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Autodesk Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2012

Autodesk Maya Entertainment Creation Suite 2012

Autodesk Maya Entertainment Creation Suite review
Last year, Autodesk changed the software paradigm when they took the biggest players in their software stable  and packaged them together as the Autodesk Creation Suites.  The company found great success in packaging complementary products together and selling them as one—giving professionals a one-stop shop for their complete cinematic pipeline.  Following up on the success of last year, Autodesk has just released their improved versions for 2012.

 Autodesk Maya Entertainment Creation Suite Premium 2012

 Autodesk Maya Entertainment Creation Suite Premium 2012 box
Arguably the most popular of Autodesk’s suites is the Maya Entertainment Creation Suite. This is the Autodesk powerhouse package for CG animation, modeling, and special effects. It includes their flagship Autodesk Maya 2012 as well as Autodesk MotionBuilder and Mudbox, at a savings of almost 40%. The Premium edition of the collection incorporates Softimage 2012 as well. If you are a longtime Autodesk customer you will find each of these products instantly familiar and you can be  up and running with 2012 with no explanations necessary.  However, for the new users, we’ll quickly give you the scoop on what each product does, as well as hit the highlights for what is new and improved this year.

Autodesk Maya 2012:

Maya 2012 motion capture screenshot

If you have ever watched a movie with animation, special effects or played a 3D video game within the last ten years, I would feel more than comfortable betting you that you have seen a little of what Maya is known for. It is one of the most widely used tools in the industry for animation, modeling, rendering, and visual effects.

New in Maya 2012

Fire effects in Maya 2012Some of the most exciting improvements to Maya this year are in its special effects capabilities. There are new ways to bend, break, destroy, burn, slosh, and spill. Some of the more exciting techniques revolve around liquid. New solvers allow you to designate the compressibility of a substance. When Liquid Simulations is enabled, you can select either Liquid and Air or Density Based Mass for your solvers. The cool thing with liquid and air is that materials designated as air can be completely compressed. Liquid materials cannot be.
And of course, we all love fire. There is a new Air/Fuel Ratio that allows you to set the amount of air that is required to completely consume a fuel source. The example that Autodesk gives us is that of a gasoline fire. Gasoline burns fifteen parts of air to one of fuel. So you can set that in your attributes for more true-to-life destruction.

Mudbox 2012:

Mudbox 2012 paint masks and blend modes

Mudbox focuses on the artistic endeavors of modelers and texture artists. Designed for and by professional artists, the program is designed with ease of use in mind. The idea is that the artist can be an artist and not have to worry about being a technical genius.  Different than most other modeling programs, Mudbox focuses on more intuitive brush-based tools. It also allows for multiple iterations of meshes and textures.

New in Mudbox 2012 

This year Mudbox is giving us UV-less painting. UVs are a method of applying coordinates to a 3D model. You can then take those coordinates, lay them flat, and use them to map textures. When you re-import the texture onto the model, that smiling face you painted will be on the front of the model’s head, rather than someplace else like the backside. Very few artists enjoy UV mapping. By reducing or even eliminating the need to create UV maps, you have a faster, more intuitive work flow.

MotionBuilder 2012

Motionbuilder 2012 enhanced UI
Now we come to the industry standard for editing motion capture data. With MotionBuilder you can slap some actors into suits with little reflective spots, capture data of them doing the funky chicken, and then apply said data to a 3D model of your choice. You can now have a 3D rendition of Godzilla doing the funky chicken as he smashes downtown Tokyo.

MotionBuilder 2012 steroscopicNew in MotionBuilder

Stereoscopic imagery is bigger than ever, and motion builder now has a built-in stereoscopic editor. Camera data can be exchanged with Maya, Autodesk Flame 2012 and Autodesk Smoke 2012.

Autodesk  Softimage 2012:

Autodesk Softimage 2012

Softimage  is another great piece of software that also specializes in animation, modeling, and visual effects. It’s been known for its speed and great workflow for developers. The program runs fast, using parallel processing so you can get maximum usage out of multiple cores and hyperthreading. Now it’s time for a public service announcement: Softimage is always pronounced as one word in a snooty French accent: soft-im-ahhzhe. Pronouncing it “Soft Image”? Totally gauche, not kidding.

Softimage 2012New in Softimage

Autodesk has put a lot of work into beefing up its node-based Interactive Creative Environment (ICE). ICE is Softimage’s platform for creating custom tools, dynamic effects, character rigs, and models. It gives you an easy-to-use interface that minimizes the need for scripting.  They have placed a particular emphasis on improving cloth and particle dynamics this year.

Do I really Need ALL of these programs?

If you are an individual, you really don’t. You can get by just fine picking either Maya, 3ds Max, or Softimage,  then supplementing it with Photoshop and perhaps a video editing program. The benefit of buying a package such as this is the focus on interoperability—meaning a file created in Maya is easy to work with in Motionbuilder, and vice versa.

Do I need 2012 if I have older versions?

If you already have six iterations of Maya on your computer as I do; well, it depends. It used to be that you had to do silly hacks in order to get a newer Maya file to open in an older version. Since animation and film tend to be colloborative projects, it can be be a real nuisance if everyone isn’t on the same program version. However, in recent versions of Maya there have been improvements in  forward compatibility. Despite these upgrades, transferring files between versions can still sometimes be a buggy proposition. This trickiness comes into play more often for those who deal with cloth or particle dynamics than it does for student animators.

My feelings are that if you are a student or a small studio you might be able to squeak by for an iteration. However, this feeling changes for small studios who want to play with the big boys. Large studios contract work out to smaller boutique studios on a regular basis, and to fit in with their pipeline, you will very likely need to have the latest software. It would be embarrassing to be unable to complete a contract because you were unable to open a Maya  2012 file utilizing quaternion skinning in your Maya 2011 which offers no such thing.

Why does Autodesk offer three different animation packages? I still don’t get the difference between Softimage, Maya, and 3ds Max.

Autodesk doesn’t really get it either. The reason for this has to do with the company’s long and twisted geneology. The short version is that Autodesk merged with Alias Wavefront, and then gobbled up Softimage. Bang! Three software packages that do exactly the same thing are all under the same roof. Softimage XSI, Maya, and 3ds Max (included in a separate Autodesk Suite) were originally designed to be competitors of each other.  Ultimately 3ds Max was known for gaming and interior modeling, Maya for animation, and Softimage as a sleek and promising newcomer. Each of these three software packages have always had their own fanboys and detractors, and now Autodesk is quietly struggling to not enrage each of their communities. The result is an identity crisis between the software packages, which can easily confuse newcomers to the industry.

But really, which program should I use?

I would say go with Maya, and don’t worry about adding on Softimage unless you’ve just got to have it and have the financial means to not worry about the extra cost. I’m not calling Maya the best program, but it remains the most prevalent in the industry. Even studios who use proprietary software tend to use a similar interface.

Worth the cost?

When all is said and done, this is a great package. It is tremendously difficult to be competitive as a production company in the film and gaming industry without the right tools. The MSRP of  Maya, Mudbox, and MotionBuilder individually adds up to $8,325. Add in Softimage, and you come to $11,230. The MSRP of the  Maya Entertainment Creation Suite is $4,995 and $6,495 for the Premium package including Softimage. This is approximately a 40% savings that would be particularly valuable to small or independent companies operating on shoestring budgets. Also, Autodesk now provides free versions of their software products for students and educators, as well as free 30 day trials.


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