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Maya ASCII Scene File Format

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Format Description Properties Explanation of format description terms

Identification and description Explanation of format description terms

Full name Maya ASCII Scene File Format

Maya ASCII files, referred to in the Autodesk documentation as "scene files", define the geometry, lighting, animation, rendering, and other properties of a 3D project scene. They are created using the Autodesk Maya software application. MA files are short for Maya ASCII. Maya scene files can be ASCII or binary. See Maya Binary for the binary variation of this format. Maya ASCII files contain text-based commands that specify information about the virtual scene.

Files are structured with a Header, File references, Requirements, Units, File references, "Nodes, attributes, and parenting", Script nodes, Disconnections, and Connections.

  • Header: Identifies where and when the file was created. The first six characters must be "//Maya".
  • File references: Specifies all other Maya files that are referenced in this file. This section only supports absolute paths and paths with environment variables. Relative path names are not supported.
  • Requirements: This section documents what software is needed to load the file, including Maya version and any plug-ins.
  • Units: This section determines how number units in the file are interpreted.
  • File information: Includes the application name, production details, version, cut identifier (date and time), and operating system and version. Any additional file-specific commands will be included in this section.
  • "Nodes, attributes, and parenting": This section contains the file data, stored as nodes. Nodes are a named block of data. Nodes are connected by parenting (grouping related geometry together) or attribute connections. As per the specification, "There are hundreds of different kinds of nodes in Maya, and more types can be added using plug-ins. Using these simple building blocks, Maya can represent elaborate models and animations."
  • Script nodes: Script nodes hold MEL code. MEL is a scripting language (see command syntax examples) used in Maya. MEL scripts can also be saved outside of the Maya file with the extension MEL.
  • Disconnections: This section breaks attribute connections among nodes from referenced files.
  • Connections: This section establishes attribute connections among all the nodes that have been created and referenced.

Autodesk says that saving files as the Maya ASCII file format is preferred over the Maya Binary file format when using file referencing because Maya ASCII files can be opened in a text editor, and are easier to troubleshoot. Similarly, they recommend Maya ASCII over the Maya Binary for backwards-compatibility reasons. Since Maya 2014, Maya Binary files are saved in the 64bit format and can exceed 2.0 GB in size, which is incompatible with earlier versions of the software.

Production phase Generally used for final-state, end-user delivery.
Relationship to other formats
    Affinity to MB, Maya Binary. Maya ASCII and Maya Binary files have the same technical construction but are saved to disk as either a text-based or binary-based file.
    Affinity to Maya IFF. From PRONOM: "Maya IFF files are raster images used for images and textures within Maya." Not described separately at this time.

Local use Explanation of format description terms

LC experience or existing holdings The Library of Congress has a small number of Maya ASCII files in its collections as of May 2024.
LC preference See the Library of Congress Recommended Formats Statement for format preferences for Design and 3D formats.

Sustainability factors Explanation of format description terms


Documentation of the format is limited to 2010 and 2011 versions of the software. It is not clear if subsequent versions produced breaking changes. Created and used by Autodesk, Inc.Comments welcome.


Autodesk Maya 2010: Organization of Maya ASCII files.

Autodesk Maya 2011: Organization of Maya ASCII files.


Used in Autodesk Maya, a software used to develop modeling and animating 3D assets and used in modeling, animation, lighting, and VFX. This software requires a subscription to use.

According to Autodesk Maya, Maya ASCII and Maya Binary are the only formats that preserve all the information contained within a Maya scene.

    Licensing and patents None specified. Comments welcome.
Transparency The format documentation, under "Write file translators", states: "If you want to write a program to translate Maya ASCII files to other file formats, you have a difficult job ahead of you. To do the job properly, you would not only need to be able to read in the files, but also to read in the referenced files. Since MEL references can contain any arbitrary MEL code, you would either have to not support them, or write a full MEL interpreter."
Self-documentation Dependencies are well-documented in the format under "File references" and "Requirements" sections. The "File information" section of the format includes application name, version, date and time identifier, operating system, and version.
External dependencies There are no specific external dependencies for this format, but it is designed to be used with Autodesk Maya software.
Technical protection considerations None.

Quality and functionality factors Explanation of format description terms

3D Model Geometry Maya ASCII files store geometry as nodes, and these nodes can be grouped together to form transformations. Attributes include size, position, translation, scaling, and rotation.
3D Model Appearance Maya ASCII files can store colors, textures, material types, and shading.
3D Model Scene Maya ASCII files can store lighting and other scene properties.
3D Model Animation Maya ASCII files can store animation and rendering.

File type signifiers and format identifiers Explanation of format description terms

Tag Value Note
Filename extension ma
As declared by Autodesk, Inc.
Magic numbers ASCII: //Maya
Hex: 2F2F4D617961204153434949
The specification states: "The file header consists of a block of comments to help identify where and when the file was created. Like all comments, this block is ignored by the code that reads in a Maya file. There is one exception, however: the first six characters of the file must be "//Maya"." PRONOM and Wikidata reference the equivalent to the ASCII characters written as hex values.
Pronom PUID fmt/863
Wikidata Title ID Q59653905
Maya ASCII File Format. See
Wikidata Title ID Q28771305
Maya scene. See

Notes Explanation of format description terms


From Maya Books (link via Internet Archive), "Maya is the culmination of three 3D software lines: Wavefront's The Advanced Visualizer (in California), Thomson Digital Image (TDI) Explore (in France) and Alias' Power Animator (in Canada). In 1993 Wavefront purchased TDI, and in 1995 Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI) purchased both Alias and Wavefront (due to pressure from Microsoft's purchase of Softimage earlier that year) and combined them into one working company, producing a single package from their collective source code. The combined company was referred to as Alias|Wavefront."

According to Wikipedia, the initial release of the software was February 1, 1998. In 2003, Alias|Wavefront was awarded an Oscar for its development of Maya software. Alias|Wavefront was acquired by Autodesk, Inc. for $182 million in October 2005.

Format specifications Explanation of format description terms

Useful references


Last Updated: 05/14/2024