor and writer based in Los Angeles. He received his B.A. in Drama from the University of Virginia.