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Lucky Sevens for Maya and MotionBuilder

Alias caps a busy year with upgrades to both animation packages By Frank Moldstad

Maya 7
Maya 7's new Crease Edge tool
Last year at SIGGRAPH, Alias focus was on its acquisition of Kaydara, developer of the character animation package MotionBuilder, a deal which literally was finalized at the show. The purchase came on the heels of Alias buyout from former parent company SGI. The ensuing year was a busy one for Alias developers, with the introduction of MotionBuilder 6 and Maya 6.5, and at SIGGRAPH 2005, Maya 7 and MotionBuilder 7. Both of the new versions are slated for August availability.

As Alias President Doug Walker hinted a year ago, technology might be shared between the two 3D applications where it made sense to do so. The first significant evidence of that is the integration into Maya 7 of MotionBuilders full-body IK solver, which is designed for fast character rigging and posing.

Having the same IK solver in both programs also means that transferring characters between the two packages can be done seamlessly, noted MotionBuilder product manager Curtis Garton during an Alias press conference at SIGGRAPH. ?The integration is huge. You can move back and forth between Maya 7 and MotionBuilder 7, he said. ?We really tried to work on the interoperability between the two programs.

Among the prominent new features in Maya 7 is UV unfolding, which gives Maya a fast and simple texturing procedure, something users have been requesting -- especially game developers. The process unwraps UV meshes in order to minimize distortion of texture maps on organic polygon meshes, by optimizing UV coordinates to reflect World Space characteristics of the original polygon mesh. ?Normal maps are critical for us, said Midway Games' Martin Murphy, who spoke at the event. ?Weve been finding all kinds of ways to generate these normal maps, but now that theyre in Maya we dont have to do that.

Maya 7
Performing a hair transplant
A new Toon Shader offers a wide variety of new non-photorealistic rendering styles, and they can be interactively previewed in Mayas Viewport. There are also upgrades to Maya Fur, Maya Hair (which is now transplantable to other models) and Maya Cloth. Plus, Maya 7 introduces new polygonal modeling tools for much greater control over forms. Alias also beefed up Maya 7s deformers and skinning tools to aid in character animation.

Among the many new modeling tools is one for Variable Creasing on Smooth Proxy mesh edges, for easier creation of shapes that vary between hard and smooth. The creasing tools are designed to do this without significant increases in the resolution. Also, there are New Edge Loop and Edge Ring tools that make it easier to select complex edge loops, edge rings, face paths, or texture borders on polygon meshes, and to duplicate edge loops and split edge rings.

The architecture for Mayas render layers functionality has been redesigned, and its now possible to do multiple passes from any combination of the four Maya renderers (or third party renderers) in preparation for output. This means that multiple versions of objects can be managed in a single scene file -- materials, lights and cameras, and even processes such as Maya Fur and Maya Paint Effects.

At the press conference, Alias also offered an update on 64-bit compatibility for Maya, which is now in the technology preview stage, according to  Jill Ramsey, Alias senior product manager. ?We have been working to develop a stable 64-bit system that our customers can work with in confidence, she said. In preparation, Alias in June shipped a mental ray Standalone 3.4 64-bit version of the renderer.

The flip side of having MotionBuilders IK tools integrated into Maya 7 is that Maya models can be imported into MotionBuilder without data loss. That gives these applications a close working relationship, and allows character-focused animators to set up a smooth new workflow between the two. Also, widespread industry acceptance of MotionBuilders native FBX file format means that the its output can be read by most major animation packages on the market and vice versa..

MotionBuilders suite of specialized character building and editing tools have been considerably extended in MotionBuilder 7. For instance, it can load and save animation onto a character, accessed via the File Save Load Character Animation option. This makes for fast repurposing of animated elements. Non-destructive layering and editing has also been introduced, making it possible to add and subtract elements at will, and giving users more confidence to experiment. An adjunct to that is a new Story Timeline performance environment.

More control over character setups has been added through new extensions for a character's control rig for elements such as tails or wings. Extensions can be added while posing or keying a character. Also, Control rigs now offer visual feedback about keying, manipulation modes and rig selection in the viewer.

Those who work with motion capture will welcome MotionBuilder 7s ability to stream and record directly from a motion capture device.

Pricing for Maya 7 and MotionBuilder 7 is unchanged from the previous versions. Maya Complete 7 is US $1,999 and Maya Unlimited 7 is US $6,999. Upgrade pricing from version 6.5 is US $899 for Maya Complete and US $1,249 for Maya Unlimited. MotionBuilder 7 is priced at  US $4,195 (node-locked) and US $4,795 (floating). The  applications are available on both Windows and Mac OS X platforms, and come with a one-year Platinum Membership subscription for new customers, which gives extended hotline access and improved support response times.

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Related Keywords:Alias, Maya 7, MotionBuilder 7, SIGGRAPH 2005, Kaydara, game developers, rendering


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