Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Maya comes in two main versions, Maya Complete (confusingly, this is a cut-down version) and Maya Unlimited. Maya Unlimited used to be considered too expensive for home users but is now priced similar to other 3D programs. There is also Maya Personal Learning Edition (PLE) for non-commercial use, which is completely free, but each rendered picture or frame contains a large notice saying that it cannot be used for commercial purposes.
The most important feature of Maya is its openness to third-party software, which can strip Maya completely of its standard appearance and, using only the Maya kernel, can transform it into a highly customized, proprietary version of the software. Apart from its intrinsic power and flexibility, this feature in itself made Maya extremely appealing to large studios which tend to write quite a lot of proprietary code for their productions using the provided software development kit.
Apart from the openness to custom code, Maya also features a powerful, interpreted, cross-platform scripting language called Maya Embedded Language (MEL), which is very similar to PHP and conceptually resembles C. It is not only provided as a scripting language, but as means to customize Maya's core functionality (much of Maya's environment and tools are written in the language). Additionally, user interactions are stored as MEL scripting code, of which users can pull snippets out of their history, drag onto a toolbar to create new 'macro' tools instantly. This provides animators with the power to add most functionality to Maya without experience in C/C++ programming and compilers, though that option is, of course, provided with the software development kit.
Of particular note is the fact that project files, including all geometry and animation data, is stored as sequences of MEL operations which can be optionally saved as a 'human readable' file, editable in any text editor outside of the Maya environment and allows for a tremendous level of flexibility when working with external tools.
- Powerful tools to build objects using polygonal, nurbs, or subdivision modelling, and, in the current version, tools to freely convert objects between the geometry formats.
- Simulation of particle effects (effective for smoke, water droplets etc)
- A realistic fluid simulator (effective for water, explosions, added in Maya 4.5)
- Inverse kinematics (to realistically simulate human limb movement, for example)
- Cloth simulation (to automatically simulate clothing and fabrics moving realistically over an animated character, for example)
- PaintEffects integrates 2D painting tools into a 3D rendering environment. Libraries include numerous trees, grasses, and plants which can be painted to 'grow' off the surface of an object. (Also effective for volumetric effects)
- Fur (good for simulating fur and hair).
- Hair, a fur simulator using curves and PaintEffects.
- Physical effects (simulate colliding objects, object deforming under pressure etc).
- Matching CG to live footage via Maya Live
- Native MentalRay render
- Fully reconfigurable user interface (drag snippets of script code into a shelf creates a new icon that executes that code)
- Hotbox provides instant access to the majority of features in Maya via a large menu that surrounds the mouse pointer at any time when a user holds down the space bar, by default.
Version release history
- 6.5: January 2005 
- 6: May 2004 
- 5: May 2003 
- 4.5: July 2002 
- 4: June 2001 
- 3: February 2000 
- 2.5: November 1999 
- 2: June 1999 
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