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Maya a Force on Revenge of the Sith

Alias revealed that its Maya software was the chief 3D animation technology and the only non-proprietary animation solution used to realize key 3D characters and scenes in the record-breaking STAR WARS: EPISODE III REVENGE OF THE SITH.

Throughout the film's production, Maya acted as Industrial Light & Magic's main animation and previs software, allowing the company's stable of animators to create the memorable performances of such fully digital characters as Yoda and the villainous commander of the droid army, General Grievous. In addition, such key scenes as the opening space battle were also achieved with the power the award-winning Maya.

With 90 minutes of CG animation and 2,151 vfx shots, EPISODE III required such careful crafting where digital characters interact with real actors. "One of ILM's big breakthroughs with this movie," said ILM cto Cliff Plumer, "is the level to which the digital characters engage the audience. The way they emote and interact with the live-action actors, often in epic battle scenes, is completely convincing."

Maya has been used as a 3D software and animation package at ILM for many years; however, with this latest production it was elevated to the role of primary animation package.

"After the production of STAR WARS: EPISODE II ATTACK OF THE CLONES, we revamped our production pipeline in order to incorporate Maya as our main animation technology," added Plumer. "The time we invested in integrating the software with our proprietary tools soon paid off. Our animators found they could achieve their desired results very quickly with Maya: those results have allowed us to take digital characters, such as Yoda, to new heights."

Along with Yoda, who appears in 173 shots in the film, the other primary character that is all-CG is the part-droid, part-alien General Grievous. Like Yoda, Grievous, who appears in 84 shots, has to interact with real actors. Because Grievous' alien visage is predominantly sheltered behind a droid mask, he did not require the high levels of detailed facial animation seen in Yoda. However, Grievous has many unique, visually impressive and sometimes "creepy" Maya-driven moves.

Moreover, many of the key actors including Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine) and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) had their own Maya-powered stunt doubles.

"In our films, the animated characters have to hold their own with the live-action characters," stated animation director Rob Coleman. The key to making this work, he believes, is for the animator to move beyond his or her traditional role. "What I learned over the last couple of years, while working on Yoda, was that we animators are actually actors."

ILM made a significant change to its animation pipeline when it adopted Maya. "It was a little scary, the idea of moving over to a whole new software," suggested veteran ILM animator Shawn Kelly, "but Maya is actually much easier to use than what we were using in the past. It's so easy and so intuitive I've never wanted to go back." During the peak production period for EPISODE III, Kelly was one of more than 45 animators using Maya.

Besides ease-of-use, another factor that influenced ILM to make the move to Maya was the software's customizability. "We have a lot of animators here at ILM, most of whom have a specialty," added Kelly. "Using MEL [Maya Embedded Language] to customize Maya's user interface, our technical directors were able to very quickly streamline our tasks. This let me concentrate on the performance of my characters, without having to think about the tools I was using."

As a leading innovator of 3D graphics technology, Alias ( develops software for the film and video, games, web, interactive media, industrial design, automotive, architecture and visualization markets. Alias has headquarters in Toronto and a custom development center in Santa Barbara, California, with offices worldwide.

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is a Lucasfilm Ltd. company serving the digital needs of the entertainment industry for visual effects. ILM has been awarded 14 Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects and received 17 Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards.