|A Creative COW Book Review
© 2003 David Heijl and CreativeCOW.net. All rights are reserved.
David Heijl takes a look at one of Sybex' new offering in their Maya series: Learning Maya 5 | Rendering and concludes..."judging on contents only, for beginning through intermediate Mayans, this is a must-have book. Good job, Alias."
We've all been through it at some point. It's a little past two in the morning, and you've spent the entire evening pulling vertices, carefully texturing and lighting this new scene, your best yet, and then you hit the render button -- but, hey, this isn't what it's supposed to look like! The highlights are all wrong, and who put those jaggy edges on my shadows. There are few feelings as frustrating as not being able to render out your latest Maya creation in all its flawless perfection.
And it's not as if it is an easy subject, rendering. A lot comes into play: the lighting, camera setup, render globals -- it all needs to be just right.
Luckily for all beginning and intermediate Maya users out there, Alias has come up with a pretty good book to teach yourself the basics and quite a bit more about rendering scenes in Maya.
The topics covered in Learning Maya 5 | Rendering are approached both theoretically and in practice. Each section starts off with an overview of the concepts involved, and goes on with a step-by-step tutorial using sample scenes and files provided on the accompanying DVD. Physically, it's a sturdy book, not too big - fits pretty snugly into my laptop bag - and printed on smooth paper. The book has been conceived as a series of lessons, so it is advisable to work through the chapters in their order of appearance, but the conceptual sections work just as well if you simply jump right into a topic of your choice.
The authors start off with discussing Materials, followed by an introduction to Maya's Texture nodes and functions. Right away, I was struck by the concise and clear phrasing used in this book: complex' topics are discussed in simple terms. Even though the illustrations are black and white only, apart from a 10-page glossy full-color section in the middle of the book, the examples and screenshots work quite well.
The Lighting chapter was a slight disappointment, but I soon realized this was my fault more than anything else. I had hoped to find some lighting scenarios, tips and real-world examples, but the chapter focuses completely on Maya-related issues. This is not a book about digital lighting -- there are other titles for that -- but about the tools available within Maya.
Next up is a chapter on Cameras, including everything you need to know about depth of field, resolution and film gates, etc.
The chapters on Shadows, Raytracing and Controlling Renders take up over 100 pages and focus on how to tweak Maya's countless settings to get the visual quality and render performance you need. For this alone, I would have bought this book: the authors give useful tips and insight into the eternal trade-off between speed and quality.
Next up is a section on SFX and Compositing. I found it a little less transparently structured than the rest of the book, but it did contain a lot of useful information on rendering in passes, motion blur, and glows.
The following chapters discuss the use of the Hardware, Vector and Mental Ray renderers that are integrated into Maya 5. While certainly useful, I for one had expected a little more information on Mental Ray. Caustics, Final Gather and Global Illumination are all covered adequately, but I'm sure there's more to be said about Mental Ray's shaders.
After finishing this book, I do feel that my renders are more likely to turn out the way I want them. I also find that I keep returning to the sections on optimizing renders for the countless tips in Learning Maya 5 | Rendering that cannot be found anywhere in the Maya documentation. Sadly, when using the book as a reference, one of its major flaws comes into play: it does not have an index. Being a technical writer myself, I don't why this is. These days, creating a good index is a matter of hours, perhaps a day or two at the most, and it saves the reader a lot of time looking things up. A thoughtless omission that costs the authors half a cow at least.
However, judging on contents only, for beginning through intermediate Mayans, this is a must-have book. Good job, Alias.
Rating: 4 cows out of 5
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