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The Maya Factor

A Q&A with Alias|Wavefront Ambassador and Cofounder Mark Sylvester By Dave Nagel
It arrived like a prophecy people only half believed would ever be fulfilled. Maya for OS X. Its advent marked a significant turning point for the platform and cast a definitive vote of confidence for Mac OS X. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the event, not just from Alias|Wavefront, but from users and even from Apple itself, as in keynote after keynote Apple CEO Steve Jobs praised Maya as nothing less than the greatest application of technology since Moses used his 0 MHz PowerStaff 1300 to part the Red Sea.

The tool is, without a doubt, a powerful one. But powerful 3D applications have been available for the Macintosh for a considerable time?from NewTek's LightWave to Electric Image's EIAS and Universe to Maxon's Cinema 4D XL. All of them run in Mac OS X; and, in fact, Electric Image's software was available exclusively for the Mac until very recently. So the powerful tools have been here quite a while, and Maya for OS X is, in one respect, just another tool, albeit a very good one, in the long list of tools that have made the Mac the platform of choice for a little more than half of the creative professionals out there.

At the same time, there's something more significant than just the tool itself going on here. It's the first major realization of the promise of OS X, which is, to be more specific, the opening up of the platform to new developers. Let's face it: A good OS doesn't mean anything. If it did, the computer world would have a very different look and feel today. So for Apple to make OS X a success with developers and customers alike has been and continues to be a major feat in itself.

It also opens the way for Macintosh creative professionals to speak the language, as it were, of the high-end 3D studios tied in so inextricably with Maya. These studios may not themselves choose to work on the Mac platform until Apple offers something to rival a 16-processor Onyx workstation, but neither will the Mac be excluded from the process simply because it lacks one fundamental software component.

Furthermore, the fact of Maya's presence on the Mac, coupled with the initial success of the product launch, will affect the way other developers view the Mac. Because of Alias|Wavefront's foray into the Mac, development for OS X is now a double question of economics and prestige. Yes, the Mac does represent a very large chunk of the creative market. And, yes, it's a good place for developers to be if they want to show the world that they're keeping up with technology.

These three effects?the opening up of the platform, the opening of the way for Mac professionals and the invitation to new developers?can easily be termed "the Maya Factor." It's a factor that's almost guaranteed to have a long-lasting, positive effect on the Mac community. Just prior to the release of Maya for OS X last week, I had the chance to acquaint myself with Alias|Wavefront, their technology and their cofounder, Mark Sylvester. He and I, along with several other journalists, discussed this Maya Factor. I reported on some of these discussions last week, but I thought it would be helpful to take the discussion further and for our readers to read in Sylvester's own words the position Alias|Wavefront is taking on the Mac?the philosophy behind the port and plans for the future.

Sylvester himself is one of the original founders of Wavefront Technologies, which, in 1995, merged with SGI and Alias Research to become Alias|Wavefront. (He initially helped to develop The Advanced Visualizer, a 3D-computer animation system first used at Universal Pictures.) In this role as ambassador for the company, he works with the development organization and the product teams as a liaison between customers and the company. He's also a frequent speaker at industry events and has started a nonprofit organization for teaching animation to kids who live in Santa Barbara, Sylvester's home town.

Here's what he had to say about the Mac, Maya and the future.

Digital Media Net: When we spoke in person, you said that you didn't want Maya just to be a port to another platform but to be a part of the Macintosh. Can you expand on this?

Mark Sylvester: We wanted to take advantage of the ways Apple has made Mac OS X a clear differentiator for their users. There are two main differences between Maya for Mac OS X and Maya for other platforms: first, the Aqua interface, which integrates the Aqua look and feel into Maya, and second, the incorporation of QuickTime as a native file type within Maya. These two very important decisions were made with the Mac end user clearly in mind.

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