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Autodesk Releases Maya 8.5

Universal Binary update adds Python scripting, Nucleus module By Dave Nagel
Autodesk today releases Maya 8.5, the long-awaited Universal Binary update to the high-end 3D suite. The new version also adds in some workflow, performance, scripting and creative enhancements. It ships today, with a Personal Learning Edition set to follow in the spring. 

Universal Binary
For Mac users, the most significant enhancement to Maya is its ability now to run natively on both PowerPC- and Intel-based hardware. Maya had previously been able to run on Intel-based Macs, but not natively, so it took a significant performance hit.

Rob Hoffmann, senior manager of product marketing for Autodesk, said that the new version "screams" on Intel-based Mac hardware. "This is yet another choice for artists who want to do creative work [on their platform of choice]." he said, "instead of being forced into a particular hardware and operating system."

The new version is not qualified to run on Intel-based Mac laptops, though Hoffmann said the company is looking at the MacBook Pro for possible qualification.

The new Universal Binary is not available in a 64-bit version for the Mac ... yet. Hoffmann wouldn't commit to any particulars on a potential future release of a 64-bit build for the Mac, but he did tell DMN, "We're lookig very closely at it. Once the [64-bit Mac] OS is finalized and out there, we'll be looking at it very closely. On Linux and windows, we have 32- and 64-bit [versions]. That can give you a good idea of where our heads are at."

Simulations and other new functionality
Also showing up for the first time in Maya with the new release is the first implementation of Autodesk's Nucleus technology. Nucleus is a unified simulation framework for Maya that expands the capabilities of simulations and provides greater stability and speed than technologies found in previous releases.

The first implementation of Nucleus is a new module called nCloth. It provides, of course, cloth simulations, though it's also applicable to deformable plastics and metal with shearing effects.

"The technology allows different types of solvers to be aware of each other and have bi-directional input," said Hoffmann. He said that in previous generations, problems could occur in situations where solvers were not aware of one anotherócollisions, general errors and cloth that didn't look "quite right." He also said the new module is much more effective with fast-moving cloth simulations, solving the old problems in which "rapid movement [would confuse] the solver, [which would get into endless loop or just completely freak out, where the cloth [would] implode upon itself, or you get a very jaggy piece of geometry."

Maya 8.5 also includes a new air pressure module that treats sealed volumes as sealed volumes, where internal and external pressures can play upon the geometry, and holes can be poked into the geometry, producing an appropriate result based on the pressures in and on the object.

nCloth is only the first module to be built upon the Nucleus framework. Autodesk would comment on plans for future Nucleus modules except to say that the technology lends itself to any sort of simulation: "Fluids, particles, hard bodies, soft bodies and so on," Hoffman said. "It would lend itself to this kind of technology."

Beyond Nucleus, Maya 8.5 also incorporates several other functional enhancements. Some of these include:
  • Geometry caching improved over version 8 with new threading and improvements to algorithms;
  • Improved support for CgFX shading;
  • Improvements to the transferring of skin weights for more accurate and precise skinning results;
  • Rotate and Scale tools can now act on symmetrical components simultaneously;
  • Added support for containers to simplify the display of complex node hierarchies;
  • New symmetry tools that support most objects.
Workflow and productivity enhancements
In the category of workflow and productivity, Maya 8.5 adds several new features. Most exciting to many will be the addition of Python scripting, using Python 2.4.3 from the Python Software Foundation. Maya continues to support MEL, of course, which remains unchanged in the new release. Autodesk says Python has been integrated into Maya at the same level as MEL in the Maya command engine.

New preset shaders for mental ray have also ben added in this release, targeted toward architectural and design applications, though they can also be used for other purposes. These include waxed floors, frosted glass, brushed metals and others.

Shipping details
Maya 8.5 ships today for Mac OS X and Windows. The new release also supports Japanese localization. Autodesk said the English and Japanese versions use the same binary and the English version, allowing users to switch back and forth through a setting in the application's preferences. It supports Japanese fonts, language tools, labels and instructions and provides multi-lingual learning movies.

Maya 8.5 software pricing remains unchanged from previous versions.

Maya Complete (Standalone) is $1,999; Maya Complete (Network) is $2,999; Maya Unlimited (Standalone) is $6,999; and Maya Unlimited (Network) is $8,399. Upgrades run $899 for Maya Complete 8 (Standalone), $1,069 for Maya Complete 8 (Network), $1,249 for Maya Unlimited 8 (Standalone) and $1,499 for Maya Unlimited 8 (Network).

For more information, visit http://www.autodesk.com.

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