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SIGGRAPH: Autodesk Announces Maya 8 and 3ds Max 9

Both applications to be 64-bit capable By Frank Moldstad

Maya 8 box
Now that both 3ds Max and Maya are under one roof, it might appear that Autodesk is coordinating their upgrades – at least that’s what it did this week at SIGGRAPH with the announcements of Maya 8 and 3ds Max 9.

But  in reality, Maya 8 is shipping in August, while 3ds Max is due in October. The two professional 3D animation applications are now both 64-bit ready for Windows (and Linux for Maya), with 32-bit compatibility for users not on 64-bit platforms, including OSX for Maya. Both programs have also been optimized for large datasets, one of the most crucial features for high-end film, broadcast and game users. Each program also contains numerous improvements, in areas such as productivity, pipeline efficiency, rendering and file exchange capabilities with other programs.

The latter is one of the advantages of Autodesk owning both programs, plus other assets which came to it in the Alias purchase last year. One of those was the FBX plugin, which has now been upgraded for tighter integration between Maya, 3ds Max and MotionBuilder. The new version features interchangeable geometry between Maya and 3ds Max. In addition, render layers can be exported to Autodesk’s Toxik database.

There are number of new high-performance features in both applications. Maya 8, the first upgrade out of the gate, introduces scalable multithreading, to take advantage of all processing power when performing skinning, draw tessellation, and subdivided polygon proxy mesh operations. It also features new API extensions for better data management with multiple 2D and 3D packages in a  pipeline. And, not only is there support for 64-bit computing in Maya 8, there are also a number of 64-bit plugins available from  third-party developers in the Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) Sparks program (see below).

Several welcome additions in the area of rendering debut in Maya 8. First, it now uses the mental ray 3.5 core, which has been optimized for better rendering performance and memory usage -- and there’s support for interactive viewing of both native and custom mental ray shaders. There’s also the new option to override the Maya viewports with a proprietary or third-party plug-in renderer, for reviewing scenes as they will appear in the target renderer.

Maya 8 also offers intriguing new modeling and texturing enhancements, such as the Transfer Polygon Attributes feature. This makes it possible to transfer UV, color per vertex (CPV) and vertex position information between surface meshes of differing topologies. If an artist is working with two versions of an object of a character, one hi-res and one lo-res, existing UV sets can be transferred if they’re already laid out on the lo-res model. Among the other new tools are a Polygon bridge, multiple edge loop insertion capabilities, and an enhanced UV layout. New workflows include the ability to interactively create, position, and scale primitives in a single operation.

A new Geometry Caching feature bowing in Maya 8 is for caching deformations on polygon, NURBS and subdivision surface geometry. This speeds up both playback and scene rendering. Users can also blend vertex animations together -- creating a new animation -- in the Trax Editor.

New caching options in Maya 8 apply to deformations on polygon, NURBS (including curves), and subdivision surface geometry.

Meanwhile, over in the 3ds Max camp, there are new tools for lighting, shading, rig building, and modeling. 3ds Max 9 also features the mental ray 3.5 core, and users with big rendering jobs will appreciate Point cache 2, which speeds up the baking of mesh deformations into a file for faster rendering.

Riggers can take advantage of a new layered blending system for custom rigs and controllers in 3ds Max 9. It’s also now possible to save and load XAF files onto bipeds, which makes it easier to transfer information to and from custom rigs.

Workflow improvements include new viewport functionality, such as faster feedback from the Wireframe and edge display tools. The ability to style hair in the viewport is also new, one of several enhancements to hair and cloth functionality. Version 9 also has improved file referencing and asset tracking.

As with Maya, there are also a number of 64-bit plugins available for 3ds Max from third-party developers in the Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) Sparks program. A partnership with HP and Intel provided 64-bit HP xw4300 workstations to a number of ADN Sparks developers in order to port plug-ins in time for the launches of both 3ds Max 9 and Maya 8.

Following is the most recent list of 64-bit plugins created by the ADN Sparks developers for 3ds Max 9 and Maya 8:

The English language version of 3ds Max 9 will be available in October 2006, with other languages to follow. Its suggested list price is $3,495, and the upgrade from 3ds Max 8 to 3ds Max 9 is US $795.

Maya 8 also ships in English first, with availability scheduled for August 2006. It carries a suggested list price of $1,999 US for Maya Complete (standalone) and $6,999 US for Maya Unlimited (standalone). Upgrading from Maya 7 Complete to Maya 8 Complete is US $899, and from Maya 7 Unlimited to Maya 8 Unlimited is US $1,249.

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Related Keywords:Maya 8, 3ds Max 9, SIGGRAPH, Autodesk, 3D animation, rendering, pipeline , 64-bit

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