Creative: Autodesk Releases Maya 8.5


01.15.2007—Autodesk is releasing Maya 8.5 today, an update to the company's high-end 3D modeling, animation, effects and rendering suite. The new version is a Universal Binary with native support for Intel-based Macs, as well as Windows and Linux. A Personal Learning Edition is slated for release this spring.

This new version marks the first Universal Binary release of Maya, bringing it up to speed with the latest generation of Apple hardware. It's been qualified for use on Mac Pro workstations but not for Apple laptops. Autodesk, however, did tell us that it's "looking at" qualifying Maya 8.5 on MacBook Pro systems. It should also be noted that Maya 8 was never qualified for any Intel-based Mac system, though it did operate, albeit slowly, on Intel Mac systems via Rosetta, including regular 13-inch MacBooks.

And, while 64-bit versions are available for Windows and Linux systems, at present Maya is available only in a 32-bit version for Mac. While Autodesk would not comment on future plans for expanding Maya into a 64-bit application for the Mac when Mac OS X 10.5 is released, a company spokesman did tell me, "Once the [64-bit Mac] OS is finalized and out there, we'll be looking at it very closely. On Linux and Windows, we have 32- and 64-bit [versions]. That can give you a good idea of where our heads are at."

But Maya 8.5 isn't just a Universal Binary update. It also adds several new creative, functional and workflow improvements, most notably the first module built on Autodesk's Nucleus technology.

Nucleus is a unified framework, providing a more stable, bi-directional system for creating simulations. The first module to be built upon the Nucleus framework is one called nCloth. This is a cloth simulator that can also be used for creating plastic and metal simulations. It supports shearing and provides a module for internal volumes—meaning that an object can have both internal and external pressures applied to it. (For example, a balloon can be created with internal pressure, then punctured to produce an effect analogous to real-world physics.)

Nucleus also provides improvements in the area of performance, allowing simulations to occur with fewer errors than would be experience with previous cloth simulators in Maya when the simulation is applied to fast-moving objects.

Autodesk wouldn't say when future modules built upon the Nucleus framework would be released, but a spokesman did tell me that this technology is appropriate for all simulations, not just cloth, including fluids, particles, hard bodies, soft bodies and so on.

Other new features include:

  • Python scripting support for the first time, built at the same depth in the Maya command engine as MEL;
  • Preset mental ray shaders for architecture and design;
  • Geometry caching improved over version 8 with new threading and improvements to algorithms;
  • Improved support for CgFX shading;
  • Improvements to the transferring of skin weights for more accurate and precise skinning results;
  • Rotate and Scale tools can now act on symmetrical components simultaneously;
  • Added support for containers to simplify the display of complex node hierarchies;
  • New symmetry tools that support most objects.

The Personal Learning Edition of Maya 8.5, which is free, is slated to ship in the spring on all platforms. (No specific release date has been announced.)

For the commercial versions, Maya Complete (Standalone) runs $1,999; Maya Complete (Network) is $2,999; Maya Unlimited (Standalone) is $6,999; and Maya Unlimited (Network) is $8,399. Upgrades run $899 for Maya Complete 8 (Standalone), $1,069 for Maya Complete 8 (Network), $1,249 for Maya Unlimited 8 (Standalone) and $1,499 for Maya Unlimited 8 (Network).

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About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 29-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEDavidNagel (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).