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The Story of Maya


While it’s not that easy to peg exactly when computer animation itself became a viable technology, the beginnings of 3D computer animation in the public eye was with wireframe animations in films like Westworld and the original 1977 Star Wars film.

While these were obvious 3D animation applications in the public eye, there were already research projects experimenting with rudimentary hidden-line 3D models that had texture, lighting and the other technologies that modern 3D animation rests upon. Of course these prototypical technologies were not yet ready, it would only be in the 80s and beyond where companies like Silicon Graphics would kick start the CG revolution.

The 1982 film Tron is probably the first or at least best known pioneer of solid 3D CG in film. Shortly afterward in 1984 cult classic The Last Starfighter upped the ante , making extensive use of CG in a way not yet seen.

You have to remember that at this time there weren’t really something like a personal workstation that could even render a competent rough draft of the animation, the rendering happened on super expensive Cray supercomputers or the equivalent extravagant monstrosity.

The late 80s and early- to mid- 90s represented a major leap forward for CG in film. In 1991 with the release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day CG in film had become mainstream. Albeit restricted to films with the very highest budgets.

However, each studio still had to deal with software that only partially satisfied their needs or had to create their own software, such as Pixar’s Marionette, which is still in use today.

Not everyone has the means to create their own custom software and by the mid-90s it was clear that the market for a complete solution was wide open. That’s when Maya took the industry by storm.

Enter the Maya
Autodesk's Maya software is one of the most popular 3D animation packages in the history of the craft.

Few 3D animation tools have proven as versatile as Maya, it’s been used to create many 3D applications and games as well as films and television programs. As it stands, unless you literally only read books, there’s zero chance that you’ve not been exposed to something created using Maya.

Maya is actually the codename given to a software porting project that combined three different software packages. These were the Advanced Visualizer, PowerAnimator and Alias Sketch!

This lead to the release of the first version of Maya in February of 1998. Nearly eighteen years ago.

Changing Hands
Autodesk wasn’t the original owner of the Maya project. That distinction belongs to the Alias Systems Corporation who used to be known as Alias/Wavefront. As you can probably tell by the original name, Alias/Wavefront was the result of a merger when Silicon Graphics bought the Alias and Wavefront companies, turning them into a single talent powerhouse.

The company that would become best known for bringing us Maya came into being in 1995, a short three years before Maya 1.0 would see the light of day.

Mickey Saves the Day
It was Disney that played a pivotal role in the early days when it came to making the industry aware of Maya. Although the age of the CG film was well and truly established (Toy Story was 1995 release) extensive use of CG in live action film was still very much a rare specialty and the software was decidedly crude.

For the 2000 film Dinosaur, Disney worked closely with Alias/Wavefront to not only produce the CG for the film itself, but to revolutionise the user interface elements of the software. Allowing artists to completely customize their personal workflows and making the software itself highly modular.

This approach to software interfacing and design is likely a key factor in the astounding reputation Maya has built for itself in the last two decades.

Industry Standard
Maya itself won an Academy award in 2003 for Outstanding Technical and Scientific achievement. Countless films have made use of the technology and many of them have been Oscar material themselves.

Iconic franchises like the Harry Potter series and not so iconic films such as any of the Transformers movies all rely on Maya to produce their jaw-dropping visuals.

It’s amazing to think that a desktop workstation can now use software like Maya to create cutting-edge entertainment that fans all over the world can enjoy.

In fact Titan Computers can provide you with just such a workstation, built around the unique needs of Maya. Who knows, perhaps the next Star Wars will be made by you on a Titan Computers custom workstation.