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Autodesk Maya
Autodesk Maya.svg
Autodesk Maya 2010 Windows Server.jpg
Autodesk Maya 2010 running on Windows XP
Developer(s) Alias Systems Corporation, now owned by Autodesk
Stable release 2011 (12.0) / 2010-03-10
Operating system Linux, Mac OS X, Windows
Type 3D computer graphics
License Proprietary

Autodesk Maya, or simply Maya (Sanskrit word for "illusion"), is a high-end 3D computer graphics and 3D modeling and 3D animation software package originally developed by Alias Systems Corporation, but now owned by Autodesk as part of the Media and Entertainment division. Autodesk acquired the software in October 2005 upon purchasing Alias. Maya is used in the film and TV industry, as well as for computer and video games, architectural visualisation and design.

In 2003, Maya (then owned by Alias|Wavefront) won an Academy Award "for scientific and technical achievement", citing use "on nearly every feature using 3-D computer-generated images."[1]



Maya is the culmination of three 3D software lines: Wavefront's The Advanced Visualizer (in California), Thomson Digital Image (TDI) Explore (in France) and Alias' Power Animator (in Canada). In 1993 Wavefront purchased TDI, and in 1995 Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI) purchased both Alias and Wavefront (due to pressure from Microsoft's purchase of Softimage earlier that year) and combined them into one working company, producing a single package from their collective source code. The combined company was referred to as Alias|Wavefront. In the mid-1990s, the most popular pipeline in Hollywood films was a combination of tools: Alias Studio for modeling, Softimage|3D for animation, and PhotoRealistic RenderMan for rendering.[2] This combination was used for numerous films, such as Jurassic Park, The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It took Alias|Wavefront two more years after the merger to release Maya.

Both Alias and Wavefront were working on their next generation of software at the time of the merger. Alias had taken a Macintosh product, "Alias Sketch!", moved it to the SGI platform and added many features to it. The code name for this project was "Maya", the Sanskrit term for "illusion." Maya was developed in close collaboration with Walt Disney Feature Animation, during the production of Dinosaur, and the GUI was all customizable as a requirement from Disney so they could set up their own GUI and workflow based on decades of animation experience. This had a large impact on the openness of Maya and later also helped the software become an industry standard, since many facilities implement extensive proprietary customization of the software to gain competitive advantage.

It was then decided to adopt Alias' "Maya" architecture, and merge Wavefront's code with it.

In the early days of development, Maya started with Scheme, then moved to Tcl as the scripting language, in order to leverage its similarity to the Unix shell language. Sophia, the scripting language in Wavefront's Dynamation, was eventually chosen as the basis of MEL, and helped eased integration of other Wavefront technology. [3]

Upon its release in 1998, Alias|Wavefront discontinued all previous animation-based software lines including Alias Power Animator, encouraging consumers to upgrade to Maya. It succeeded in expanding its product line to take over a great deal of market share, with leading visual effects companies such as Industrial Light and Magic and Tippett Studio switching from Softimage to Maya for the animation software.

Later, Alias|Wavefront was renamed Alias. In 2003, Alias was sold by SGI to the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan and the private equity investment firm Accel-KKR. In October 2005, Alias was sold again, this time to Autodesk, and on January 10, 2006, Autodesk completed the acquisition and Alias Maya is now known as Autodesk Maya.


Autodesk Maya 2010 App Icon.png

Maya is a popular, integrated node-based 3D software suite, evolved from Wavefront Explorer and Alias PowerAnimator using technologies from both. The software is released in two versions: Maya Complete and Maya Unlimited. Maya Personal Learning Edition (PLE) was available (excluding the Linux version)[4] at no cost for non-commercial use, with the resulting rendered image watermarked, but as of December 2, 2008, it was no longer made available.

Maya was originally released for the IRIX operating system, and subsequently ported to the Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X operating systems. IRIX support was discontinued after the release of version 6.5. When Autodesk acquired Alias in October 2005, they continued Maya development. The latest version, 2009 (10.0), was released in October 2008.

An important feature of Maya is its openness to third-party software, which can strip the software completely of its standard appearance and, using only the kernel, transform it into a highly customized version of the software. This feature in itself made Maya appealing to large studios, which tend to write custom code for their productions using the provided software development kit.

A Tcl-like cross-platform scripting language called Maya Embedded Language (MEL) is provided not only as a scripting language, but as means to customize Maya's core functionality (much of the environment, commands, and tools are written in the language). Additionally, user interactions are implemented and recorded as MEL scripting code which users can store on a custom toolbar, allowing animators to add functionality without experience in C or C++, though that option is provided with the software development kit. Support for Python scripting was added in version 8.5.

The core of Maya itself is written in C++[5].

In addition to standard Maya Binary (.mb extension) scenes, project files can be stored as sequences of MEL operations saved as a human-readable file (.ma, for "Maya ASCII"). Containing all geometry and animation data, these files are editable in any text editor outside of the Maya environment, thus allowing for a high level of flexibility when working with external tools.

A marking menu is built into larger menu system called Hotbox that provides instant access to a majority of features in Maya at the press of a key.


An example render of a Maya scene.

NURBS, polygons and subdivision surfaces (or SubDivs or SubD's) are available in Maya.

Polygons are a widely used model medium due to its relative stability and functionality. Polygons are also the visualization bridge between NURBS and SubDivs. NURBS are used for their ready-smooth appearance and respond well to deformations in the Dynamics Workbench. SubDivs resemble a combination of both NURBS and polygons, but they are actually just a smoothed mesh[6]. They are ready-smooth and can be manipulated like polygons, resulting in a model of many objects including hands, faces, and other multi-topological constructions. Maya hair tools cannot be applied to subdivision polygons.

Dynamics and Simulation

Maya features a particle system for handling masses like steam and water drops. Dynamic fields allow adding gravity, wind and vortexes, allowing for effects such as blowing leaves or even tornadoes. Special tools give artists the ability to brush and style particles like hair and fur. This module is a direct evolution of Wavefront Dynamation.

An artist may create rigid body geometric objects which collide automatically without explicit animation, as well as soft body objects which can ripple and bend, like flags and cloth.

Maya effects are built-in programs that make it easy for users to create complex animation effects such as smoke, fire and realistic water effects, with many options and attributes for tuning the results.

In version 8.5 a powerful cloth simulator called "nCloth" was added, allowing users to simulate cloth with control over aspects such as self-collision and interpenetration. The cloth objects can be modified to behave as rigid or soft bodies.

In version 2009, "nParticles" were added, offering a new particle simulation system (based around the same system running 'nCloth'), in addition to the original particle system available in Maya. This addition was similar to the inclusion of "nCloth" alongside "Maya Cloth", insofar as it did not take the place of any existing dynamic tools, despite being newer. (see 'Unlimited Features' below).

Maya Software

Maya now comes in one version (replacing Maya Unlimited). Maya Complete has been discontinued. The new Maya contains all the features of Maya Unlimited 2009:

Maya Fluid Effects
A realistic fluid simulator (effective for smoke, fire, clouds and explosions, added in Maya 4.5)
Maya Classic Cloth
Cloth simulation to automatically simulate clothing and fabrics moving realistically over an animated character. The Maya Cloth toolset has been upgraded in every version of Maya released after Spider-Man 2. Alias worked with Sony Pictures Imageworks to get Maya Cloth up to scratch for that production, and all those changes have been implemented, although the big studios opted to use third party plugins such as Syflex instead of the (relatively) cumbersome Maya Cloth.
Maya Fur
Animal fur simulation similar to Maya Hair. It can be used to simulate other fur-like objects, such as grass.
Maya Hair
A simulator for realistic-looking human hair implemented using curves and Paint Effects. These are also known as dynamic curves.
Maya Live
A set of motion tracking tools for CG matching to clean plate footage.
Maya nCloth
Added in version 8.5, nCloth is the first implementation of Maya Nucleus, Autodesk's simulation framework. nCloth gives the artist further control of cloth and material simulations.
Maya nParticle
Added in version 2009, nParticle is addendum to Maya Nucleus toolset. nParticle gives artists an intuitive, efficient workflow for simulating a wide range of complex 3D effects, including liquids, clouds, smoke, spray, and dust.
Added to Maya 2010, this enables compositing of CGI elements with motion data from video and film sequences.

Scripting and Plugins

In Maya, all attributes are parametric, meaning anything can be connected to anything. E.g. a color intensity of a shader can be used to control the movement of a door opening and closing. To control the node based system of Maya, fully reconfigurable user interface can be scripted with MEL script code which can be dropped onto a shelf to create a new icon that executes that code.

With the release of Maya 8.5 support for the Python scripting language has been included. The current implementation of Python in Maya is not fully object oriented though.


MEL Scripting

Maya has an embedded script language called MEL, Maya Embedded Language, which is similar to TCL and Perl programming. Code written in MEL can be executed from the script editor, shelves, and drop down menus.

MEL affords more access and control than what was designed in the User Interface; some functions of the software and advanced options are only available by using MEL programming. All Maya preferences, commands, toolbars, and drop down menus are MEL code. By recording from the Script Editor History Window or scanning the Maya Program Files directory, it is possible to retrieve the original MEL procedures and functions.

MEL is not object oriented, so it is impossible to create custom classes and methods as you would in C++ or Python. This however should not be seen as a mere limitation because it gives MEL a strong structure making it accessible and easier to understand to Maya users and to first time programmers. Also the linear scripting nature of the language would assist the user in making the most of the Maya nodes instead of tempting him/her to make its own objects, as in case of object oriented languages.

Official Learning Tools

Along with the history of Maya the company has produced Maya learning tools which date back to the earlier Alias days. Beginning with an internally produced newsletter on Maya software techniques and workflows, the company continued with the internally produced Art of Maya book and training videos and tutorials. In response to strong user demand the company's education department further developed instructional books and video-based learning content referred to as learning tools. Autodesk continues to develop learning tools with content developed both by internal product specialists as well as industry professionals. The company's video-based learning tools have recently moved away from physical production and are now available as digital downloads.[citation needed]

Use in Films

Many popular computer-animated films have been made with Maya software, including Ice Age (film series), its sequel Ice Age: The Meltdown, Geng: The Adventure Begins, Monsters vs. Aliens, James Cameron's Avatar, and others.[7]


  1. ^ "Scientific and Technical Achievements Honored with Academy Awards". 2003-01-06. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  2. ^ "Jurassic Park - The Illusion of Life". 
  3. ^ Sharpe, Jason Sharpe; Charles J. Lumsden, Nicholas Woolridge (2008). In silico: 3D animation and simulation of cell biology with Maya and MEL. Morgan Kaufmann. p. 263. ISBN 0-1237-3655-2. 
  4. ^ - Autodesk Maya FAQ
  5. ^ List of C++ applications, maintained by C++ creator Bjarne Stroustrup
  6. ^ Pisca, Nicholas. YSYT - Maya MEL Basics for Designers, pp 53-54. 0001d Publishing. 2009
  7. ^ "Dreamworks SKG and Maya". 


  • "Maya 7 for Windows and Macintosh" by Danny Riddel, Morgan Robinson and Nathaniel Stein. Peachpit Press, 2006.
  • "Mel Scripting for Maya Animators" by Mark R. Wilkins and Chris Kazmier, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2005.
  • "Understanding Maya" by Sergey Tsiptsin, ArtHouse Media, 2007.
  • "YSYT - Maya MEL Basics for Designers" By Nicholas Pisca, 0001d Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-578-00988-9

See also

External links


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