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  • How to Learn 3D Animation (Without Leaving Your House): Part Two

    [11.20.06]
    - Brad Kane
  •  Introduction

    The previous article, Part One, covered introductory books on Maya, the world's leading computer animation package.  The goal of that article was to give newbies a doorway into the Maya world, and to help aspiring computer animators pick the best books available for learning the ins and outs of the software.  

    In this article, we'll go a step further and review intermediate level Maya books, as well as books specifically covering Maya's uses for video game development. 

    If you're interested in taking your Maya skills to the next level, read on!

     TITLE: Learning Maya 7: The Modeling & Animation Handbook
    AUTHOR: Marc-Andre-Guindon
    PUBLISHER: Alias Learning Tools
    PUBLISHED: 2006
    GRADE: A

    We recommended (in our last article) Learning Maya 8: Foundations as one of the best tutorial-style books available for an all-around introduction to the art and science of Maya.  In the same vein, the Learning Maya 7: Modeling and Animation Handbook is one of best all-around books you'll find for specifically learning modeling and animation. (Alias Learning Tools has yet to upgrade the title to cover Maya 8.)

    This massive book (at over 700 fully-illustrated pages, one of the largest and most colorful that we reviewed) progresses through eight tutorial-based projects, each comprised of about four or five individual lessons.  Like the Foundations book, which uses Sony's movie Open Season for its source material, the tutorials here are based on an original Sony short, The ChubbChubbs!, which lends a cute-ish fun to the learning process.

    The tutorials themselves are well-structured and thorough.  Projects one through three cover the basic modeling disciplines (polygons, NURBS, sub-division surfaces), while four through six cover the primary aspects of character setup (skeletons, skinning, and rigging).  Project seven covers basic character animation - including walk cycles, constraints, and lip syncing - and the last project addresses more advanced topics, including working with a control rig, using Maya's story tool, and moving files back and forth between Maya and Motion Builder.

    One note: you should have some familiarity with Maya's interface before diving into this book.  The author will walk you through all the tutorials step-by-step, but you'll get more out of them if you already understand the interface and underlying structure of the software.

    The CD-ROM contains plenty of goodies, including instructor videos and tutorial files.  With this powerful learning tool in hand, you're sure to see quick progress in your Maya modeling and animation skills.

     TITLE: Learning Maya 7: The Special Effects Handbook
    AUTHOR: Marc-Andre-Guindon
    PUBLISHER: Alias Learning Tools
    PUBLISHED: 2006
    GRADE: A-

    The Learning Maya Special Effects Handbook is the fraternal twin of the Modeling and Animation Handbook, and like its sibling, uses Sony Imageworks' The ChubbChubbs! as the basis for its eight tutorial projects.  Despite its name, this book actually covers the whole back end of the production pipeline that's covered - including lighting, effects, and rendering.  In all other ways - including the attractive full-color illustrations - this book is structurally identical to the other one.

    Of the two books, this is the more technical, mostly due to the technical nature of the back-end pipeline.  On the Lighting side, topics include basic lighting, working with shadows, ray-tracing, caustics, and global illumination.  On the effects side, topics include rigid and soft body dynamics, particle emission and collision, working with flow and goals, and using Maya Paint effects.  There are also lessons on HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging), advanced particle expressions, compositing, and rendering, including both hardware and software renders.

    On its own, this book is a great introduction to lighting, rendering, and effects in Maya.  Taken with its twin, these two "Learning Maya" titles function as a complete intermediate guide to Maya.  The two books contain almost seventy individual lessons between them, and while you may be sick of the ChubbChubbs by the time you're through them both, you'll almost certainly come away with a deep understanding of how to use Maya to  create fantastic computer animation.

    For more advanced Maya tutorials, check out Learning Maya 7: Maya Unlimited Features, which includes lessons on Maya Fur, Maya Hair, Maya Cloth, and Maya Fluids. 

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