Exploring the New Features in Maya 2016

Every year, Autodesk releases a new version of their popular software and creatives around the world who haven’t opted into a subscription license wonder whether or not it’s worth the upgrade cost. This year is no exception as arguably the most-used 3D program in the entertainment industry has received its anticipated update. Our team of instructors here at Digital-Tutors worked closely with Autodesk to create the ultimate guide to get you up and running in the latest version of Maya with the Introduction to Maya 2016. Although not all of the new features are vital for you to get up to speed in Maya, everyone loves checking out new features. And there’s enough of them in Maya 2016 to garner any 3D artist’s excitement. As someone who’s been using Maya since version 4, I’ll be the first to admit to being swept up in the frenzy and jumping at the chance to dig in and play with some of the new features. While there’s way too many improvements to go over each and every single one in-depth, let’s look at some of the big ones.

Interface update

Before After

Slide the bar in the middle of the image to see a comparison of the interface in Maya 2015 (sliding right) and Maya 2016 (sliding left).

If all you’ve done is seen a screenshot of what Maya’s interface used to look like, the first thing you’ll notice when you launch Maya 2016 is the massive overhaul to the interface. This refresh of all-new iconography may seem a bit strange for long-time Maya users. In my case, I’ll admit it was a little weird at first. Icons I’ve used for over a decade are suddenly different.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to get familiar with, and start to really enjoy, the new look.

The new interface updates are so much more than just making sure everything has a unified look and feel. Autodesk’s primary reason for updating the interface was to assist with user experience. That is, to help your experience using Maya be that much better when you’re using Maya on a high-resolution display, like Retina.

A brand new Hypershade

Maya 2016’s new Hypershade lets you preview your shading networks in real-time with an array of options.

Outside of the overall interface, perhaps one of the biggest visual and functional overhauls to Maya 2016 is the Hypershade. The material preview that used to be limited to a tiny box in the Attribute Editor of previous versions of Maya now has a much more prominent role inside the new Material Viewer window (which is inside of the Hypershade).

In my own personal opinion, while I was hesitant about the overall UI improvements at first, I fell in love with the new Hypershade as soon as I saw it. If for no other reason but the ability to see a real-time (or pretty close to real-time, depending on your system) preview of your shader is so much nicer than the shader previews in previous versions of Maya.

If you’re familiar with Maya, think of this new preview as being like having an IPR render built into the Hypershade. Pick the renderer you want, the sample object you want your shader applied to (default is a new shader ball) and whether or not you want the shader in an example setting, and your shader will update interactively as you adjust attributes.

Sculpting tools from Mudbox

Maya 2016 now has quite a bit of the sculpting brushes from Mudbox, so you don’t have to bounce between software for all of your projects.

Modelers out there will be excited to see that Autodesk has ported over a lot of the brushes from Mudbox directly into Maya. This is exciting because it can really help speed up your workflow for some of your sculpting projects.

It’s worth pointing out that the still aren’t any subdivision levels in Maya like you have in Mudbox, though. While I suppose you could work around this by using Maya’s built-in smooth node, it’s still not quite the same. Still, the added sculpting tools expands on the amount of work you can do directly inside of Maya without having to worry about sending files over to Mudbox.

Improved UV editing tools

With Maya 2016’s integration of Unfold3D technology, UVing has never been easier. You’ll probably still hate it, but at least it’s easier than it was before.

With last year’s Maya 2015 release, Autodesk started integrating the Unfold3D technology directly in Maya. With Maya 2016, that integration continues by way of some new UV tools and brushes have been added. You read that right: UV brushes. Think of them sort of like the Smudge Tool in previous versions of Maya, except a lot easier to work with.

While the new UV tools in Maya 2016 probably won’t make you love UVing anymore than you have in the past, they definitely add a lot more functionality that can help speed up the process. Anything that can help you spend less time laying out UVs is a good thing.

Enhanced color management

Before After

Slide the bar in the middle of the image to see an example of the gamma correction being toggled on and off in the viewport of Maya 2016.

Another timesaving improvement in Maya 2016 are the significant upgrades to the color management tools. There’s been increasingly easier-to-use color management options in the last few versions of Maya, and that trend continues even further in Maya 2016. For example, in previous versions of Maya color management was something that was pretty much only done through the Render Settings. Now you have independent control over your gamma in any viewport, as well as in the Render View window.

If you’re not familiar with why this is important for your 3D workflows, be sure to check out our Linear Workflows in Maya tutorial. While we haven’t updated the course to leverage the new tools in Maya 2016 (yet), it still gives you a great base for why you should be utilizing a linear workflow and how you can do that.

An overhaul of the Hotkey Editor

Maya 2016’s new Hotkey Editor is simple and straightforward to use.

Maya’s ability to be customized is one of the huge reasons why it’s grown to become the industry standard 3D program it has. While this might not be something everyone takes advantage of right away, as you start to customize your instance of Maya you’ll find the new improvements in the Hotkey Editor to be pretty special in its own right.

Other than the visual improvements, which are incredibly simple if you think about it, the ability to instantly see which keyboard combinations are mapped or open is pretty great.

Is it a game-changer? Not really. A time-saver? Definitely.


This is just scratching the surface of some of the cool, new features and improvements in Maya 2016. We haven’t even covered other improvements like spline IK, new nodes for the real-time ShaderFX physically based shading, enhanced pivot adjustments, increased poly caps for FBX exports and so on.

If you’re new to Maya or even if you’ve used Maya before and want to get up to speed in the latest version, be sure to check out our in-depth Introduction to Maya 2016 tutorial and check back soon for even more Maya 2016 tutorials.