DMA Central


What’s Next for Pixar?

Disney * Pixar is readying a whole new batch of animated classics and none of them involve cars or toys. In fact, the next batch of Disney * Pixar blockbusters focus on a feisty redhead, a dinosaur, a monster sequel/prequel and a celebration of the Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos.

The title card for Disney * Pixar’s dinosaur movie – before it had a name.

So what will the folks behind “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “Up,” and “Finding Nemo” be thrilling us with at movie theaters for the next few years? We called up our connections at Disney to find out:

Release Date: June 22, 2012
Why It Will Be Awesome: The Pizza Planet Truck – a fixture of every Pixar film, with the exception of “The Incredibles” – makes an appearance here, too. Look for the truck in the Witch’s Hut. Touches like this will make this another Pixar favorite.

The Back Story: Originally titled “The Bear and the Bow,” Pixar’s latest effort, “Brave,” went through many changes before it finally made it to the big screen. The film tells the story of a young fiery red-headed princess named Merida who must trust her archery skills and bravery to fight a dreadful curse. Set in Scotland (“Brave” is also the first period film for Pixar), the film promises to add a new face to the Disney Princess lineup.

The official movie trailer for “Brave”:

“Monsters University”
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Why It Will Be Awesome: The film will be the first in 8 years for Frank Oz (he also provided the voice of Yoda and The Muppets’ Fozzie Bear), and is the very first prequel for any Pixar film.

The Back Story: Announced last year, “Monsters University” is the story of how Mike and Sulley met at the University of Fear – when they weren’t exactly the best of buddies. The film is in production now and will be helmed by Pixar’s Dan Scanlon. “Monsters University” will be also be Scanlon’s first time directing a full-length animated film – although Pixar fans shouldn’t worry too much; Scanlon does have experience bringing computer generated characters to life onscreen - he also directed the Pixar short “Mater and the Ghostlight.”

The official logo for Disney * Pixar’s “Monsters University.” 

Monsters University” re-unites the original cast of Billy Crystal (who again voices the one-eyed Mike Wazowski) and John Goodman (the voice of Sulley) and introduces new characters, too, including The Abominable Snowman (voiced by John Ratzenberger) and Fungus (voiced by Frank Oz). Think “Animal House” (Mike and Sulley are in a fraternity together, Mike wears a retainer) meets “Freaks and Geeks” in Disney Digital 3D – and with monsters.

“The Good Dinosaur”
Release Date: May 30, 2014
Why It Will Be Awesome: Two words: Pixar. Dinosaurs.

The Back Story: Originally titled “Frozen” and “Pixar’s Untitled Movie About Dinosaurs,” the film tells the story of how Earth is missed by an asteroid, and instead of the dinosaurs becoming extinct, they thrived and kept evolving. Dinosaurs have always been a Disney favorite – both in its theme parks and movies – so it’s going to be very interesting to see what kind of take Pixar will have on the subject matter.

Concept art from “The Good Dinosaur” features a young boy. Pixar hasn’t confirmed if humans will remain in the latest version of the script.

The film will be directed by Bob Peterson (co-director/writer of “Up,” writer of “Finding Nemo”) and Peter Sohn. Pixar is promising a “heartfelt and original” story but honestly, would you expect anything less from the studio that turned a bitter old man with a passion for balloons (“Up”) into an Oscar winner?

“Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside The Mind”
Release Date: TBD
Why It Will Be Awesome: It’s a pet project for Pete Docter.

The Back Story: From director Pete Docter (the guy behind “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.”) comes a film that promises to take us on incredible journey inside the human mind. Disney Studios hasn’t released much more information beyond that, although considering the title, we’re reminded of the long-forgotten Walt Disney’s Adventures Through Innerspace attraction at Disneyland.

“Untitled Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Movie”
Release Date: 2015
Why It Will Be Awesome: Director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson are driving it creatively – and they’re the team behind the Academy Award-winning “Toy Story 3.”

The Back Story: The vibrant Mexican holiday of Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead festival, as it’s also known) is a time for celebration – a celebration of the dead. While not many details have been released, the potential of this movie has us dying to see concept art, a trailer, anything! The film, which was announced recently at CinemaCon and is slated for sometime in 2015, promises to feature the skeleton-ish characters that are a hallmark for the festival. It is the movie we’re most looking forward to on this list…

The Day of the Dead festival is probably better known for the skeleton figures that tourists bring home from Mexico.

Computer-Generated Character
Pixar and Hollywood special effects artists bring characters to life by spending years learning to use Maya, the industry standard for 3D character creation (although Pixar also uses its own proprietary tools). But creating computer characters and bringing them to life is something Pixar mastered many films ago. We can’t wait to see the next batch of Pixar creations. How about you?


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posted by DMA Jordan in Comic and Cartoon Creation,News Blog and have No Comments

Creating Asymmetry with 3D Models and Animation

When you create a 3D animated character there are several things to keep in mind. 3D modeling and animation is a process that requires you to constantly evaluate what you’re creating. That’s why it’s helpful to group the thousands of visual choices you have available to you according to basic, fundamental principles. One of the most important of these principles is the idea of asymmetry.

In the context of design (particularly in 3D modeling and animation), asymmetry is vitally important in establishing both believability and interest.

Finding Balance
Why is asymmetry so important in 3D creation? Asymmetry helps establish believability. Just take a look at the world around you. For the most part, unless it’s a car, machine or other man-made device, it’s naturally asymmetrical. Asymmetry also helps establish interest because of variations in the object. Take a look at the example below…

The image on the left side is asymmetric, while the image on the right side is symmetric. As you can see, my face isn’t as interesting to look at when it’s the same on both sides.

How does this translate into 3D modeling and animation?  How do we achieve asymmetry in 3D creation program like Maya? Actually, there are some easy ways to accomplish this:

Mirror Model
One 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.  However, this leaves us with a completely symmetrical model when we want something more believable.  It looks manufactured. Avoid this by simply altering certain elements of the object on one side of the model. Do this by scaling or sculpting or using lattice deformers.

Altering little details (like eyebrows or the corner of a mouth) can help make a character asymmetrical.

Animation Asymmetry
Modifying a 3D model can easily add asymmetry, but how do we incorporate asymmetry into animation? One is posing your model with asymmetry. Take a look at the two poses below:

Of these two poses, the model on the right is more dynamic and more believable.

Finally, during the animation process, 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 character action, and it’s an important step in creating a believable sense of weight.

In summary, asymmetry is a vital step in creating believable characters. When you use asymmetry, you demonstrate to the viewer your thoughtfulness as a animator, modeler and designer.

Geoff Beatty teaches 3D modeling and animation using Maya for Digital Media Academy. He was previously profiled on DMAC. Geoff is one of only a handful of Autodesk-Certified Instructors in Maya, the leading 3D animation software program.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Maya,News Blog and have No Comments

Walt Disney’s 3D Film Invention & The Future of Filmmaking

Walt Disney was someone way ahead of his time. He defied critics and conventional wisdom by making a cartoon over an hour in length into a feature film (“Snow White”). In 1937, he was again ahead of the curve by making 3D cartoons.

Walt explaining the Multiplane Camera. The original Multiplane Camera used to shoot such classics as “Bambi,” “Snow White” and “Pinocchio” is now on display at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.

The Most Advanced Animation Tool Before The Computer
Using a technology that wasn’t surpassed in animation until the introduction and use of computers, the Multiplane Camera was the most advanced piece of technology of its day for making animated movies. We found this great piece of video of Walt introducing audiences to the new technology through his weekly television show, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”

Animators today use Maya to create jaw-dropping 3D landscapes and make 3D characters come to life on movie screens. In fact, Maya is the entertainment industry standard in computer animation – used to render everything from Woody in “Toy Story” to that little dancing bar of soap on television. Video-game developers also use Maya to create landscapes and characters, just like their counterparts do in the movies. Do you want to know how to become a Maya expert? Becoming an animation wiz using Maya could put you on a path to becoming the next Walt Disney.

Digital Media Academy offers courses in Maya taught by industry professionals. DMA’s Maya 2012 Pro Series Courses like Maya 2012: Introduction, Maya 2012: Character Modeling & Rigging, Maya 2012: Animation & Visual Effects, or Maya 2012: Texture & Lighting are all great ways to create, build on or enhance your animation skills. DMA’s one-week- and two-week-long computer and digital arts summer camps will inspire you to create the future of animation.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Art & Animation,Featured,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.


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.


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.


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

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posted by DMA Jordan 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:


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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Classes for adult learners:  Digital Media Academy Course List

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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have Comment (1)

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

Ready to get things ready for a great summer?  Enroll for Summer Camp Now!  Visit these 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 DMA Jordan in News Blog and have Comments (2)

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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DMA's Maya Certification Program – An Accelerated, Immersive Experience

DMA’s Maya Certification program centers on its series of 3d modeling and animation courses. These courses are broad and deep and tackle some of the most complex problems and powerful tools in Maya, Autodesk’s industry standard software for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and visual effects. From a beginning of how to create basic shapes in Maya I, to a finalized piece with finished facial animations, body rigging, and narrative based story  – the Digital Media Academy series of courses provides an intense submersion into the Maya toolkit and workflow.

Paul Randall and Karen Laszkiewicz – who attended DMA at Stanford University as part of a partnership with NOVA this past summer – in collaboration with other students at animation summer camp created the sample project displayed below.  Both Paul and Karen were among the Digital Media Academy attendees who tackled all four courses back to back.  The amount of technical information was huge.  The requirements to process and apply the information were quick.  And the necessity to work as a team came as an extra spice to the mix.  Paul and Karen were integral parts of a diverse team that included participants of varying ages, abilities, gender, and nationality.  They both kept learning, kept producing and working with the team through the deadline to create the final piece seen here.

This project is based on a story from a children’s book and due to time constraints does not have voice over or final render.  That said, in this format you can see the scripted words (for voice over) and the skeleton (rigged, model) and other directional tools.  The important thing to remember is that Paul and Karen started with no experience in 3d or Maya and after 20 days of class were able to produce this.  Digital Media Academy will get you started on your new career path!  The skills they departed with will enable them to pursue the field of 3d art, modeling and animation as a viable career path.  What are you interested in learning with Maya?  Is it time to learn new skills to be competitive in today’s employment marketplace?  Why not learn new skills and have fun too at Digital Media Academy’s Maya summer camp?  Please join the conversation, and leave a comment below! 


Looking for more information on Maya Certification?  Please click here:  Maya Certification   Which Digital Media Academy location will work best for you?  Take a look!  Please click here:  Digital Media Academy Adult Training Locations.


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Learning Maya made simple

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.

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