MARKET: Maya is the current king-of-the-hill in high-end 3D animation software: over the past six years it has become the established leader in character animation for feature films. More recently, with the benefit of lower pricing, Maya has also become a strong player in video game development, although it is still not as popular as Max for games.
KEY FEATURES: Maya has a respected and versatile modeler, powerful character animation and visual effects capabilities, and is an extremely deep and extensible package with strong associativity. While Maya is a big, complex package to learn, it has an advanced and fully customizable interface, featuring Artisan brush-based tools that allow objects to be shaped and edited by an interactive painting-like process, and Paint Effects that allow grass, trees, and other elements to be painted into 3D space as renderable "brush strokes." Dynamic simulation of rigid objects, soft-bodies, fluids, cloth, and hair, combined with a powerful scripting language, make Maya a great visual effects tool. Maya's renderer is generally not as highly respected as the rest of the package, but Maya now comes with a license of Mental Ray, a more flexible, powerful, and stable renderer. (When Maya is used for animation in feature films, companies generally use Renderman or Mental Ray to render the shots, not the Maya renderer.)
HISTORY: Before Maya, Alias Research was making software configurations called Alias Studio and Alias Power Animator. Alias Studio is still a very popular system for industrial and vehicle design, and Power Animator, which was the same program but with added animation functions, is still used by a few companies in the entertainment industry. Alias Research was merged with Wavefront|TDI, which had multiple product lines itself, including Wavefront Advanced Visualizer, TDI Explore, Kinemation, and Dynamation, as a result of a previous merger. When both companies were acquired by SGI and assembled into Alias|Wavefront, they put together the best features out of all their products into Maya.