If you’ve been looking into free 3D modeling, animation and rendering packages I’m sure you’ve come across Blender, which is a great open-source solution and a fantastic way to learn 3D animation skills. At the same time, however, we all know that Blender is not the industry standard for this type of work.
What if you want to use Autodesk’s Maya, THE Industry standard?
So what if you really want to learn a package the huge companies like Pixar, ILM, Ubisoft, EA Games, Steam, and many others use on a daily basis? What if, in other words, you want to use Autodesk’s Maya, THE industry standard for 3D animation? This is going to cost you a ton, right? After all, commercial licenses are nearly $1,800/year. Yikes!
Good thing there are actually two options to get it for free!
If you want the best of the best you will want to use a professional package like Maya
First, however, why even bother with Maya? Why not use a package like Blender? While Blender has a lot of the same tools, and the interface is similar, and while Blender’s mission to open source 3D animation tools is an awesome mission, if you want the best of the best—and the skills to one day potentially get a job doing this kind of work—you will want to use a professional package like Maya. Not only does Maya include all the same tools as Blender, it also has additional industry-leading tools that let you do technical animation (water, fire, smoke, explosions, cloth, hair, etc.); and muscle systems; and the Arnold rendering engine; and Trax nonlinear animation editing; and many other tools in an ever growing list. In other words, Maya is a beast of a program and you can keep learning it for years.
Additionally, as noted previously, Maya is the industry standard. To use an analogy from the Music industry, if you want a job as a music engineer, you need to know Pro Tools. While there are many other music production programs, Pro Tools is expected for new hires. The same can be said for Media Composer in the high-end film post-production industry.
In short, if you can put “2 years experience with Maya” on your resume that will get you noticed! And since Maya works on Mac and PC, you’re covered, whichever computer you own.
If you can put “2 years experience with Maya” on your resume that will get you noticed!
You now know it’s a a great idea to learn how to use Maya. So how do you get it for free?
The first method is (in my opinion) the lesser of the two, but some of you might have to use it. Autodesk now produces a product called “Maya LT” (or Maya Lite) that has the basic elements of Maya in it. The problem, however, is that Maya LT doesn’t expose you to all of the cool tools Maya has, and it also saves files in the .mlt format, rather than Maya’s standard .ma or .mb file format. This means that Maya LT files are totally incompatible with normal Maya files, which reduces the value of Maya LT significantly.
*Of note, Autodesk now only has a 30 day free trial for Maya LT, which means you will have to spend some money on this version if you intend to use it long-term.*
Maya’s Educational Licensing program gives you a full version of Maya Absolutely Free! You’re getting a full $1800/year license for nothing at all!
What’s the better solution? Maya’s Educational Licensing program, which gives you a full version of Maya Absolutely Free! In other words, you’re getting a full $1800/year license for nothing at all! What’s the catch? Well there are two: first you have to be a student (or a teacher, like me), and second, you cannot use the free Maya license for any commercial use. In other words you can’t sell what you produce with Maya education license. If you’re a student or teacher, however, these are pretty darned generous terms, and you should definitely take advantage of them!
So how do you get your free Maya education, or Maya LT?
For Maya Lite, it couldn’t be simpler. Go here, sign up for an Autodesk account, download Maya Lite, and get to work!
For Maya education licensing there is an additional step.
For Maya education licensing there is an additional step. First, go here and sign up for an educational account. You will need to provide proof of being either a student or a teacher—which can be a photo of your school ID, or an official note from the school stating you are an enrolled student. It will then take one to a few days to hear word back from Autodesk that you have been accepted into the educational program. You can then go here and download whichever recent version of Maya you want. It’ll take a couple of days for all these steps, but you’ll get the full version of Maya to use after that, and the license lasts for a year, and can be renewed each year by renewing your education account.
As a little bonus, if you’re too impatient to wait on your educational account to be approved, you can download a trial version of Maya and use it for 7 days for free while you await your educational account approval.
What do you have to be to qualified for Maya’s education licensing? You have to be 13 years old or older, and in middle school (generally 7th grade in the US, or equivalent elsewhere), and of course you have to be a registered, current student. If you’re a college student, or a graduate student, or a teacher at any of these levels, you also qualify!
If you’re a student or teacher, there is really no excuse not to go ahead and get Maya!
In the end, while Blender is a great program and I applaud everyone working on it, if you’re a student or teacher, there is really no excuse not to go ahead and get Maya! You can always use Blender and Maya together (no one says it has to be one or the other!) and you can learn to use Maya for free as you build your skills to make your dreams come true—whether that’s just building models for fun, or if it’s doing rigid body simulations for the next big-budget movie at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). So what are you waiting for? Go out and get you some of that delicious, free Maya!
John Gibbs (who’s been teaching Maya—and using educational licenses—since 1997!)
PS If you’d like to see another article on how to start using Maya—how the interface works, how to install it, and some basic advice to get you started, let me know in the comments. Thanks!