Review: Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suite Ultimate 2014
As usual I am not going to cover every aspect of the update. That is what the release notes are for. Instead I want to call out a few features that are obvious and several little things that are a bigger deal than they get credit for.
The main big features this year are the Scene Assembly Tools for managing huge files with lots of assets. While this is less important for character artists for anyone dealing with final assembly, large environments it is a nice improvement over having to manage large layered references by hand. This is a large update and feature set so make sure you check out the videos and documentation on how to best use it for your workflow.
Animators get one of the most fun and functional updates with the new Grease Pencil tool. Having used several other scripts to hack this feature, I am very happy to have a frame by frame sketch tool built in for both animation planning, creating notes and giving feedback as well as a quick sketch area to work on rigging problems.
A quick side for a Must have plugin -
For every TD or animator or modeler that has to do skinning, this plug in takes the idea of image editor layers and mixes it with really great skin editing algorithms and sticks it in Maya but the best part is you can at any time, bake down all the skinning layers to a regular skincluster and it doesn't leave any extra nodes. Must have for Maya 2014 or any other past version.
News flash! Maya skinning updated to actually work as expected
While we are on skinning, there was a small almost hidden update to the skin cluster and skinning tools that is making a huge difference for me in painting skinweights. Weight Distribution. We will switch it to Neighbors as our default.
This update works much like the weight hammer tool, allowing for skinning to be much more predictable and stable when using the smooth brush and scale
Note this also works for the weights when you edit them with the component editor also. It only works on polygon meshes but that is a small price to pay for this fix as most people are working with polys for the majority of character work.
From the help: Weight Distribution
“Calculates new weights based on the influences affecting the surrounding vertices. This prevents the vertex from getting weights to every joint in the skeleton, and gives it similar weights to the surrounding vertices.”
I could be done with reasons to upgrade to Maya 2014 right now. This is such a big improvement to an often painful process, but that wouldn't be a great review.
Here is my short list of other reasons to update that you can check out more in the docs.
- NEX modeling tools integrated in to Maya. I am putting this as just a note since many people had the plugin before and there has been lots of coverage. I find that there are still some quirks on integration with the rest of Maya. If you aren't modeling they don't work as smoothly with existing tools and workflows for selection when doing things like skinning and other work. They are a much needed improvement to the Maya modeling system and I look forward to seeing if Autodesk makes improvements or lets it go stale.
- Improved selection. The actions that are performed over and over again matter most to me and it is one area that was a surprise fix. Features like “select all” now are context sensitive. If you have a vertex selected and do select all, all the vertices will select instead of all the objects in the scene like years past.
Also an added right click menu item named “select similar” makes a huge improvement for quickly trying to say grab all the joints or all the constraints or simply find other like items in the scene. A small detail that makes big wins for speeding up my work.
- Larger files. Maya is no longer limited by 2gig file size! Scenes haven't gotten smaller and it is nice to see the Maya team addressing this in a simple way. They let you save them bigger now.
- Speeding up the Node Editor with lots of improvements and enhancements was a great area to focus on. I had a hard time finding a reason to stay in the new node editor last year, opting for the hypershade or hypergraph but with all the care taken to improve the clunky feel of the editor it is now my default editor for working on rigs.
- Still not a great spread sheet tool, the new Attribute Filter field lets you quickly filter attributes and is a very welcome improvement that will help for now.
- TRAX- they are still trying to keep this editor alive by actually improving it with more and more features borrowed from MotionBuilder including better support for clip manipulation. There are more improvements for using HIK with it but until they remove the character set requirements, Trax is not a tool I will use often, sticking with Animation Layers instated.
- ATOM – While I was initially excited about the ATOM format after testing and trying to use it over the last year, I have to put it on the do not use list for working with heavy scenes. For working with Mocap data, FBX is still the way to go. ATOM creates files that are too large and still don't support HIK to load animation correctly. With shorter keyframe work it might do just fine for you.
- Heat Map skinning is great when it works but it still fails on most meshes and even after trying several times to clean up the mesh and remove errors, it still errors out. There is also a bug that if the model has been scaled and not had its transforms frozen it will also error falsely saying there is a geometry issue. Autodesk needs to address the detail of the errors and also add in an option to run the cleanup mesh select code to find the areas that are giving it trouble.
- Node editor still doesn't support assets/containers making me feel like they have forgotten about assets already as they move on to scene assembly tools.
- Joint orient tools are still a broken mess. Harsh I know but Autodesk has once more spent time and effort on improvement and features to the skeleton drawing system and editing of joints without fixing a core feature that makes any of the other updates useable - Joint orients! The short version of why this is a problem is that their built in orient code only works correctly when a skeleton is aligned to an existing plane, side view, top view etc.. but no one models or rigs in an exact flat plane, characters are built in A poses or adjusted T poses and so until that is fixed I am can't even bother talking about the new joint tools.
- Tip: don't use the new auto snap to project center tool with joints as shown in demos unless you want to have skeletons that can't have IK applied without jumping among other issues related to bad joint orients.