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Learning Maya 6: Foundation

Learning Maya 6: Foundation
Creativecow.net Book Review


Learning Maya 6: Foundation

John David Hutton
John David Hutton
mYth productions
Kansas City, Kansas, USA

©2004 John David Hutton and Creativecow.net. All rights are reserved.

Article Focus:
CreativeCOW leader John David Hutton looks at Learning Maya 6 | Foundation published by Sybex and is pleased to find ... ''a tutorial book ..[which presents]... the instruction to you in a way that makes you understand why you’re doing those things. You get a very well-rounded instruction on the principles of this 3D software package."

Learning Maya 6
Click on the graphic to purchase this book from Amazon.com
Learning Maya 6 Foundation: The first book in a series of “Learning Maya” books.

When I first started the business of 3D and motion graphics I remember being so taken aback by how shoddy the included manuals were. Not only were they boring and lifeless, they seemed more like a dictionary or reference manual (they weren’t supposed to be) than an actual piece of valuable instruction.

Since then I’ve been arrogantly turning my nose up at any sort of tutorial book or video published or endorsed by the same company who made the software. I discounted them before they even have a chance to show how great they were and I almost made the same mistake with this one. A co-worker purchased this book because of a class he started at a local junior college. The timing was great because my company gave me a week of Maya self-training, and while I had some books and videos from which to learn I opened this one curiously. I got almost completely through it by the time he started his class.

This book consists of 5 projects, spanning 27 lessons, each chapter within the project being directly related to its former:

  • In Project 1 (lessons 1-6) you create a bouncing ball and its environment, give character to the ball by animating CVs, along with some cool special effects such as a ring of fire the ball bounces through.

  • In Project 2 (lessons 7-12) we model a jack in the box from scratch (introducing organic modeling) and build a complete scene, including animation (skeletons, skinning, constraints, etc.), secondary animation (graph editor, lattice work, deformers), rendering (lights, texture maps, rendering).

  • In Project 3 (lessons 13-17), we build a space scene by modeling two ships (one using nurbs and the other polygons), we explore subdivision surfacing (by building an alien), we animate the ships to duke it out (appropriate since a lot of modelers prefer polygons over nurbs or vice-versa), and lastly we add some special effects such as some lasers and a simple explosion and smoke using particles.

  • In Project 4 (lessons 18-21) we explore the vast and complicated world of character animation, from modeling (simple shapes) to rigging to animation (exploring walk cycles and the trax editor).

  • Project 5 (lessons 22-27) We build “Salty,” a more sophisticated character than the previous project, complete with facial expressions, interaction between a ball and itself, more practice with lights while building a fancier set, and capping off the project with an introduction into the world of MEL.

The reason this book is terrific is the variety in what it shows you. You get a very well-rounded instruction on the principles of this 3D software package. What’s better, you’re shown several ways to accomplish the same thing. For example, in one lesson you may keyframe the x-axis in the channel box while in the next lesson you do it in the attribute window. Also, common commands are sometimes accessed in the hotbox and sometimes they’re accessed via the menu. I felt like this was very deliberate and kudos to the folks who wrote and organized this stuff, because it’s not easy to do. Therein lies the largest strength of this book.

A tutorial book is never about showing you how to put awesome projects together (although I enjoyed the ones in this book), it’s about presenting the instruction to you in a way that makes you understand why you’re doing those things. It’s this very point where many other books fall short in some way, even others by Sybex. Their goal was to instruct. Period. It shows.

Their accompanying DVD was easy to understand because the projects were in a directory structure that made sense (in contrast to how some of the older Sybex books organized their Maya projects) and the overviews (videos included in the DVD) were helpful. These video overviews covered the more complicated points of each lesson and were invaluable to me. They could’ve redone each step in each lesson and I’m actually glad they didn’t. By only going over the important (and more complex) steps of the lesson it brought to the forefront the difficult concepts and made them more clear.

My last point I’ll make is the training “path” they offer in the back of the book. One danger an artist like myself may run into by learning from 3rd party books is learning the material in a discombobulated fashion – sure I’ve learned dynamics real well but I still don’t know how to model and my animation skills are weak. Alias’ training path offers a concrete direction to go in once one book is completed. Yes it’s a shameless self-promotion but it’s also a good thing for us budding 3D artists
.

training path diagram




SUMMARY

This book gets a guiltless 5 cows for its concise, well-rounded instruction and excellent organization. The group of people in charge of this book (and I hope the rest of the series is just as capable) really had their ducks in a row when they worked on this. A homerun from a company who I hope will do well in their future software and instruction.





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