Interested in scientific visualizations? Read on to learn how we tackle them.

Autodesk Maya 2013

There are many different software packages available to help create three-dimensional graphics and animation. Here in Ecampus, we prefer Autodesk’s Maya. This is a sort of ridiculously complex program with a wide range of abilities, from modeling (with polygons, NURBs, or subdivs) to texturing to animating to simulating physics. (How complex is it really? Imagine 6 different Photoshops in one package! Maya doesn’t just have a menu bar, it has 6 different menu bar sets.)

sample of ball visualizationAutodesk offers fully-functional educational licenses for Maya (free) to any student who signs up through their website. The educational license is good for 3-years. This is a pretty good deal, since you would normally pay almost $3,700.

They also offer dozens of other programs that complement Maya, under this same license.

One of the greatest aspects of Maya is that it’s extremely customizable. You can build your own time saving scripts, or use add-ons to improve functionality.


The mMaya add-on

example of blobs visualizationEcampus PDT’s lead animator, Nick Harper, found a very well designed and helpful add-on called “Molecular Maya Toolkit” (aka “mMaya”) while working on micro-biological science animations. mMaya lets you pull protein structures from a protein database and manipulate them in 3D.

Here is a brief overview:

The structures you create are very simple to customize (by tweaking details in various tool tabs). Structures can be displayed in a variety of formats (see the example images in this blog post), depending on your needs, and textures are applied exactly like any other object in Maya.

sample of controlsThe mMaya toolkit is available from the website Molecular Movies. It installs itself as a new tool panel in Maya, below the standard Attribute Editor and Channel Box Editor.

“This web resource presents an organized directory of cell and molecular animations, as well as a collection of original tutorials for life science professionals learning 3D visualization. The goal is to provide an efficient way for scientists and educators to browse and access existing animations for teaching and communication purposes. We hope to build an open community among 3D users focusing their efforts on cell and molecular visualizations.” –

If you have a use for this tool in your class, please contact me, or comment on this post. We’re always happy to generate animations and illustrations! If you’d like to suggest other Maya add-ons or scripts, please leave a comment below.

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