Who would have ever thought we would see Alias/Wavefront offer their flagship product for free for all to enjoy its magic. Well, it has happened and slowly but surely, publishers are running to the presses to get out resource material for the highly acclaimed 3D Animation package called Maya. As demand for more training material continues, you'll be happy to know there are some good books out there to get your your feet wet using this great application. Do all our training at home. Just get yourself a copy of Maya at the Alias/Wavefront site, pick up some training material and you're good to go.
If you're a new Maya user and have finished with the tutorials that the software brings, you may still be in the dark about certain things and most people probably will since Maya is a very deep application. You may be tempted to search the internet for tutorials and may not have luck finding good beginner tutorials. So what is one to do?? Believe me, I was also once lost in the great world of Maya. Well, if you head down to the bookstore looking for Maya books, you may not come across too many yet, however, you may stumble across a book published by New Riders called Maya 4: Fundamentals by Jim Lammers and Lee Gooding. How is it different from the others you may ask? Well, I'm here to help you with that.
Maya 4: Fundamentals is aimed at the beginner or someone who has previous experience in other 3D software packages. Even if you are an experienced user of Maya, you may learn a thing or two from the book. As the author says one of the best ways to learn new techniques is by watching what other people do-sometimes you'll discover alternative, better ways of accomplishing things.
The book is divided into four sections. The introduction gives you the history of Maya and 3D graphics in general plus the system requirements to run Maya. It gives you a general overview of where and how Maya is used. Typical of many other 3D books. Informative if you're new to 3D graphics.
Part one goes into the basics of design and composition. Talks a little about cameras, lighting and basic computer skills. If you need to brush up on this concepts or do not have much experience with them, I suggest you find material dedicated to those topics. These concepts I feel are essential to being successful in any 3D application. This first part also runs you through the interface and general concepts of the Maya interface and defines some key terms which I found to be useful and bringing you up to the industry jargon. You also create a small animation project to get you started using the application.
Part two goes into creating surfaces and models using Nurbs and Polygons and you start a project that carries you through modeling, creation of materials, lighting setup, animation, and a final render. I picked up some good tips and learned about stuff that I either never knew about or just did not use.
Part three goes into the wonderful world of paint effects. This chapter gives you a good overview on the paint effects engine. If you have used PaintFX through the After Effects plug in, you're are in for a treat. There is a huge difference of speed when you use PaintFX in Maya as opposed to AE. The authors also give you a taste of the dynamics engine. I say a taste because this is one of those areas in Maya that takes some time to get used to if you really want to leverage the power of particles, rigid and soft body dynamics. There is also a chapter on workflow and efficiency. This info is welcomed since Maya begs for good workflow. Command line rendering, using compositors, using Maya's Render Layers, and creating marking menus all add up to efficiency within Maya and they are all covered. Not very extensive but enough to get you going.
Part four which is the appendix I found to be very good. The authors explain and point out differences among several 3D Animation packages. If you come from another 3D application this could give you a hand in sorting out differences between Maya and your other application of choice. They also give you insight on using Maya with different operating systems since the one the book covers is on a Windows machine. However, Maya is practically the same on Linux, Irix and OSX. I enjoyed reading this section.
Overall, the authors did a great job bringing in the new user into Maya without scaring him off with complex info that Maya could do very easily. The best part is the CD included with the book. Not only does it includes the scene files to follow along with the tutorials but includes mini tutorial movie files that guide you step by step through the process. I tested the movies on both PC and Mac platforms and they worked fine. Also included are custom marking menus that the authors have created to help you become more efficient in Maya and jump start you in creating your own marking menus.
One word of warning, if you are looking into learning more about Mel, which is Maya's scripting language, and character animation, this is not, I repeat not the book for you. The authors completely left out anything on character rigging, skinning or bones and skeletons in general and the same for Mel. At first I wondered why they would completely leave out these areas, especially when character animation and Mel are two of Maya's stronger points, but I realized it was probably better for the beginner. I remember reading up on this for the very first time when I was learning Maya and it scared the hell out of me. If you want get familiar with bones and skeletons and want to dive into Mel, which I highly recommend if you want to create visual effects using Maya's Dynamics engine, look into Maya's documentation. In my opinion, probably the best resource out there.