Software like Autodesk Maya and 3D Studio Max brings professional quality tools to independent artist, hobbyist, and the student with an interest in animation. Maya 3D modeling software is the industry standard for creating 3D characters and objects. Maya is used in the game, film, television and tech industries and computer generated imagery is a standard in almost every form of media.
What’s Your Experience?
In my experience as a Digital Media Academy instructor and university professor, I have seen more and more students showing up to class with prior experience creating 3D models and animation. These student artists are usually self-taught, having picked up whatever lessons they could find online and in print.
I experienced this myself when I was first learning Maya. I had first worked in Softimage and 3D Studio Max, and I had practically taught myself 3D modeling through manuals and online tutorials. (To a certain extent this method works fine, but professional instruction teaches best practices and professional techniques.) To learn Maya I thought I would go through the same experience, and was on my way to doing that when the company I worked for hired a Maya professional to come in for a few days and get our team of 3D animators up to speed on how to model, rig, and animate a character. (Yes, it’s true, even professional 3D modelling artists can benefit from Maya workshops.) I learned more in those two days than I had learned on my own in the past two years.
Not only was it personalized instruction, but I had never had someone tie it all together into such a well-organized workflow. Things made sense and were directly relevant to the 3D modeling task at hand. Now all the bits and pieces of the online tutorials and book chapters came together like puzzle pieces falling into place.
And not only was that time productive, my future self-directed learning in Maya was made more valuable because I was able to put it into the solid framework established during that 3D modeling training session.
Modeling a Career Path
Do you want to become a professional 3D animation artist? If so, you’re beginning a long and rewarding journey. My best advice? I highly recommend you take the time to get started on the right foot with some quality instruction. Digital Media Academy offers great courses to learn how to create and animate using Maya.
By Chris Platz, Lead 3d Game Art and Design Instructor, DMA @ Stanford University
After last week’s Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, I realized that we are indeed in a new Renaissance, and most of us don’t even know it. The current convergence of social networks, virtual worlds, and games is connecting people world wide faster, and in new ways that are mind boggling.
The research going on in the two departments I work in at Stanford has opened my eyes to many of these new paradigm shifts on the Web. The current group I am spending the most time with is the Stanford Humanities Lab shl.stanford.edu
This is where society meets art, meets technology. Our new open source 3D virtual world platform Sirikata is being developed so that anyone can build a networked virtual environment, and use it for what ever they like.
The other research going on the the Computer Science Department, Graphics group, is also truly amazing. Tools that allow for anyone to build a great avatar will soon be available. A few Ph.D. students have a rendering system that rendered over 12 BILLION polygons realtime, and with 6 simultaneous users in that networked environment! Incredible advances.
What does all of this mean for me as an instructor? By next year we’ll have a virtual classroom environment in 3D, with people logged in from all over the world. Inside people will be able to upload their 3D models and textures directly from their favorite 3D package, and we’ll build worlds, games, whatever, together and be able to talk with Voip. All of this will happen with dynamic lighting.
This should all trickle down to K-12 education, and allow children to start building virtual environments to express themselves, learn, and communicate in such a manner that they will far surpass us old folks by the time I see them in my DMA students in college classrooms. They already know more than I do in many ways, and I love the collaborative learning that goes on when generations come together around new technologies.
How-To by Geoff Beatty
When you’re creating an animated character there are many things you need to consider. 3D modeling and the animation process, by default, requires constant evaluation and decision-making. That’s why it’s helpful to group the thousands of visual choices you need to make into available into basic, fundamental principles. One of the most important elements is asymmetry.
The dictionary defines asymmetry as an inequality between two parts, and in the world of mathematics, this is usually not ideal. But in the context of design (and in 3D modeling and animation in particular) asymmetry is vitally important in establishing interest and believability. Asymmetry helps to establish believability because we live in a world where things are naturally assymetrical.
Asymmetry helps to establish variation from one thing to another, in this case left to right, and makes the subject look more interesting.
For a basic example of asymmetry look no further than the human face. Take a look at the image above, which face looks more natural? The image on the left is natural, while the one on the right is mirrored, or symmetrical.
Now how does this translate into the context of 3D modeling and animation? How do we achieve asymmetry while creating a character in a program like Maya? Don’t fret, there are some simple ways to do this:
1. Create, Mirror, then Modify
A common approach to modeling characters is to work on one half and then mirror the geometry to the other side. This is a smart way to work, as it resembles the rough symmetry of most characters and simultaneously cuts the work in half.
Still this leaves us with a completely symmetrical model when we want something more believable. It looks, for lack of a better word, “computer-ish.” You can avoid this by simply altering certain elements of one side of the model through scaling or sculpting or using lattice deformers.
Modifying small elements will help bring life and believability to your model.
2. Animate with Style
How do we incorporate asymmetry into animation? While posing a model consider a more dynamic, more readable pose. During animation, motion curves representing opposite sides of the body can be offset to provide a sort of temporal asymmetry. This creates a pleasant overlap and flexibility to a characters action, an important step in creating a believable sense of weight.
Asymmetry, is a vital step in making your characters believable. The presence of asymmetry not only brings your characters to life, but indicates to the viewer, you thought about the design, both as a modeler and animator. You can learn more about 3D modeling by going to a 3D art and computer graphics camp, with the latest animation and modeling tools at your disposal, you’ll be creating 3D art in no time.
By Geoff Beatty, Lead Maya Instructor – DMA @ UPENN
One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is opening doors for my students. At the beginning of each class, I literally unlock the door to the computer lab, turn the lights on, and lead my students in. But in a more meaningful sense, I enjoy being the one (or one of many) who introduces them to a new medium, a new set of tools for creating imagery and telling stories. The part of that experience that is especially gratifying is seeing my students making connections between their respective backgrounds (e.g. illustration, music, graphic design) and this newfound world of 3D modeling and animation.
Last year, during DMA’s Maya sessions at the University of Pennsylvania campus, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach an amazingly diverse group. Among that group, there was the middle-aged illustrator from the midwest, learning a new skill. There was the recent art school graduate with a graphic design degree. There was the home-schooled high-schooler with an interest in visualization. And there was the teenage musician and composer with a talent for digital imagery.
Each person brought a unique sensability and focus to their study of Maya. And I can truly say that by the end, there were just as many unique 3D creations. The characters, environments, and animations they made each reflected a personal vision. And this is what I consider the strength of both the software, Maya, and the type of course I was teaching at DMA. My duty as an instructor was two-fold. First, I introduced students to the basics of the software. This included both the explicit features and the implicit workflow, which is the proper process and sequence for using those features. Secondly, I attempted to build on that foundational and common knowledge by guiding each student to a point where they could begin to use that tool to fulfill a personal interest or vision.
This ends up being the point at which I grow too as a 3D artist and instructor. DMA courses bring together such a variety of students that it ends up being an antidote to the homogeneity common to most 3D classrooms. I learn new things every time I interact with my students. My experience last summer was so gratifying in that respect that I couldn’t turn up the chance to teach again. I look forward to opening doors, turning on lights, and having my students do the same for me.
By Dave Bittorf, Lead 3d Modeling and Animation Instructor, DMA @ UC San Diego
Learning Maya can really open some doors for you in the world of 3D, animation, and special effects. This will be my 3rd summer with DMA and I love how streamline the curriculum is. Here is a quick overview of the Maya I and II courses.
MAYA I : Introduction to 3D Modeling
Maya has become one of the foremost 3D packages in the film industry. Participants in this Maya I training course will explore the Maya interface, workflow and production pipeline. The course includes an in-depth analysis of the modeling and texturing process. The class will also introduce students to basic rigging, blendshapes and other character animation functions.
During the course, you’ll use many of Maya’s high-end modeling tools to create a fully modeled, textured, lit and rendered interior set design. You’ll also construct a game character and a higher-poly organic head. And you’ll do basic rigging for a pre-built character including blendshape (for facial animation) setup and use these rigs for basic character animation
MAYA II : 3D Character Animation
In this Maya training course, you’ll learn the advanced features of Maya’s animation package. We’ll explore the dope sheet and graph editor in depth, and learn about keyframes and how to manipulate them to create believable motion. Many of the basic tenets of good animation will be covered to help you understand the difference between motion and believable physics and weight-based animation.
During the course, you’ll create multiple animation projects, including custom rigs utilizing techniques like IK, spline IK, custom skinweights and custom character control systems. These projects (including illustrations of stretch & squash, the whip principle, secondary motion and anticipation/action/follow-through) will be output both as playblasts and portfolio-ready rendered clip.
I hope you can join DMA for an amazing Maya learning experience this summer.