Overview: Autodesk Maya 2013

I received a copy of Autodesk Maya 2013 for review and faced the daunting task of learning Maya again, after a pause of 3 years — which is quite long. I’ve therefore decided to run you through those new features that appealed to me the most. That way I hope I won’t be repeating things everybody knew already.

Maya 2013 has new Pipeline Cache tools that let you load, save, and play back Maya scenes as Alembic cache files. The Alembic file format is an open-source format developed for ex- changing complex 3D geometry data. With 3ds Max being part of the Windows version of the Entertainment Creation suite, it’s easy to understand why it’s now possible to transfer data between Maya and 3ds Max. You can use the new Send to 3ds Max command in the File menu. You can send various forms of data, including geometry, animation, materials, and textures. The culprit is that you must have matching versions of Maya 2013, 3ds Max 2013 and FBX 2013 to use this command.

The new Attribute Editor Template Builder tool is a Bonus Tool (a separate free download) helps you build custom Attribute Editor templates. You can download Bonus Tools from the Autodesk website by selecting Help > Download Bonus Tools in Maya. I wonder why Autodesk doesn’t include these tools in Maya by default.

The Node Editor presents an editable schematic of the dependency graph, displaying nodes and the connections between their attributes. It allows you to view, modify and create new node connections. You can graph the network of nodes of your choice, and build networks by using the Tab key and dragging lines from one node to another. Using this method, you can easily edit existing networks. All attribute ports and connection lines are represented by different colors so that connections can be easily read. In addition, you can create bookmarks to return to previous graph layouts for easy navigation.

In Maya 2013 the already much improved Attribute Editor from the last time I reviewed the software, can now be customized in several different ways by using Custom Attribute Editor templates.
These templates are XML-based files for specific nodes and node types. A template can have one or more views associated with it. Each view describes a particular display layout and can be used to tailor the interface for different purposes. After applying your custom template, you can access your views from the Show menu in the Attribute Editor.

The options in the new Live Connection window allow you to send your HumanIK defined character to MotionBuilder and establish a live streaming connection. This new workflow lets you drive your skeleton or Custom rig with motion capture data, so you can pre-visualize your retargeting result before baking the final animation from MotionBuilder into your Maya scene. However, this feature is only available if Maya is used as part of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites.

When manipulating clips of animation in the Trax Editor, new clip matching tools let you define an offset object to better align the movements in your animation sequence.

In the Graph Editor, the Retime Tool lets you directly adjust the timing of key movements in your animations. This tool provides a new type of timing manipulator in the graph view, letting you shift key moments in time, or warp entire sequences to make them occur faster or slower.

For animators working in a pipeline with multiple Autodesk applications, similar animation retiming tools are available in 3ds Max, Softimage, and MotionBuilder.

The new Stepped Tangent preview playback mode lets you temporarily set all keys to display with Stepped tangents, switching easily from Spline to Stepped and back.

New Character Controls let you perform multiple character setup tasks in a single window.
As you set up your character, the previously independent HumanIK tools appear as tabs in the consolidated Character Controls, simplifying the character set up process. The Skeleton, Definition, Controls, and Custom Rig tabs appear as you select options from the Start pane, Source menu, or Character Controls menu button.

The new Custom Rig tool gives you a visual interface for mapping your non-HumanIK rigs.
Designed to streamline the mapping and retargeting process, this tool lets you map and retarget bipedal HumanIK character animation to and from a Custom rigged character.

A new Heat Map method for rigging is one of the most powerful new features in Maya 2013.
This method uses a heat diffusion technique to distribute weights, and generally gives better default results than the existing Closest Hierarchy and Closest Distance binding methods.

Heat Map binding sets initial weights based on each influence object inside the mesh acting as a heat source, emitting weight values onto the surrounding mesh. Higher (hotter) weight values occur closest to the object, and dissipate to lower (cooler) values as you move away from the object.

The nHair hair generation system has been added to the Nucleus dynamic simulation framework. As part of a Nucleus system, dynamic nHair curves can self-collide and interact with other Nucleus objects, including nParticle, nCloth, and passive collision objects.
nHair has many advantages over the previous hair system including performance improvements especially for hair systems with a large number of follicles.

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