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Maya Powers Digital Characters and Key Scenes In Star Wars

ILM?s chief animation software helps Lucasfilm realize its latest box-office record-breaker (May 24, 2005)

Alias announced today that its Maya software was the chief 3D animation technology - and only non-proprietary animation solution - used to realize key characters and scenes in the recently released Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Throughout the film's production, Maya acted as Industrial Light & Magic's (ILM) main animation and pre-visualization software, allowing the company's talented animators to create the memorable performances of such fully digital characters as Yoda and the villainous commander of the droid army, General Grievous. Moreover, such key scenes as the film's opening - a fast-paced, riveting space battle that ends with the stunning acrobatics of a Maya-driven Obi-Wan Kenobi - were also brought to life through the power of Alias' award-winning Maya software.

With over 90 minutes of CG - 2151 shots - Episode III makes use of a great deal of 3D animation talent and technology in order to tell its story. Of those 2151 shots, none required such careful crafting as those where digital characters interact with real actors. "One of ILM's big breakthroughs with this movie," says ILM Chief Technology Officer, 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," states 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."

Episode III: The Digital Cast
Along with Yoda, who appears in 173 shots in the film, the other primary character who is 100% CG is the part-droid, part-alien General Grievous. Like Yoda, Grievous, who appears in 84 shots, has to interact - often at the point of a light saber - 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. Nevertheless, Grievous has many unique, visually-impressive and sometimes "creepy" Maya-driven moves.

Moreover, many of the key, "live" cast members - 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. These digital doubles, while never obvious, are often used to perform daring feats and acrobatic stunts that would be highly difficult or dangerous for live actors.

"In our films, the animated characters have to hold their own with the live action characters," states Animation Director, Rob Coleman. The key to making this work, he feels, 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."

For Coleman being "an actor" meant putting himself into the place of his character and performing the scene -while being video taped. Coleman would then closely review the tape with his team and have them add in the meticulous levels of detail that came out in his own performance.

Maya Software's New Role in the ILM Animation Pipeline
ILM made a significant change to its animation pipeline between Star Wars: Episode II and Episode III when it adopted Maya. "It was a little scary, the idea of moving over to a whole new software," says 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 over 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," explains 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."

About Maya
Maya is the world's most powerful integrated 3D modeling, animation and rendering solution. It is used by film and video artists, game developers, multimedia (print and web), design visualization professionals and 3D enthusiasts to create engaging, lifelike digital images; realistic animation; and extraordinary visual effects. On March 1, 2003, for the awards year 2002, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Alias|Wavefront an Oscar for scientific and technical achievement for the development of Maya software, the professional 3D animation and effects package.

About ILM
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.

About Alias
As the world's 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 with offices worldwide.

Please visit the Alias web site at or call 1-800-447-2542 in North America. International contact numbers include: Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa, +44 (0) 1494 441273; Germany, East & Southeast Europe, 0049 89 31 70 20; France, Spain and Portugal, +33 1 44 92 81 60; Italy, 39 039 6340011; Japan and other parts of Asia Pacific, 81 3 5797 3500 and Latin America, 770 393 1881.


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Related Keywords:Alias, Maya, ILM, Lucasfilm, animation, 3D animation, Star Wars: Episode III, Industrial Light & Magic, pre-visualization, digital characters, MEL, rendering, modeling,


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