If you’re an aspiring animator, learning how to use Maya animation software is a must. The software’s extensive features makes it easy to create impressive 3D models and animations. Plus, Maya is commonly used across the film, video game, and TV industries, so with Maya expertise, you’ll open yourself up to a wide variety of career opportunities.

Below, learn more about Maya animation software, including what you can use it for and how it works.  

What Is Maya Animation Software? 

Autodesk Maya powerful software that enables 3D animation, modeling, simulation, rendering, and more. It’s robust and versatile, and many consider it the industry standard for animation. Many well-known feature film studios use Maya, including Blue Sky Studios, Framestore, and Moving Picture Company. In fact, the software has been used to animate award-winning movies such as “Frozen” and “Wreck It Ralph.”

dancing people
When it comes to software for creating 3D models and animations, Maya is the industry standard. 

What Can You Do With Maya? 

With Maya, you can create 3D assets for film, TV, and video games. This typically involves a few different components of artistry, including creating 3D models, character rigging, animation, dynamics, painting, lighting, and rendering. Maya includes intuitive and easy-to-use tools to simplify all of these tasks. 

How Much Does It Cost and What Platforms Does It Run On? 

Autodesk Maya animation software is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. Currently, it costs $1,700 per year; however, you can receive a discount for purchasing a three-year license. 

Comparable Software 

Similar animation software includes Unity, Blender, Cinema 4D, LightWave 3D, and Adobe Dimension. 

Get Started With Maya 

Maya for Beginners: Animation

How Maya Works 

3D Animation 

Maya 3D animation capabilities are some of the best available today. In Time Editor, you can create and edit Maya animations in a non-destructive way. That means you can experiment with a clip—including speed, length, and start and stop times—until you’re satisfied with it, and then bring the edited version into the full project. You can also edit animations in the Graph Editor, which presents animations within a scene as a graph with modifiable curves. 

animated girl
Autodesk Maya animations in different dynamic poses. 

Dynamics and Special Effects

In the field of physics, dynamics refers to how objects move. In Maya, dynamic animation features give you the ability to create realistic effects that mimic the way real natural forces move—which can be difficult with traditional keyframe animation. To create these types of animations in Maya, you simply specify the type of action you want an object to take, like a waving flag or the rippling surface of water. From photorealistic liquid animations to dust and snowstorms, you can create a wide range of effects to enhance your Maya animations. 

coffee cup in Maya
In Maya, you can create realistic steam and smoke effects. 

3D Modeling 

Maya makes it easy to create 3D models with polygon modeling. With this tool, you connect multiple polygons—usually a three-sided triangle or four-sided quadrilateral, although you can use polygons with more sides—into a polygon mesh, which you use to create the 3D object. 

Alternatively, you can use Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines (NURBS) modeling, which combines simple 3D objects (like spheres and cones) and drawn curves. Once you achieve a rough shape, you can use sculpting tools to refine it into its final form. 

3D eggs
Maya animation software includes tools for 3D modeling to create shapes like these eggs. 

3D Rendering and Shading 

When learning how to render an animation in Maya, there are several tools you can use to achieve realistic lighting, texture, and shading. For example, you may want the surface of an animated object or character to model a particular material, like frosted glass or plastic. You can use Maya’s Standard Surface tool to create nearly any surface texture. It enables you to adjust components including transparency, sheen, and specular reflection and refraction to achieve your desired texture. 

Maya also features an integrated rendering tool, Arnold, that allows you to see scene changes—including elements like lighting—in real time. These tools make it easy and intuitive to learn how to render animation in Maya. 

3D skull
Mastering Maya’s Standard Surface tool is a key element to learning how to render animations in Maya. 

Importing and Exporting 

There are seamless workflows for how to export animations in Maya. For most exports (e.g., for how to import animations into Unreal from Maya), you simply go into the File menu and select Export. Maya also allows you to export native animation data as Universal Scene Description (USD) data, which is a framework created by Pixar. 

There’s a lot to learn in Maya—but by mastering this software, you’ll have all the tools you need to create animations for TV, film, or video games. Whether you want to pursue animation for fun or as a career, Maya can help you achieve your goals. 

Dive Into Animation 

Maya Animation For Beginners