If you’re interested in becoming a 3D video game or character designer, the first thing you want to do is learn how to use the tools of the trade. One of those tools is ZBrush.
What is ZBrush?
ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that lets artist paint, texture and model 3D computer objects.
ZBrush uses a proprietary “pixol” technology that captures all the information an artist needs to create character or object including color and lighting information.
How is ZBrush different from other 3D modeling tools? With ZBrush, users actually sculpt their objects like traditional artists might use clay or stone. Introduced in 1999 at SIGGRAPH by Pixologic Inc., today ZBrush is used by everyone from Electronic Arts to Disney to produce characters and objects for video games, movies and television.
Next-Gen Production Tools and Techniques
“I rely heavily on ZBrush to render anything organic in an environment,” Kevin Johnstone is a Senior Artist for Epic Games, the company behind the video game mega-hit Gears of War. “(ZBrush) give(s) most of my mechanical hard surface models a degree of weathering and damage so I can avoid making things look too manufactured or unused.” Learn how Epic Games used ZBrush to create Gears of War.
This advanced production tool is capable of producing anything from rocks to people and it does it with ease.
Learning how to use 3D modeling software like ZBrush starts by getting the right training – and those best practices are taught by DMA. It’s important to get the right start, why? Artist who pick up bad habits or workflow spend more time re-learning correct and industry standard methods.
Using Pixologic’s ZBrush and learning advanced digital painting and texture mapping with Photoshop® can help make you a professional digital artist. Knowing techniques for creating architecture, characters, creatures, vehicles and other objects are essential. Techniques for normal mapping, grunge-color maps and specularity maps are also important.
To create the incredible detail you see in the games, DMA teaches both fine art principals such as color theory, layout compositional design, form and structure, as well as other techniques to expand your understanding of the art of game design.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s an age-old question, and one people ask themselves, believe it or not, well into their 40′s and 50′s. Today, computer imagery plays a major role in entertainment and even business.
From online games to super hero blockbusters like Batman, computer generated characters, environments and animation are what hold our attention. Today, it’s pretty easy to start dabbling in 3D modeling. Off the shelf and developer provided tools allow games to be modded, to add your favorite shirt to a character, or even put your face on a famous hockey player or video game fighter.
Modeling Your Future
3D modeling and animation put fantastic worlds and characters at our command. Learning 3D modeling can be the first step to a career as a game designer, a creative director or a film producer. For a technical field like 3D modeling, a four year college can be expensive, especially if you’re looking at a very technical field like 3D animation and want to have access to the newest tech.
That’s where DMA comes in, sure it’s possible to learn on your own, but learning from a professional is the smartest path. So is getting hands-on experience with the the latest hardware and software, like Maya, or 3D Studio Max. Before you know it, you could be pushing polygons around to animate the next Shrek. Or creating a video game level, or wonderful random abstract whimsical thing.
Digital Media Academy gives you a chance to get the experience and get it from expert educators who been studying and practicing what they teach for years. Teachers who will answer all the questions you can throw at them without investing in 4-5 years at college. (That’s not to say a one-week summer camp takes the place of a four-year education, on the contrary, DMA can help you get ready for a four year school or provide the skills you need to help you get a job.)
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.
We’ve all been there, watching a film when an amazing special effect blows your mind – leaving you to wonder how did they do that? Well, several years back, I started asking fellow editors and educators this very question – and again and again I heard the same response: After Effects. Want to motion track? After Effects. Want to green screen? After Effects. Want color correction? After Effects. Want an intergalactic light saber fight scene with explosions and an amazing 3D camera move? After Effects.
I started to see a trend . . .
Satisfied with this answer – I happily downloaded the free 30-day trial of AE (that’s After Effects for short) from Adobe’s website. However, my initial enthusiasm soon waned, well, plummeted actually. Almost immediately after launching AE, I had a common new user experience – I will politely dub “After Shock”. To explain, as a full-time teacher of Adobe software for years, I had taught literally thousands of people how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, and/or Premiere Pro. Some would even say I’m bit of an Adobe zealot: I’ve beta-tested new releases, done workshops all over, and even trained new Adobe employees through the Digital Media Academy. Indeed, when it comes to Adobe software no mysterious button, workflow, or special effect is safe from my twisted desire to know everything an application can do.
But here was After Effects, and it appeared to be a different animal entirely. I must confess, I was a grown man . . . and I was afraid.
Like most who experience such After Shock, I did my best to poke around and bend After Effects to my will – but with little success. For those comfortable with other Adobe apps, there are some truly strange and downright spooky moments to be had when first looking at AE – for example, creating a new project does not involve a settings menu, there is no razor tool to cut clips with, there are over 200 effects each with a range of adjustments allowing for literally millions of possible combinations . . . and seemingly as many shortcuts. Clearly, this was not my beloved, intuitive Photoshop.
So given the choice of abandoning the AE quest – or to stubbornly plod on – I looked at every AE website I could find, read every book I could get my hands on, watched DVD tutorials, took a class with my fellow Adobe Ed Leaders, and even bothered contacts at Adobe for more info. It was not always a smooth journey, my friends, but along the way I came to three important conclusions:
1) AE is just as amazing as they say.
2) AE can be easy to learn – if approached the right way.
3) I could have realized #2 a whole lot sooner.
Essentially, in looking back at my AE travails, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I slowed down my own progress by forming some common AE misconceptions. So for those of you just setting out with AE (or hoping to someday), I hope this list of “5 Beginner After Effect Tips” might make your experience much better – and possibly save you a few months of your life:
5 Beginner After Effect Tips
1) Know your DV basics first. As a longtime editor, this was the only thing I had going for me when I started with AE – and probably the only thing that kept me going early on. Basically, if terms like 24fps, interlacing, NTSC, or compression are entirely new to you, help yourself out by visiting some useful websites that define such basic DV terms and concepts:
For just the bare bones of DV, you can start with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_video#Technical_overview
For the hardcore user, checkout the extremely thorough DV primers on Adobe’s site: http://www.adobe.com/motion/primers.html
2) Know what After Effects is (and is not) for. Think of AE as a dedicated special effects application for individual shots and short animations – and here’s critical part- you typically perfect these shots in AE and then export them to your preferred editing application. In other words, AE is a great enhancement to (but not a replacement of) your editing software. This paradigm shift is really important– because AE is not really designed to: capture footage, make a bunch of tight cuts, work with transitions, etc. as you would with Final Cut, Premiere Pro, etc. Because AE is dedicated to special effects, it is appropriately different in many respects and truly does have a logical structure and workflow. Embrace these differences (and the rationale for them) and you’ll be far less likely to fall into the common trap of thinking “why doesn’t AE work like my editing software?”
3) Know just enough of the AE keyboard shortcuts to be dangerous – and realize that this does not mean that many. While certain shortcuts are essential to AE, most are simply there to save you from a deep dive into the pull down menus and an extra click or two. Do not feel that you need to know a hundred of these to be an AE editor. By learning 10-20 of these clever little guys, you’ll soon adapt to a new way of editing – and find yourself having a much better time. To get you going, here are 10 shortcuts that I particularly like (and that took a while to discover):
When getting started:
With a new project, import a video clip, and drag it to the comp timeline. This is often preferable to creating a composition first because it auto-creates a new composition that matches the chosen video clip’s duration, scale, frame rate, and pixel ratio.
When making edits in the composition timeline:
Page Down moves the current time one frame forward
Page Up moves the current time one frame backward
; toggles the view to a full zoom in or out at your current time.
Ctrl + [ trims the “in” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time - and as you might expect it has a twin . . .
Ctrl + ] trims the “out” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time.
Ctrl +D duplicates selected layers or effects
Ctrl + Shift + D duplicates and cuts a layer at the current time. It’s as close to a razor tool as you will find in AE.
U shows only the keyframed attributes of a selected layer.
Alt + Drag selected keyframes stretches (or squeezes) the distribution of selected keyframe groups uniformly. This can save a ton of time when retiming a complex multi-layered effect.
4) Start simple, and I mean super simple. With all that you can do in AE, it’s tempting to try to make first project something colossal. So while making an HD sequel to the movie “300” (green screen and all) is certainly do-able in AE, it would lead to more than a little frustration for a newcomer. (Not that I’m speaking from experience . . . ahem). Try experimenting in a standard definition project with a few foundational elements – 3d space, keyframing, text animation, camera moves, etc. and you will have a much easier (and more fulfilling) sense of what can eventually be done on the grand scale.
5) Take a class (and yes, this is a shameless plug . . . but hear me out). The incredible range of AE means that its structure has a corresponding range of complexity – which can be tricky to figure out. To this end, I am all for books, web tutorials, DVDs, etc., but there is simply nothing like project-based, hands on training. Moreover, having learned differing approaches from so many AE experts over the years, I have worked hard to come up with a streamlined approach to learning AE that is enjoyable, easy, and avoids the mistakes that so many of us have made when first starting out.
Looking back, I’ve come a long way from my initial day of After Shock, but I am proud to say that After Effects is now my favorite application to use – and to teach. Even though I took the long way to get there, I am now proud to have clients pleased with AE results - and students creating with some of those the same special effects I first fell in love with on the big screen.
Hope to see you at DMA this summer,
By Thomas Hensler Lead After Effects Instructor (Adobe Certified Expert)
Adobe’s exciting new release of the Creative Suite applications welcomes a wealth of features to streamline workflow, customize workspaces, and save you time. After Effects has long been one of the industry standards for effects compositing and working with motion graphics. DMA’s Introduction to Motion Graphics & Visual Effects with Adobe After Effects course will allow you take an in-depth look at this powerful program and explore many of its new features.
Integrating multiple applications for seamless project workflow has never been easier than with the new Adobe Bridge and the Adobe Dynamic Link. Learn how to import files from Illustrator and Photoshop and bring them to life in both 2D and 3D environments inside After Effects. Key-framing, motion control, and various video exporting tools will be covered as we work on individualized projects to suit each student’s interests. At the conclusion of the course you will walk away with your own motion graphic demo reel that includes all of your project files and animations! Be sure to take the opportunity to view the online course outline to see all of the topics we will be covering.
It has been an exciting journey working with DMA and we can’t wait to see you this summer at one of our many amazing locations!
Andy Hoffman is currently a junior at Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston, Texas and will be graduating in the Spring of 2010. Andy has known since he was 10 years old that he wanted to find a college that would allow him to get a degree in Video Game Design and allow him to go into the gaming industry.
The following is an interview with Andy. Read showcasing how Digital Media Academy inspired Andy and helped him acquire great skills that will allow him to pursue his passion.
DMA: How old are you?
DMA: How many summers have you been attending DMA?
Andy: This will be my fourth summer.
Andy has taken the following game creation courses at DMA:
- 3d Game Creation I with 3ds Max (July 06)
- 3d Game Creation II with 3ds Max (July 07)
- 3d Game Creation III with 3ds Max and Maya (Aug. 07)
- Advanced Video Game Production I with 3ds Max, Maya, & Zbrush (July 08)
- Advanced Video Game Production II with 3ds Max, Maya, & Zbrush (July 08)
DMA: Which DMA location did you attend?
Andy: Stanford University. I enjoy the campus environment, it’s very easy to get around and a relaxing environment.
DMA: Prior to attending DMA, did you know what career path you wanted to take?
Andy: Somewhat. The main issue that prevented me from deciding to go into game design prior to attending DMA was the practicality of it.
DMA: Describe your experience at DMA.
Andy: In the past three summers I’ve learned a lot and had fun doing it.
DMA: How has DMA helped you in deciding what you would like to do when you “grow up”?
Andy: Meeting other kids with similar interests, and the instructors and speakers who came and spoke to us about the game design industry really inspired me.
DMA: Do you know which University you would like to attend?
Andy: Through the help of DMA and my high school counselor, I found several incredible options that are considered prestigious in the game industry. I’ve now narrowed my search down to Savannah College of Art and Design, Ringling College of Art and Design, Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and University of Southern California. SMU offers a 5 year program that includes a masters degree as well.
DMA: What stands out the most for you from your time spent at DMA camps.
Andy: Being in high school, but living on a college campus for a few weeks out of the summer doing what I will hopefully be doing a year or two from now when I’m actually in college.
DMA: Describe the quality of the facilities, computers, instructors, etc.
Andy: Beyond expectations.
We also got a chance to talk to Andy’s mom, Joni Hoffman.
DMA: As a parent, please describe your experience with DMA.
Joni: My son Andy has been interested in Video Game Design since he was 10 years old. He attended several local video game creation computer camps offered in Houston. We found that Andy knew more than the instructors, even at a young age. He would ask questions they simply could not answer. We soon learned that Andy needed a more serious and rigorous program than what we had locally. I was thrilled to find DMA. It has been an incredible experience for Andy. This summer will be his 4th summer and unfortunately his last. He will be a senior. However because of DMA he is pursuing a degree in Video Game Design. The portfolio he has created from what he learned at DMA has helped him become a serious candidate for scholarship money at several universities that offer Video Game Design as a degree.
DMA: Do you feel that DMA is your typical camp? Explain.
Joni: NO. Living on the Stanford campus was an incredible opportunity.
DMA: Do you feel that DMA has opened your son’s eyes to know which career path he wants to pursue?
DMA attracts kids literally from all over the world who have a similar passion and interest. Andy has had roommates from the UK, Canada and France. These same kids may even reconnect someday once they are in the real world pursuing their dreams of being in the gaming industry.
DMA: Would you recommend DMA to others?
DMA: Anything else you would like to comment on about DMA?
With the state of the economy, many “stable” degrees no longer offer a guarantee of landing a good job after graduation. It’s more important than ever to pick from degrees that are going to have jobs available. The video game industry is booming and probably only going to get stronger. I think Andy is fortunate that his passion for this industry has great potential for a very successful career as an adult.
I truly believe that DMA helped shape Andy’s future and his DMA experience has definitively given him a competitive advantage in the college admissions process. Not to mention he had a blast. Kudos to the staff and counselors at DMA!
DMA offers fun and creative learning for the whole family!
Have you ever wished that you could attend a summer camp just like your children? Well now you can. This summer, Digital Media Academy’s adult, teen, and kids summer programs will allow both you and your children to learn the latest in creative technology. And while youre busy producing digital movies, creating web sites, or designing games, you’ll also get to share in your child’s learning experience-first hand. Imagine what dinner conversations will be like instead of the typical, So what did you do today?”
Digital Media Academy: Creative Technology Immersion
The Digital Media Academy provides adult learners, including teens and kids, college students, K-20 educators, and industry professionals with a weeklong learning experience in a summer retreat or camp environment. In addition, participants can earn 4 quarter units of Stanford Continuing Studies credit. Courses include 3D Animation, Web Design, Strategies of Game Design, and Digital Video. Digital Media Academy attracts award-winning instructors such as Ben Waggoner (“world’s greatest compressionist”), New York School of Visual Arts’ Steve Adler, and veteran ABC producer and best-selling Final Cut Pro author, Tom Wolsky among others.
Inspired by President Obama’s speech on the Congressional floor, Digital Media Academy would like to support our troops and veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan by offering a 50% discount to their summer consolidated courses taught on a number of college and university campuses across the country, including Stanford, University of Chicago, Harvard, Brown, University of Texas, Austin, Johns Hopkins in Maryland, George Washington University in Washington D.C. and more. Both residential and non-residential programs are available. A full list is available on the website, www.digitalmediaacademy.org.
With jobs decreasing steadily in the mainstream, DMA would like to help refuel the economy by encouraging teens and adults to learn new skills in the world of digital media, one field that continues to thrive. DMA course offerings include web design, video game creation, 3D animation, digital photography, robotics and music and video production (a course created in conjunction with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus project). As an Apple Certified Training center, DMA also offers industry certification in Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, helping open doors to those entering or re-entering the work force.
All that will be required to be awarded this special offer is proof of service status in the U.S. military. For more information, those interested can call 866-656-3342.
News from HQ by Philip Harding
Do you know about the Maya training courses and video special effects courses that are being taught at Digital Media Academy? Learn 3d video game design, animation, character modeling, and more at DMA’s summer computer training sessions at prestigious universities and schools around the United States and Canada. DMA offers separate programs, summer computer camps, and digital art & technology camps for adult professionals, teens, and kids.
The video below talks about some of the exciting tech concepts students learn at DMA (wait until the end!)
Check out some of the 3d, video game, animation, modeling, and special effects courses taught at DMA:
Also, check out the Maya Training Courses:
Check out a few DMA Special Effects Courses:
News from HQ by Philip Harding