Autodesk has announced Maya 2015, a substantial update to the 3D modelling, animation and FX package that adds artist-friendly new simulation tools, a completely new skinning system, and boosts core performance.
“There are substantial, relevant and exciting enhancements across all of Maya,” commented Clinton Downs, CG lead at Method Studios, and a Maya user since the original 1997 beta.
“[Maya 2015 feels] like the type of leap we’ve only seen once, maybe twice before.”
Tools to make TD tasks accessible to generalists
One recurring theme in Maya 2015 is that of making tasks that would previously have been the sole preserve of technical directors accessible to more generalist artists.
The most headline-grabbing of the new tools is Bifrost, a completely new fluid simulation system based on the core technology behind Exotic Matter’s Naiad, which Autodesk acquired in 2012.
Although structurally a standalone technology, Bifrost is fully integrated with the Maya viewport, and Autodesk says that simulation performance within Maya should be as good, if not better, than the original Naiad.
As well as meshing a simulation, there is now the option to render the voxel data directly in mental ray; and a more streamlined, artist-friendly interface than the original Naiad.
One thing to note is that Bifrost is intended as a next-generation alternative to Maya’s existing simulation tools, and does not interact with the Nucleus simulation framework.
However, from our conversations with Autodesk, we suspect that this is a technology that you can expect to see develop rapidly in future versions of the software.
You can see more (non-embeddable) videos of Naiad on Autodesk’s AREA site.
In addition to Bifrost, Maya 2015 includes two simulation technologies that were originally made available to subscribers as part of the Maya 2014 Extension release.
The Disney-developed XGen Arbitrary Primitive Generator is a versatile instancing system designed to create fur, feathers and foliage.
Geometry is created procedurally at render time rather than loaded in memory, enabling artists to manipulate otherwise very dense scenes, and may be previewed in Viewport 2.0.
Instanced objects may be controlled by painting maps, creating expressions, or via the new XGroom interactive grooming toolset. Hair can also be controlled via the nHair tools introduced in Maya 2013.
Another feature from the 2014 Extension release, now made available to non-subscription customers for the first time, is the revamped Bullet physics plugin for dynamics simulations.
New functionality includes the ability to create compound collision shapes from multiple meshes; and a new Hierarchical Approximate Convex Decomposition (HACD) algorithm for better collisions with concave shapes.
A complete new skinning system
Another new addition to Maya 2015 is Geodesic Voxel Binding: a new semi-automatic skinning system that works even on characters with non-watertight, overlapping or non-manifold geometry.
The method voxelises the character’s skeleton to compute bind weights, with the user able to select multiple meshes – such as the character plus clothing or armor – and treat them all as a single volume.
Geodesic Voxel Binding is compatible with Maya’s existing skinning methods, and is suitable for use in game engines. If you want to dig deeper, you can find the original 2013 Siggraph research paper here.
New modelling, retopology and UV workflows
Modellers get a lot of new features and workflow tweaks, including reorganised menu sets, new reflection and soft selection options, updates to the Multi-Cut tool, and and improved bevel and Boolean operations.
These are probably easier to see rather than to read about, so it’s worth watching the video above.
Retopology workflow has also been enhanced, with the Quad Draw tool introduced in Maya 2014 getting Relax and Tweak features with soft selection, and a new interactive Edge Extend tool.
The video above also shows GPU caching via the Alembic file format, providing better viewport performance when working with dense geometry, such as 3D scanned environments.
Maya 2015 also incorporates Pixar’s OpenSubdiv subdivision surface modelling libraries, offering better viewport performance and more accurate previews than the legacy Catmull-Clark system.
OpenSubdiv is now the default method for displaying a smooth mesh or a subdivision proxy, or when smoothing a mesh with the Mesh > Smooth option.standalone technology of the same name, previously incorporated into Softimage.
Interoperability with Mudbox has also been improved, with the option the share Ptex and multi-tile UVs between the two packages, plus better workflows for exchanging blendshapes, and matching reference image planes.
New viewport display and shading options
Another significant change is that Viewport 2.0 is now the default viewport in Maya 2015. The enhanced display mode now supports particles, nHair, nCloth, Fluid Effects, Paint Effects, projections, and the Wrinkle deformer.
The release also incorporates ShaderFX, the drag-and-drop shader-authoring tool based on Lumonix’s plugin of the same name, originally rolled out in Maya LT 2014, and also being introduced in 3ds Max 2015.
Finally, there are “over 30 workflow changes” and updates to core features. According to Autodesk, “We’ve done a lot of work in Maya 2015, making the tools you rely on even more robust, from the ground up.”
Maya 2015 is due to become available for download from 14 April.
Tags: autodesk, bevel, Bifrost, Booleans, Bullet, Disney, dynamics, feathers, fluid simulation, fur, Geodesic Voxel Binding, improvements, instancing, Maya, Maya 2015, modeling, Mudbbox, Naiad, new features, NEX, OpenSubDiv, physics, Pixar, Quad Draw, release date, retopology, rigging, simulation, skinning, Unfold3D, UV, Video Features, Viewport 2.0, XGen