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.

3D animator and modeler Adam Watkins teaches a class at DMA’s UT Austin location.

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.

“DMA gave me a solid footing for my future,” said Albert Frates, a former DMA camper who knows his future includes creating digital media. “I was only fourteen when I started coming to DMA…but the experience opened many new doors.” Albert spent three summers at Digital Media Academy, along the way, he met and made new friends. We recently caught up with Albert to talk about his DMA experience.

Film Student at Digital Media Academy
Albert Frates sets up a location shot for a student video project.

What courses/camps did you take at DMA?

I took a Maya Introduction with Adam Watkins, I knew very little about Maya…In less than a week Adam had brought the class out of the unknown, and into what I would call my first experience at a professional level. 

How did it help or inspire you?

(DMA) opened many new doors and other aspects of media, like film, animation, TV, games, web design. The following school year I worked on projects for my school. Doing live event recording such as graduation and sporting events. That was just the beginning. Later I entered a film into a student film festival.

What other software did you learn? And how did you use what you learned?

Using Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro, I created a festival winning film.  When I went back to DMA in the summer of 2007, I took courses that focused on After Effects (video motion graphics, and compositing) and a Hands on Digital Filmmaking camp. I recommend both of those courses, by the way. 

How did the DMA experience help prepare you?

Because of the tools and concepts learned at DMA I was fluent working in a professional environment at the age of sixteen. When the opportunity came up I was able to tackle it. 

Can you explain how?

After DMA, I met up with a producer on a school trip in Seattle who was working on live events for DECA.  After talking to him briefly during a seminar he had invited me to come check out the production backstage. I got to sit in on, and at one point help out with the production. After that I was offered an internship at the end of the show for the next conference in spring. None of this would have been possible without Digital Media Academy. 

Anything you’d like to share with someone considering attending DMA?

It’s never to early to start achieving your goals, especially with DMA. Plus, the friends and connections you make at Digital Media Academy are one of the best parts. The people that attend DMA share the goals and interests that you do.

Thanks Albert, we wish you much success in the future!

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.

Modeling Perfection
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.

symmetry_faceFor 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.

Achieving Asymmetry
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.

symmetry_modelModifying 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.

Maya Training Courses

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.