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Old Pixar Footage Discovered: First Appearance of 3D Computer Animation

Newly found lost Pixar footage shows the origins of the computer animation studio. The discovered footage doesn’t feature any cute robots or toy cowboys. Instead it shows some of the first film experiments in 3D computer-based animation – experiments that would help launch the the world’s foremost computer animation studio, Pixar.


The seeds of computer 3D animation. The footage was incorporated into the 1976 film Futureworld, which was the first movie to use 3D computer animation.

The experimental archival footage dates back nearly 40 years ago to 1972, when Univ. of Utah grad student Ed Catmull (who now oversees Pixar’s and Walt Disney’s Animation Studios) and a partner filmed a few basic examples of 3D computer animation. The clips show a 3D hand, face and working heart, all mapped with polygons.

Pixar Presents
Pixar has dominated the box office during the last two decades. A quick list of Pixar’s successes includes modern classics such as the entire Toy Story trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009). Pixar’s films have earned more than $6.3 billion worldwide, and the studio’s average feature makes $602 million. Toy Story 3, on the other hand, is now considered the highest-grossing animated film of all time, grossing more than $1 billion.

Pixar’s films have received critical acclaim as well. The studio has won 26 Oscars, including six Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. Two of its animated features (Toy Story 3 and Up) were considered so good that they even transcended the Animation category and were nominated for Best Picture.


Up won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and was even nominated for Best Picture.

Before those masterworks started appearing on the animation landscape, Pixar was first represented by three short computer-animated films that were produced in the early 1990s. Back then, the closest thing to a “star” that Pixar had was Luxo, an animated desk lamp that showed more personality than many animated creatures of the day, despite Luxo’s lack of facial features.

These early “shorts” were a revelation to animation fans of the day, and pointed the way to today’s 3D animation. The look of the animation was perfectly clean, the backgrounds were richly detailed, and by then, Pixar had mastered its system of interpolation, so character motion was energetic but smoothly rendered.

3D Animation Origins
The newly posted video predates Luxo by a good two decades, and looks as primitive as Walt Disney’s early animation experiments. Shot in a grainy black and white, the video shows several examples of polygon-based 3D animation, each containing a few movements and motions to give a hint of what could be achieved.

The first clip shows a plaster hand which has been mapped with polygons. Then we see the hand rotate. Other clips show 3D faces, as well as the simulated workings of a heart valve. The clip contains no narrative audio—just a jazzy rendition of the classic song “Stardust,” and the video image (which started out on primitive 8mm film) shows it age and the original medium. Nonetheless, this brief film is a historic document that capably predicted the coming tidal wave of 3D computer animation.


Pixar’s first starring “character” was Luxo. The lamp is incorporated into Pixar’s logo.

Pixar has been turning out blockbusters for years, but how do they do it? How do they manage to make every film a hit? When the people of Pixar sit down to plan their next film, it’s an incredibly creative process that involves numerous steps. Pixar’s process includes brainstorming, developing a script and then actually shooting the action. If you’re interested in making the next Toy Story, start learning 3D animation skills now…because the future is computer-animated.

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posted by Phill Powell in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

DMA Course Profile: Learn How Maya Can Animate Your Career

Courses: Maya 2011: Character Modeling & RiggingMaya 2011: Animation & Visual EffectsMaya 2011: Texturing & Lighting

DMA Instructor: Adam Watkins

Education: Master of Fine Arts degree: Animation. Utah State University; Logan, UT (Undergrad Major: Theatre Set and Lighting Design). 

Professional Portrait: DMA Instructor Adam Watkins is a teacher and noted author of multiple books on the subject of graphic arts, with special emphasis on Maya. He’s also written more than 100 magazine articles on the subject. An Associate Professor of 3D Animation for the School of Interactive Media & Design at San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word, Adam also serves as Art Director for the Justice Media Lab. Recently, Adam has been using his animation skills to produce ultra-realistic simulations for nuclear training facility inspections while serving as an animations developer at the historic Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

DMA Campus: Harvard University
___________________________________________________________________

Adam Watkins is a longtime Digital Media Academy animation instructor and when he’s not teaching DMA’s summer sessions, he’s a full-time teacher. He’s also a published author, with a handful of books and more than 100 articles on the subject of computer graphics. However, there things we can’t tell you about Adam. Why? Because it’s classified.


Adam’s work, like this character and environment he created, are featured in his latest book about Maya.

As the Artistic Director and animation developer for the VISIBLE Team, based at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Adam is using animation skills to develop training tools that can improve the quality and safety of inspections of nuclear facilities. This August he’ll leave New Mexico and head for Harvard University, where he’ll be teaching animation with Maya at DMA’s Harvard summer computer camp.

Putting Maya into Motion
“Maya is very robust,” Adam says. It’s true. Maya is recognized by the videogame and film industries as the premier computer graphics 3D modeling tool. This summer Adam’s again looking forward to sharing his experience. In terms of creating characters, Adam will show students how to model, UV map and texture a character…and then rig that character for animation. At that point, Adam will teach students how to animate the character with some basic animations (like walking and running). After that Adam will familiarize student campers with a collection of Maya’s amazing special effects.

Teaching Tech with Passion
Adam keeps his teaching skills sharp as an Associate Professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, a liberal arts college in San Antonio, Texas. Adam calls it “the largest university you’ve never heard of,” with multiple campuses in China and Mexico. And although the school is run by a charitable organization it still functions like a normal university, in most respects.


Under Adam Watkins’ instruction, DMA student campers will build a complete 3D environment like this one, also created by Adam.

The 3D Animation and Game Design program that Adam teaches for the University is an intensive, four-year program that concentrates on utility.“We are product-focused and students who successfully complete the program have many projects and a robust demo reel upon graduation,” Adam says, “A degree is nice, but as part of the mission of the university, we make sure to graduate people with the reel, tools and skills to get real work…fast.” He brings that same practical industry focus to the courses he teaches for DMA.

The ‘Ah-ha!’ Moment
We asked Adam Watkins about what motivates him as an educator. “My philosophy of teaching in very general terms, is to focus on helping students do real work (and will show off their skills to an employer.”

“I don’t do tutorials,” he says. “I believe that especially for beginning 3D students, tutorials simply teach students how to follow recipes, not how to solve problems. Great 3D artists are great problem-solvers, and they get this way from practice. When I teach, I give assignments that require students to help define a problem, and then grow into the solution. I’m there to assist in the process.”

And that process pays off big for him when a student learns how to solve the problem for themselves. “I love the ‘Ah-ha!’ moment that students have when working through complex ideas,” he says. “3D technology can be abstract, and good 3D is a complex collection of technical and artistic skills. Helping students harness these divergent ideas to create good work really gets me going.”

For aspiring 3D animators, videogame designers or graphic artists, DMA instructors like Adam Watkins can help you learn how to turn your passion for computer graphics into a career…so you can experience your own ‘Ah-ha!’ moment.

(Images from Creating 3D Games with Unity and Maya: How to Develop Fun and Marketable 3D Games, Adam Watkins, Focal Press.)

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posted by Phill Powell in 3D Modeling,News Blog and have No Comments

Guillermo del Toro at Comic-Con 2011: Digital-Age Renaissance Man

He may be the greatest director you’ve never heard of. But you should definitely make note of who he is, because you’re going to be hearing a lot about the “Digital-Age Renaissance man” known as Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro will be appearing this week at Comic-Con in San Diego, and while he may not be as well known as directors J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg, he’s just as influential – and is certainly someone to watch in the future.


“Boo!” For the Fantasy/Horror sleeper hit Pan’s Labyrinth, director Guillermo del Toro put his personal touch and imagination into every frame of the film, including the creation and visual design of this character, the Pale Man.

All Eyes on Del Toro
Guillermo del Toro – much like his contemporaries Peter Jackson and Robert Rodriguez - is one of a new breed of filmmakers that can’t be categorized. Del Toro dabbles in all sorts of media, including movies, games and comic books. As a gamer, del Toro reportedly enjoys playing Half-Life and BioShock. As a sketch artist, he keeps huge volumes of drawings; he even used these to help him design the creatures and environments for his 2006 masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.


One-man production crew: del Toro.

This week, this Digital-Age Renaissance man will be addressing crowds of fans at Comic-Con 2011 in San Diego. What will he talk about? No one knows for sure, but he could speak about any of the following projects, since he’s involved with all of them:

    • Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (opening Aug. 26). Del Toro co-wrote and co-produced the film.
    • Peter Jackson’s much-anticipated film version of The Hobbit. Del Toro co-wrote the script .
    • Disney’s The Haunted Mansion 3D remake. Del Toro is co-writing, producing and directing it.
    • He’s the co-author of a trilogy of vampire novels (including the already published The Strain and The Fall).
    • He’s overseeing the creation of a new videogame called Insane, expected for 2013 release.

 

Exploring a Passion for Film
Guillermo del Toro has been seriously making movies since the 1980s (he started by helping out on film sets as an eight-year-old, back in Mexico). You can trace del Toro’s success back to the moment when he discovered his creative passion and then dedicated himself to mastering the craft of film.

When it was released, Pan’s Labyrinth was compared to some of the greatest fantasy films ever made – such as The Wizard of Oz and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Del Toro’s most critically acclaimed film combined fantasy and war into a powerful and unique modern fable. Pan’s Labyrinth topped many critics’ polls as the best film of 2006, and when the film played at the Cannes Film Festival, the crowd saluted it with a standing ovation that lasted 22 minutes. The film captured three Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Makeup) and won the Best Picture award from the National Society of Film Critics. In addition to the great critical success of Pan’s Labyrinth, he’s also made a number of great action and horror films, such as Blade II, Hellboy (I & II) and The Devil’s Backbone.


Part fairy tale, part war film. Pan’s Labyrinth took a unique concept and blended it with amazing special effects.

Do you have a passion for filmmaking? Then follow your dream. There are plenty of ways: Take a course in movie making from professional filmmakers. Online courses can be good sources of information too, although the best training occurs when an industry veteran is at your side, passing along their real-world experience.

At Digital Media Academy’s Stanford Filmmaking Summer Camp, students learn how to make digital movies from the pros. The program is taught by professional filmmakers, and daytime activities include real production meetings (just like Hollywood studios have) and shooting a movie. Evening activities can include taking in a movie premiere like real Hollywood filmmakers do (such as the special pre-release screening of the new Harry Potter that DMA’s Stanford campers recently attended). So now, are you ready to make a movie?

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Comic-Con 2011 Preview

It’s the pop culture event of the year. When Hollywood and the comic-book and toy industries roll out the upcoming slate of movies, TV shows and toys. For a week in San Diego (July 21- 24), comic book fanboys (and fangirls) collide with superfans at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con.

It wasn’t always about movies, toys and TV shows. Once Comic-Con was only about comic books. Thirty-five years ago, the only movie that Hollywood marketeers were promoting here was an unknown film called Star Wars. And that was from a folding table where George Lucas’ marketing manager was selling Star Wars posters for $1.75. (Those same posters go for around $3,000 on eBay…) This year, Lucas’ company will be promoting Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray. Comic books however, are making making noise this year, too.


The reboot of the DC Universe, just one of the hot topics of 2011 Comic-Con. 

DC Do-Over
This September, DC Comics plans to restart its entire comic line-up of superheroes. The entire DC Universe will essentially get rebooted back to Issue No. 1. Gasp. Fans have come out against the reboot – and it’s easy to see why. Marvel pulled a similar trick a few years back and their faithful fans revolted, too. Ultimately, the uproar convinced Marvel to continue publishing the regular lines. For comic-book fans, throwing out everything you’ve come to know before is a serious issue.

The announcement has sent shock waves throughout the industry. The matter is of such importance that several different Comic-Con panel discussions from Day One will be devoted to the subject. Expect a big turnout for Thursday’s 12:45PM panel, with DC’s Grant Morrison. Likewise, that same day, the 2:00PM panel with DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and DCU Executive Editor Eddie Berganza. For rival Marvel Comics, they’ll be joining Sony Pictures in pitching the superhero reboot – The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network).


Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, in the $120-million remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger 90′s classic, Total Recall (Sony Pictures).

Sony will also exhibit the much-anticipated remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi actioneer Total Recall, now starring Colin Farrell. There’s also a new Twilight and plenty of other big-screen blockbuster surprises. Last year, a few of the highlights included unannounced appearances by Will Ferrell to promote his superhero tale, Megamind, and an extremely rare appearance by Harrison Ford to promote this summer’s Cowboys & Aliens.

Making Money with Comics
This year’s Comic-Con show has as much to celebrate as to promote; in addition to showcasing new and ultra-creative comics and graphic novels, this year’s show is celebrating the comic culture’s greatest influence on American pop culture. Never before has the local Cineplex been so dominated by superhero movies; never have comics been received with as much critical appreciation as they are now.


The Amazing Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network).

Careers in comic books and other types of creative media are easy to pursue. In fact, there have never been as many opportunities to explore a talent for creating content for comic-books and/or cartoons. Information about breaking into the comic-book industry can be found online or you could spend a week this summer learning from a professional comic-book or cartoon creator at a digital media camp to learn how to create comics. Know how to tell a story with words and pictures? Then share your ideas and help create the superheroes of tomorrow.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Comic and Cartoon Creation,News Blog and have No Comments

Making 3D Characters, Far-Off Worlds and Dazzling Special Effects with Maya

The word comes from Sanskrit language and refers to the Hindu concept that means illusion. Maya is a perfect name for a piece of software that literally creates digital magic. In fact, Maya is the industry standard for creating anything in a computer-generated 3D world.


Game developer Bungie used Maya to create the cinematics for Halo 3.

Making Movie Magic With Maya
Maya is used to render to photorealistic features like clothing and textures and 3D characters for hit video games like Halo. It’s also used to create stunning special effects and it even breathes life into animated blockbusters like Kung Fu Panda.  For anyone who wants to design video games, make computer-animated features or create special effects, learning how to use Maya is an absolute must.

In 2004, Sony Pictures Imageworks faced a serious technical challenge on its upcoming superhero sequel, Spider-Man 2. Sony needed a computer graphics technology that could realistically simulate cloth textures over animated characters. Alias worked to ramp up Maya and created just such an effect.


For Spider-Man 2, filmmakers needed a tool that would simulate cloth fabric over an animated character. Developers pioneered a simulator option in Maya exactly for that purpose.

Historical Effects
Maya was developed by Alias Software, back in 1998, and since then Maya has received multiple upgrades. For example, a fluid effects simulator (that supports cloud and fire effects) was added to Maya 4.5. Over the years, Maya’s makers have added more effects and additional options to the program, including options to generate fur and hair.

The “nParticle” simulator can enhance effects that involve smoke, liquids and dust (or anything made up fine-particulate material). Recent additions, like a nifty “Camera Sequencer” from 2009 (that enables smoother layout of animated footage that contains multiple camera angles) and 2010’s “MatchMover” (that helps marry CGI elements with regular footage) has made the program even more flexible.


From dinosaurs to dark storm clouds, you can create anything in Maya.

The Only Software You Need & Where To Learn It
When it comes to 3D video game, computer-animated feature films or any kind of digital production, Maya meets every need: modeling, lighting, animation and rendering. It’s no wonder that Maya is the world’s leading 3D creation tool. Learn Maya Texturing and Lighting this summer from an industry expert on the campus of one of America’s most prestigious universities, Harvard, during the week of Aug 8–12.

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posted by Phill Powell in Maya,News Blog and have No Comments

Maya 3D – Alternative Uses, Alternative Careers

Maya is well known for it’s role in feature animation production, special effects, and the video game industry.  Indeed, when students enter one of my DMA Maya classes, it’s usually one of these three things that they are interested in pursuing.  However, in addition to teaching the fundamentals of Maya, I also like to broaden their perspective of what it can be used for.  That way, when students finish the class, they not only have an understanding of the software, they also have a lot more potential job titles they could be looking at.

Augmented Reality

In a previous post, I discussed the burgeoning field of Augmented Reality (AR), and how Maya was used to create some interactive AR exhibits at MSI Chicago.  This technology is not only for static displays and cameras however.  There is a growing body of AR applications for mobile devices.  Users place a card or some other marker on a tabletop and then point their mobile device’s camera at the target.  On screen, graphics are superimposed on the live video and users can interact with these on screen graphics, and even play games with them.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koRLVqfE9mg]

South Park

Did you know that Maya is used to create South Park?  That surprises a lot of people, probably because the show looks like it was created with paper cutouts.  The truth of the matter is that it takes a lot of sophisticated work to make something this crude.  While the original pilot was made with cutouts, the demands of weekly television production soon dictated a digital workflow.  The production quickly moved to Maya because of its robust animation tools and virtual camera.  If you’d like to read more about it, there’s a very good profile of the production on Apple’s website.

Data visualization

What is data visualization?  Data visualization is the art of turning information into something visible.  We are all familiar with the charts and graphs in the newspaper or our science textbooks.  It can be much more than just charts and graphs, and it can be much more than static 2D images.  It can encompass 3D graphics, and some data is best visualized using time-based visuals, like animation and video.  More and more, engineers and designers among others are turning to 3D software to make complex information come to life in a way that is both accessible and entertaining.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMrOFuSZAj4]

Virtual sets

If you’ve got young kids, or if you just happen to watch Sesame Street nowadays, you’re probably familiar with one of the recurring segments called Elmo’s World.  Elmo’s world is made to look like a child’s drawing, and it’s got a lot of whimsical elements – dancing desks, bouncing computers, etc.  Elmo is a real puppet, but almost none of the elements around him are real.  Elmo is performed in front of a blue screen, and then the background is filled in with a virtual set created in 3D.  The moving furniture around him are actually digital puppets, performed in real-time with the real Elmo puppet.  This approach isn’t unique to Sesame Street, as you can see from the example below.  The puppets are manipulated in front of a blue screen, which is then replaced with a virtual forest set that is connected to match the moves of the real camera.  It may be for kids, but like in the case of South Park, there is really sophisticated technology behind it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7c4XIsJd2A]

And more…

In my next post, I’ll explore some more examples of alternative uses for Maya and 3D including motion graphics, non-photorealistic rendering, and even illustration.  Until then, find some inspiration by perusing some of the work produced by users of Maya, as showcased on the Autodesk website.

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posted by Geoff Beatty in Maya,News Blog and have Comments (2)

Learning Maya Animation – One Step at a Time

Friends, has this ever happened to you?  You’ve just finished a marathon session putting the finishing touches on a project when (who else?) the client stops by with a lot of “helpful” revisions.  All that time you put in, all the invitations you declined, all the social engagements you postponed, that Netflix rental lying on the top of the DVD player you put off watching… all those sacrifices wasted because now you’ve got to put even more time into this project.  What a headache!

 Don’t despair, friend.  Because I’ve got the solution for you.  It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s secrets can be yours for only $19.99 plus shipping and handling!

Seriously though, this is a real situation that many students and professionals face.  In creative professions such as 3D animation, this is the norm.  Work hard, critique, make changes, critique, undo those changes, and repeat.  Now, if you work smart, this cycle of work and constructive feedback can actually help you make the best product possible.  But if you don’t understand this cycle, you are just going to be frustrated in your efforts.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to work smart if you can remember one phrase – “one step at a time.”  Whatever you’re tackling, whether it’s a screenplay or a website layout or a music video, it’s important to work in stages.  This is called working “iteratively.”

Since I teach the pro and teen Maya classes at DMA, I’ll take this general idea and apply it to the process of 3D modeling.  3D modeling, like any part of Maya, can be very complex, so it is even more important to work in a systematic way and give yourself room to backtrack if necessary, whether based on client/teacher feedback, or simply your own judgment.  What that translates to in the context of modeling is: work with as little detail as possible, make some adjustments, add more detail, make some adjustments, add some final detail, make final adjustments, and smooth it out.

So, I share with you this cautionary tale from a university class I taught several years back.  The project was to model an environment – architecture, some props, and some effects.  It was the final project, and students had about a month to finish up their fairly complex scene.

One student, who did not understand the process of working iteratively, started working on a banana for a bowl of fruit that existed in the center of his scene. I urged him to do a rough pass on it, like a simple cube stretched out.  Then he could return to it later, add a little bit more detail, fashion that into a closer approximation of the banana, and then move onto something else.  Finally, he could come back, smooth it out, and that would be that.

Well, he didn’t really listen and, like so many novices, started out with an extremely high-resolution cube that he was nearly impossible to change except by moving each row of points, one at a time, to match the profile of the reference imagery he had imported.  And that’s how he spent the rest of that class, face close to the screen, picking and moving, picking and moving, picking and moving.  When I arrived to class the following week, there he was, hunched over, moving those points, and with hundreds to go before he was going to make it look like a real banana.

In the end, he spent hours and hours of his time working on that banana, and never really got to finish the rest of the scene.  By the last week, it was really too late.  The banana didn’t even look that great.  Because all of those points had been moved individually, it ended up looking like a bumpy yellow root.

This poor student made a very common novice error.  In 3D modeling, it’s tempting to try and jump to the end by adding lots of detail (i.e. points and edges) to a model because that’s what they look like when their finished – high-resolution geometry.  But that’s a last step, not a first step.  It’s important to work with as little detail as possible, getting the underlying structure and proportions and the contour of the model right before you start adding a lot of detail.

Changes, adjustments, refinements – these are an inevitable part of the process, even if you are working alone.  So, you need to develop a workflow that accounts for change.  The student in my story slipped on the proverbial (and literal) banana.  You can avoid that fate by taking things one step at a time.

You can read more about Maya Animation here:

Continue the lesson here:

Part 1: Learn Maya Animation

Part 2:  Learn Maya Animation

Part 3:  Learn Maya Animation

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Have you completed your summer camp enrollment?  Enroll for Summer Camp Now!  Here are some handy Digital Media Academy links for adult, teen, preteen and kids summer camp scheduling details.

Click here for classes for adults:  Digital Media Academy Course List

Click here summer camps for teens:  Digital Media Academy Summer Camps for Teens

Click here summer camps for kids:  Digital Media Academy Summer Camps for PreTeen Kids

Click here summer camps for young children:  Digital Media Academy Summer Camps for Kids

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posted by Geoff Beatty in News Blog and have Comments (2)

Learn Maya Animation – Bouncing Ball – Part 3

Learn Maya Animation – Bouncing Ball – Part 3

By Geoff Beatty

The saga continues…

In the first two installments of this tutorial, you learned how to create a pretty good, albeit generic, bouncing ball in Maya.  The first part dealt with setting basic keyframes for position and rotation.  The second part dealt with using the graph editor to shape those keyframes into a serviceable ball.  Now, we turn our attention to making this ball look like something specific, like a baseball or a bowling ball or a beach ball or whatever.

Looking and Interpreting

As I mentioned in the previous installments, it’s always a good idea to find some reference footage (good) or shoot your own (better).  I’ve included a youtube video below that has a lot of different types of balls being dropped or tossed.  This is a really great example:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKJegbjS4N8]

Now, what’s important is that we don’t just try to copy these exactly.  That would be like tracing and tracings don’t really convey the character that we are going for.  Better would be to look at some of the footage, frame by frame if possible, and determine what the overall qualities of the bouncing ball are.  For instance, does its height decrease a little or a lot with each bounce?  Does it squash a little bit when it hits the ground, or is it fairly rigid?  Does it seem to hang in the air a bit, or is it a fairly fast bounce?

It’s important to figure this out, or at least decide what you’re going for before you start messing with your bounce.  It would be very helpful in fact to sketch out your idea of what the bounce is going to look like.  Don’t overplan it though.  Have an attitude of experimentation and don’t be afraid to exaggerate.

Timing, Interpolation, and Squash and Stretch

There are two basic things that we will be adjusting.  The first is the timing of the bounces.  That involves moving keyframes around in the timeline or graph editor.  The second thing is the interpolation between the keyframes.  This is a graph editor only operation.  We’re going to work with the in and out tangents of the keyframe to change the way the ball moves from one point to the next.  Finally, depending on the example, we’re going to be adding some squash and stretch to the ball.

An Example

Just for the sake of this example, let’s pretend this ball is a beach ball.  A beach ball moves fairly slowly, retains a high level of bounce, and is slightly squishy.  Now how does that translate into Maya?

Our first step is to look at the placement of the keyframes.  My generic ball is a little fast, so I’m going to go into the timeline and adjust the keyframes.  I’m going to do that by SHIFT-LMB dragging in the timeline to select all the frames.  You’ll notice that when I do that, it creates a red selection of the keyframes and also places some arrows at the middle and both ends.  I’m going to pull on the right-most arrow, the circled one in the screenshot, to basically scale those keys out on the timeline so that they will be slower.  For my taste, dragging it to 60 seems about right to me (before I go on, I’m going to right-click in the red area of the selected keyframes and choose “snap” – that will make sure all the keyframes are on whole numbers rather than half-frames).

That slows things down, but now I need to get the height decreasing believably from one bounce to the next.  It’s not like a flat basketball, so it won’t be completely dead when it hits the ground, but it does decrease slightly.  In the graph editor, I’m going to take the second and third “up” keyframes on the Translate Y attribute and move them down (remember to have the move tool selected).  You may have to adjust the tangents on the “bounce” keyframes to maintain a nice curve (screenshot).

The last thing I’m going to add is some squash and stretch to the ball as it bounces.  I’m going to add only a little bit, because too much will look strange.  However, I urge you to experiment with it once you get started.  You can get some pretty startling and funny results.

I’m going to advance the playhead to the frame just before the first bounce (in my case frame 12).  I’m going to set a keyframe on the scale attributes by hitting SHIFT+R.  Then I’m going to go to the next frame and using my scale tool, I’m going to scale it down in the Y-axis.  You might have to compensate for it pulling off the floor by moving it down a bit.  Then, I’m going to scale out in the X and Z axes because when you push down on any sort of ball, the sides push out.  Next, I’m going to advance one more keyframe and scale the ball back to its normal state.

Although this one frame squash doesn’t seem like much, it adds a little spice of believability to something that would otherwise look remarkably generic.  You can add it to the next two bounce frames, of course decreasing the amount of squash each time as the ball loses energy.

Going Further

Well, you’ve reached the end of this tutorial, but you’ve got a lot of room to experiment now.  Try different timings, interpolations, whatever.  Don’t be afraid to exaggerate or make it look like it’s got a mind of its own.  If you can make a plain old sphere look like something that it’s not, then you’re already on your way to becoming a great animator.

You can read more about Maya Animation here:

Have you read these additional posts about Maya Animation?

Part 1: Learn Maya Animation

Part 2:  Learn Maya Animation

Learning Maya Animation One Step at a Time

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Learn Maya Animation – Bouncing Ball – Part 2

Learn Maya Animation – Bouncing Ball – Part 2

By Geoff Beatty

In last week’s exciting episode…

Part 1 of this tutorial taught you how to set some basic keyframes on a sphere as a first step in making a bouncing ball. However, we could only go so far in using the timeline for our animation. Instead of a bouncing ball, we got something that looked more like a floating, wavy ball (screenshot). This is obviously not acceptable. If we can put a man on the moon, then we should be able to make a ball look like it’s actually bouncing. To do this, we’ll need to dive into the graph editor.

Graph Editor and Setup

The Graph Editor is one of the most important interfaces for creating animation in Maya. The viewport and the timeline are great tools for quickly interacting with an object or character, but they’re not very good at letting you refine the motion. The Graph Editor, however, allows you to have a very high level of control over your keyframes as well as the interpolation between them. Although it may look confusing, it’s actually a pretty common interface among software packages, and most 3D and 2D animation tools have something very similar. I’m going to assume that you are already familiar with the basics of the graph editor, but if you aren’t, it might be a good time to read through some of the Autodesk documentation to familiarize yourself. I like to work with a viewport on top and the graph editor on the bottom, but you can work with any layout where you can view the object and the graph at the same time.

Working in the Graph Editor

  1. Select the ball in the viewport.  You should then see the curves load into the graph editor and a list of the animated attributes on the left (screenshot).
  2. Go to your main menu and choose “Edit>Delete by Type>Static Channels (screenshot)”  This eliminates keyframes on any of the attributes that have only one keyframe (in other words, they don’t have any animation on them).  This will help weed out unimportant data from the Graph Editor, essentially uncluttering it for us.
  3. Select the Translate X attribute from the list on the left, and then marquee-select all the keys except for the first and the last (screenshot).  Delete these keys (screenshot).
  4. Now select the Translate Y attribute and hit the “f” key in the graph to fit the curve to the window.  Select the three keyframes at the top of the curve and, in the Graph Editor menu, choose “Tangents>Flat (screenshot).
  5. While we’re at it, let’s use our Move tool (and don’t forget that you need to use your middle mouse button with it – a common thing to forget) to give each of those upper keyframes a descending value, to mimic the way a ball loses altitude with each bounce (screenshot).
  6. Now, let’s select those bottom keyframes, the ones representing the point of contact with the ground.  Go to the Graph Editor menu and choose “Keys>Break Tangents (screenshot).”  This will allow us to change the in and out tangents of these keyframes separately.  You can tell that they’re “broken” because one tangent is brown and the other one is blue.
  7. Using your Move tool (and middle mouse button) to orient the tangents more vertically (screenshot).

Why Did We Do What We Did?

In Step 3, deleting the middle keys gives us a simple linear interpolation between the first and last keyframe.  This simple line (as opposed the uneven line before) signifies a constant velocity for the ball as it travels from left to right.  If we were to look at some reference, we would see that, until a ball stops bouncing and begins to roll, it retains a fairly constant velocity in whatever direction it was thrown.

In Step 4, we “flattened” the tangents.  Just as straight lines define a constant velocity, flattening out the tangents of a curve give us an “ease in” and an “ease out” for a given motion.  This mimics the way that a ball gets slower as it approaches the top of its arc, and then accelerates as it approaches the ground.

In Steps 6 and 7, we adjusted the tangents of the contact frames so that they would look more like an actual bounce than the “floating” that was happening in the previous iteration.  It’s like the physics of a pool ball – the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection.

Next Steps

In the next installment of the tutorial, we’ll take a look at some of the refinements you can make to the animation to give it real character.  This might be a good time to take some more video or look at more reference footage.  You might even start seeing how this applies.

Maya Animation Continued Reading:

Start at the beginning:  Part 1: Learn Maya Animation 

Read here next:  Part 3:  Learn Maya Animation

A detailed study:  Learning Maya Animation One Step at a Time

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Click here for classes for adults:  Digital Media Academy Course List

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Click here summer camps for young children:  Digital Media Academy Summer Camps for Kids

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Learn Maya Animation, The Bouncing Ball: Part 1

The bouncing ball has been a staple of animation classes for a very long time. While bouncing balls don’t become the stars of the latest animated blockbuster, their simple animation can easily add life to project, no matter what you’re making.


The bouncing ball combines so many animation elements, not to mention, how gravity affects an object.

Getting the Ball Rolling
I’m going to take you through the process of animating a bouncing ball in Maya. This basic lesson can help anyone learning to animate in Maya.

This tutorial will be in three parts.  The first part addresses the basics of setting the keyframes on the ball so that it moves through space. The second part will then take those initial keyframes and make a pretty decent generic-looking bouncing ball out of them.  Finally, the third part will take that generic-looking ball and adjust it so that it looks like something more specific, like a beach ball or a baseball.

First, let’s take a look at some examples of bouncing balls in animated short films:

Pixar’s Luxo Jr. gets playful with two types of balls on Sesame Street.

Purple and Brown, a short that ran on Nickelodeon showcases how a simple ball can make for funny animations.

The Ball Bouncing
First things first. Before we can animate a believable bouncing ball, we need to know how an actual bouncing ball reacts when it bounces. Go find a nice rubbery ball – and drop it on the floor. Watch how it reacts to gravity. You could also videotape the ball in action and play the video back frame by frame. I always encourage students to investigate real world objects they’re trying to animate – in this case, experiment with different types of balls, a tennis ball, a golf ball, etc. You might not see it now, but this will come in very handy for the second part of this tutorial when we’ll be making a ball move like it’s actually made of something besides pixels.

Wikipedia Bouncing Ball Strobe
A real bouncing ball can be a great resource for an animator.  

Now you’re ready to get started animating in Maya (I’m assuming you already know some of Maya’s interface – if not, then review the Autodesk Maya documentation and introductory tutorials). First, make sure you have the viewport and timeline showing. Now give yourself enough time for a decent animation, say, 60 frames. Don’t worry, if you need more, you can add it later.  Also, it will be easier if you have auto-key mode set to “on.”  The only other element you need is a ball. That’s pretty simple, just create either a polygonal or NURBS sphere. The size and placement won’t matter for this lesson.

Initial Keyframes

Step 1

Start on frame 1.  Set the viewport to the front view.  Move your sphere somewhere up (+Y) and to the left (-X), place the object “up in the air,” so to speak. Now press “S” to set a keyframe for all the attributes.

Step 2

Now, move ahead in the timeline to frame 9 (just an arbitrary choice – we’ll adjust timing later).  Move the ball down (-Y) and to the right (+X) so that it looks like it’s hitting the “ground.”  The auto-key setting should automatically set a keyframe on the changed values.

Step 3

Move ahead to frame 17 and once again move the ball upward (+Y) and to the right (+X) so that it looks like it’s in the air again.

Step 4

Move forward to frame 25 and move the ball down (-Y) and to the right (+X) so that it is on the ground again.

Step 5

Repeat the last couple steps, putting the ball in the air at frame 33 and on the ground again at frame 41.

Pause and Evaluate
Now play back the animation you’ve created. Hmmmm…it’s moving through space at the correct points, but it doesn’t look like a bouncing ball – it’s more like a floating ball.

To polish our animation, let’s use one of Maya’s tools: In our “Animation” menu set, under the “Animation” menu, there is something an option called “Create Motion Trail.” Click on the option and set it to ”line” and “show frame numbers” like below.

With the ball selected (important!), click on “Create Motion Trail” and you should see a line describing the movement of the ball through space.  You can see it makes a wavy shape, like below.

We’ve come a good way to making our bouncing ball look believable, but we need something that better resembles a bouncing shape, like a series of arches. To do that, we’ll have to open and work with animation curves in the graph editor.  That’s Part 2 of this tutorial…

Continuing the Lesson
Learning Maya isn’t as hard as you think, Digital Media Academy offers courses in Character Creation and Animation using Maya, in fact I teach some of those very courses, but you have to do your homework to create realistic animation. So what do you say, ready to move onto Part 2?

Part 2:  Learn Maya Animation

Part 3:  Learn Maya Animation

Learning Maya Animation One Step at a Time

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posted by Geoff Beatty in News Blog and have No Comments