In 2003, Maya (then owned by AliasWavefront) won an Academy Award "for scientific and technical achievement", citing use "on nearly every feature using 3-D computer-generated images."
Maya is a popular, integrated node-based 3D software suite, evolved from Wavefront Explorer and Alias PowerAnimator using technologies from both. The software is released in two versions: Maya Complete and Maya Unlimited. Maya Personal Learning Edition (PLE) was available (excluding the Linux version) at no cost for non-commercial use, with the resulting rendered image watermarked, but as of December 2, 2008, it was no longer made available.
Maya was originally released for the IRIX operating system, and subsequently ported to the Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X operating systems. IRIX support was discontinued after the release of version 6.5. When Autodesk acquired Alias in October 2005, they continued Maya development. The latest version, 2009 (10.0), was released in October 2008.
An important feature of Maya is its openness to third-party software, which can strip the software completely of its standard appearance and, using only the kernel, transform it into a highly customized version of the software. This feature in itself made Maya appealing to large studios, which tend to write custom code for their productions using the provided software development kit.
A Tcl-like cross-platform scripting language called Maya Embedded Language (MEL) is provided not only as a scripting language, but as means to customize Maya's core functionality (much of the environment and tools are written in the language). Additionally, user interactions are implemented and recorded as MEL scripting code which users can store on a toolbar, allowing animators to add functionality without experience in C or C++, though that option is provided with the software development kit. Support for Python scripting was added in version 8.5.
The core of Maya itself is written in C++.
Project files, including all geometry and animation data, are stored as sequences of MEL operations which can be optionally saved as a human-readable file (.ma, for "Maya ASCII"), editable in any text editor outside of the Maya environment, thus allowing for a high level of flexibility when working with external tools.
A marking menu is built into larger menu system called Hotbox that provides instant access to a majority of features in Maya at the press of a key.
NURBS, polygons and subdivision surfaces (or SubDivs) are available in Maya. Maya features a particle system for handling masses like steam and water drops. Dynamic fields allow adding gravity, wind and vortexes, allowing for effects such as blowing leaves or even tornadoes. Special tools give artists the ability to brush and style particles like hair and fur.
Maya Unlimited version comes with a set of tools not available in the Maya complete version: Maya Fluid Effects, Maya Classic Cloth, Maya Fur, Maya Hair, Maya Live, Maya nCloth, Maya nParticle.