Updated: this blog post was updated with new info on March 9, 2017
As you may know Autodesk Maya®/Maya LT™ and Autodesk 3dsMax® are two game industry standard for 3d software. These two programs are the most widely used in game studios around the world. Of course they are not the only 3d packages out there, others include Blender, Modo or Cinema 4D.
I myself have been using Maya since 2005.
In 2005-2009 I attended college to study computer animation. During these four years, I used Maya primarily for storytelling and character animation. So my foundation and knowledge of Maya was built on how well I can model, UV, texture, rig, light, render and animate to create 30-120 second short films.
Animation lip sync college project - rig controls
Going through computer animation program made me realize something very important. I never wanted to animate ever again. My passion and love was for creating game environments. So after graduation in 2009 I switched to use Maya only for modeling and UVing game environment ready assets/props.
But during the switch I encountered a lot of problems.
Many of the techniques, methods and principles I knew were not transferable to game environment modeling. There was a period of adjustment and relearning I had to go through from computer animation to game environment design.
Unreal Tournament 3 fan map I created using some custom assets modeled in Maya and where a lot of my re-learning began:
Eventually I began to optimize and streamline the game environment art process. I realized that I was only using Maya for modeling and UVing workflow and ignoring all other features such as animation, rigging, dynamics, rendering, lighting, composite etc.
Maya became too expensive to continue paying for features I wasn't using.
In 2013 Autodesk® announced and released Maya LT, a slimmer, independent game development version of Maya. It wasn't until a year later when I wanted to update to newer version of Maya that I considered switching to Maya LT.
After a lot of research and comparing Maya vs Maya LT I decided to completely transition to Maya LT.
In December of 2014, after almost a decade of using Maya, I switched to using Maya LT for game environment modeling.
My first project was for "UE4 The Corridor Project" series and all of its assets were created using Maya LT without any issues:
Unreal Engine 4 Corridor Assets created using Maya LT
Maya LT modeled Corridor Assets used inside UE4 project
The main two reasons for switching were due to Maya LT having the same modeling tools as full version. With UVing & texturing tools being almost identical between both versions; only two things were missing from Maya LT UV/Texturing pipeline - transfer maps and PSD support. But that's ok. I'll take $ savings from Maya to Maya LT by not having these two features.
Maya vs Maya LT Modeling Comparisons:
Maya vs Maya LT UV/Texturing Comparisons:
Maya LT also has the ability to export as .obj and .fbx. Both file formats were important to me as they are commonly used to export/import to a game engine.
Autodesk made Maya LT very friendly towards game developers, including Unreal Engine and Unity users. As both game engines have their own icon "Send to Unreal" and "Send to Unity" for exporting geometry. These are important because Maya LT does have polygon limit for exporting.
As of Maya LT 2017 polygon limit has been raised to 250,000. But there is no polygon limit if you use the "Send to Unreal" and "Send to Unity" option.
The biggest limitation of Maya LT is lack of Python support. Many plug-ins/scripts that you may have used in Maya will not work in Maya LT; such as the Unreal Engine ART (Animation and Rigging Tools), Nightshade UV Editor and many other scripts written in Python.
MEL scripting is supported.
Also, if you are using ZBrush then you should know there is no support for GoZ in Zbrush. GoZ (GoZBrush) is a bridge between ZBrush and 3D package, built around GoZ file format. It allows to send your 3D meshes from ZBrush to your 3d package and back to ZBrush with a single click.
I am not a ZBrush user so this doesn't affect me. I use Mudbox and Maya LT works seamlessly between Mudbox and Maya LT with a simple "Send to Mudbox" option.
Maya LT does offer a very extensive animation/rigging toolset and may be enough for what you need, but you will be giving up a few features not included from full version of Maya.
I recommend spending some time going over all features you need if you are going to be using it beyond game environment modeling. See full comparison chart of Maya vs Maya LT here.
With some negatives, I still recommend Maya LT for game environment modeling instead of regular version of Maya. I use Maya LT and I don't see myself switching back to regular version any time soon, if at all. In fact, Maya LT 2017 introduced a lot of new improvements in modeling and UV workflow that I really like.
Overall, I've been using Maya LT for 2+ years and I have yet to encounter a time where I wished I was using Maya instead.
The main take-ways are:
Learn Maya LT/Maya: You must learn 3d modeling software as a specialist and not as a generalist. Follow this tutorial series and finally be able to learn Maya LT/Maya for game environment modeling and UVing.
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