I saw two pretty cool looking books today that made me wonder if things are changing for Maya. The first is called Maya Illuminated: Games and it appeared to be a very detailed and illustrated book about making low polygon artwork for real time 3D games in Maya. The second is this one called The Art of Maya and to be honest, from the cover I thought it was a coffee table book full of fullpage pictures of scenes of computer generated movie scenes but that's not what it is at all. Instead it's a highly detailed and illustrated book about how the computer graphics in the latest movies were made in Maya.
Maya is one of the big 3 3D software tools. Maybe 1 of 4. At least in my world of 3D there are only 3 or 4 products that are taken seriously. Maya, Softimage, 3D Studio Max and sometimes Lightwave. My favorite has always been 3D Studio Max. Probably because that's the first one I learned in detail and also probably because for a while they were the underdog. They also have incredibly good support by way of their discussion forums.
And, Maya was way way WAY over priced. Back in the day, when it was called Alias PowerAnimator, it used to cost like $30,000 a copy and it only ran on Silicon Graphics workstations that each cost $50,000 or more. Now it's down to around $8000 a copy. I'm sure some of you will gawk at that $8000 price tag. That's probably because you've never used professional 3D software before. They are literally probably the most complicated products on the planet and although many many people would like to play with them but can't for $8000, those that acutally use them for a living probably don't find that price too high.
Anyway, one other thing that may help Maya is that starting this month, they are going to be providing a FREE version. It's a learning version. It's the same as a the real thing except it saves in a different format (preventing you from using it with the real version) and it renders a watermark over the image. I'm not sure how much that will help people. It will make it FREE to play with and to learn but it will probably be frustrating to spend days or weeks to make a picture only to have "Maya" splashed in front of it. The idea is that if people learn it they will want their company to buy it or the company they start etc.
The 3D Studio Max people also had a similar idea though I think their's might work better. It's called gMax and it's basically a free version of 3D Studio Max that's been customized for making specific levels for specific games. Because it's 3D Studio Max, learning it you would actually be learning 3D Studio Max but unlike Maya, you can actually build something real, levels and objects for real games. For example here's how to make Quake III Arena levels in gMax.
The disadavantage to gMax is that it's for games only. If you wanted to learn how to do movie effects you will need to get the real 3D Studio Max.