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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 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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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have Comments (2)

Thoughts on last summer's Maya classes…

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.

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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have No Comments