The New Maya Sets Sail
The second most significant product Alias|Wavefront has introduced is the supremely cool Artisan. This advanced module of Maya permits artists to sculpt with brushes and tools much easier than the tedious pushing and pulling of CVs (Control Vertices). The tools can be used with a tablet or a mouse. In many ways, this gives greater leverage to an artist's ability to draw or sculpt, not to the true techie. The key tools are the sculpt surfaces, paint select CVs, paint weights and MEL script painting tools. The artist is given a circle with a normal to the surface and paints on the actual surface geometry picking CVs and modifying them. The sculpt surface tool pushes or pulls the surface based on the brush settings. The key distinction is that this is not a texture or displacement map but the actual surface. Paint select CVs are the 3-D equivalent of a lasso pick, like in Adobe's Photoshop. Painting weights permit cluster (CV groups) weights on geometry. An example would be: a cape on a character could be set to a heavy weight on the shoulders and a lighter setting at the edges. A wind force would blow the cape by using softbody dynamics whose animation would transfer to the weighted clusters. The real mind-blower is script painting which allows MEL scripts to make custom results. A piece of geometry can be captured and emitted from the brush, for instance, buildings for a city or variable sized trees.
The current trend in digital studios is to breakdown the work between specialists to finer and finer categories. At ILM modelers are divided between "hard" and "creature," as well as Modeling TDs. Maya's openness to MEL scripting and the C++ API at first impression tends to favor the very technical, in order to get at the higher level functions. Less technical people, however, are being hired by studios because of their innate artistic skills. Maya programmers can set up a character UI that would leave only key framing and posing slider bars to let an animator just animate. This would hide the inevitable complexity of the matrix of possibilities Maya offers. My personal opinion at first was that the TDs had won the battle between science and art. Upon closer inspection and use of Maya, I feel that even an art school type like myself could use MEL scripting. The standard tools offered are more than enough to accomplish complex character animation. Release 1.0 does not offer all the tools in the entire Alias|Wavefront product suite, therefore my cut of PowerAnimator and 3D Studio Max will still be used for advanced modeling or polygonal tools for games. The backwards compatibility with PowerAnimator 8.0 is excellent with only very minor things changing due to the new architecture.
Maya's first iteration is geared for serious character animation. All the advanced cluster technology from PowerAnimator, sculpt tools from Explore and Flexors from Kinemation are combined in Maya. Lattices, sculpt objects and clusters can be layered and re-ordered. Wrinkle tools and bind skin permit more realistic surfacing for animating models. Overlapping Flexors drive deformations by transformations of one or more joints. It is ideal for animating muscles and skin. Stitch surfaces remove gaps between adjacent surfaces and keep them continuous during animation even when they are deformed. The skeleton and inverse kinematics tools are similar to PowerAnimator 8.5 with handy, direct manipulators.