Making a training video is tough. Even if the students are highly motivated and interested in the topic, they're very likely to fall asleep at some point in your tutorials. You need to be very-well organized and have a nice on-screen presence, something highly under-rated.
The gnomon videos have an advantage in the Maya industry presently they're pretty much the only folks offering tutorial videos for sale, certainly the only folks who have offered such an extensive selection (perhaps not for long) for Maya.
One thing I like about Gnomons structure is that they offer a dvd on one subject. Not a library, just one dvd. It's good for us fear-of-committal folks who only want to buy one DVD at a time. If texturing confuses you, or the hypershade window is a mystery, their 3 part texturing DVD might help. I like this approach, as opposed to Total Training that offer an entire library of DVDs for a decent chunk of change. Gnomon also offers a bundled package for the beginner as well as bundled packages for character and dynamics. Doubtless, they'll have more bundles available as time progresses. Check out the website.
Note: 38 or so DVDs at roughly $70 a piece (they started out at $80!), you can easily spend about as much on these videos as Maya Complete You Gnomon folks might consider dropping the price on each DVD just a tad, especially since some other production houses might begin to nip at your heels as competition. Just a personal aside.
The downside of offering one tape for one subject means software versions differ over time. Does the instructor consistently use an old version of Maya throughout each one of the 38+ training DVDs? These newer DVDs have conveniently used Maya 4.5, but this will not always be the case as newer Maya versions spring up. Will the student be using a newer or older version of Maya than the trainer? Suddenly the windows are different, the tools are located in a different place, confusion happens. Admittedly this is a common problem in the industry and there's no real good way around it, except to offer another video covering the same material displaying the new version of Maya perhaps the way theyre doing it now is best, since making a new video for Maya 5 texture mapping would be redundant since the core concepts are the same for Maya 3 or 4 or 4.5.
I originally wrote a review on the gnomon videos last year when most of their library still consisted of VHS tapes. For various reasons, the review was delayed. Eventually, I received all three texturing DVDs to review, and have also purchased 5 others (mostly in the modeling realm), so I'm fairly confident this review will cover the other DVDs offered as well.
I'm going to first mention the good points I found about their DVD set(s) and then offer criticisms and possible solutions. Hopefully by reading the criticisms the authors of these DVDs will not get the impression that I think their product is terrible. Quite the contrary. Here are some good points I found about their DVDs:
- Good Scan Converter
- Its such an important aspect of instructional videos and these guys have tackled the problem of having a lot of windows on the screen at the same time and keeping them readable. Its not crystal-clear but then its extremely difficult and very expensive to have perfect scan converters, if such a thing exists. It takes a lot of effort to maneuver around Maya with only one, limited-sized screen and these folks have tackled the problem brilliantly.
- Good on-screen / off-screen presence.
- Similar to on-screen talent, having a good on-screen presence is vital to these videos. I product thirty and sixty second commercials on a very regular basis as well as produce radio spots. I have a special appreciation for folks who can speak to you in a clear way, without a lot of pausing uhhh
breaks. Good job on this guys.
- A very important exception to the above praise. The presenter on the lighting/rendering DVD was not a good presenter. An extremely smart Maya user I can tell, but perhaps someone better suited for behind the scenes work. Just my opinion. Alex Alvarez was probably the most clear and understandable instructor. Again, just my opinion.
- Lower Price
- As noted above, these DVDs started out at $80 and lowered by ten dollars. A good stride toward their customers but lowering the price even more would probably be appropriate.
- DVD-ROM is the best way to go!
- It's so convenient to be able to open the scene and play the DVD from the same drive. Students are highly encouraged to own a DVD-ROM in their computer, even though its not at all necessary. Gnomon did a good job with the encoding of these DVDs and the scene files, albeit unorganized, are included in an easy-to-find place for Maya users (standard default tree structure under the project folder).
As I worked through the DVDs I found them informative, yet flawed. Knowing that this review may be read by not only potential customers of gnomon3D but also by the folks who have made the DVDs, I broke my comments up into 2 sections a section devoted to the new Maya student and the section devoted to the gnomon3D authors". I don't like to criticize or praise a product without giving reasons as well as offering ways they might improve. All of these comments pertain to all 3 texturing DVD sets, even though I've seen quite a few others since these notes were taken.
- Work out while watching the DVDs!
- This tip pertains to any instructional DVD. I own three Total Training sets (Illustrator 10, Photoshop 7, After Effects 5.5 full PB set) as well as Ken LaRues Combustion 2 training DVDs as well as a lot of Gnomon DVDs for Maya, and I regularly work out on my gazelle ski trainer while watching these videos. It doesn't matter if you miss a lot of it because of distraction. The idea is that you'll see it once more in the background or subconscious of your mind, then again in the foreground or conscious part of your mind as you work along with the projects at your workstation. This method is similar to those who study mnemonics and advanced learning techniques in that you are exposed to the material in a subtle fashion, then once again in a more deliberate fashion. For those more interested in these advanced learning techniques, do a search over at amazon.com with keyword mnemonics.
- Keep your Pause button handy.
- These guys are smart and good with Maya. At times they're moving fairly quickly and at other times you'll have to model things yourself to follow along with what they're saying. You'll need to hit the pause button a lot to keep up. A case can be made that by the time you're watching the texturing DVDs you should've already went through the modeling DVDs, and hence had a good feel for modeling. If you don't have a good feeling for modeling, you'll be feeling that hindrance as you go through the texturing DVDs because some of the models aren't included.
- Files not made in .ma format.
- Offer the included scene files in .ma as well as .mb format. This allows the user to alter the header information in the .ma file to be able to open these scene files in different versions of Maya. This topic comes up a lot on the general forum at highend3d.com.
- Some of the files are missing.
- I was very confused on the texturing set. The scene files were numbered but were either in the wrong order or were missing entirely. When an instructor explains a scene to us, we want to follow along. Simply watching the instructor do his thing in Maya is not very helpful, not to me at least. Everything you talk about should be included on the DVD as scene files, and everything should be in order. In addition, the instructor should mention, Okay, now on scene 2 we're going to work with a candle. I didn't get the sense that the instructor was working with the same project files that were offered on the DVD. Briefly, I took a note on some of the missing models / scenes candles, car, grayscale marble image, etc.
- Can't pan around in the perspective window.
- A scenes perspective camera was essentially locked. I know there was a perfectly good reason for this but it wasn't mentioned as to why in the DVDs (if it was mentioned I missed it entirely). Details like this are very confusing for new users who at times may struggle to keep up with you.
- Some of the scene files used are on different DVDs.
- I'm still a bit confused as to what happened but my best guess is that DVD 2 has some of DVD 1s scene files on it, and vice versa. Again, the instructor should be using the same exact scene files in the same folders. In addition, the instructor should be opening the scene files with the student, not simply skipping the opening process or rushing through it.
- Texturing 2 has a different scene marked as 1 than one used in first lecture. This may be related to the note above.
- Texturing 2 in particular seemed to lose me.
- The instructor seemed all over the place and offered little direction. "I'll turn this up and that off, this down, this down, now my alpha is showing that reflection...". A better way might be a slower version, such as now do this, see how that affected the reflection? Now this
- Off-the-cuff lectures are a breeding ground for going off tangents.
- It actually takes a lot of effort, some practice, and a bit of talent to present off-the-cuff lectures in a non-confusing way. There's all sorts of potential for digressing into unrelated topics and comments. I'm not saying you should write down word-for-word the lecture, but it might be a good idea to have a good outline on not only the topic but the main ideas important to that topic sitting there as you're capturing your screen movement. Don't talk about Maya, show it to us and allow us to follow you on our own workstations. That's the most important point of this review.
- Offer quizzes or an interactive summary at the end of each section.
- This one isn't a criticism so much as a suggestion. There's so much a Maya user needs to know in order to use the program it might be helpful to cover the basics (keys they need to know to move around Maya and perform various functions hold the c down to lock to a curve, etc.).
- Include both the final and the unfinal version.
- Some students benefit from dissecting a project file, but in my mind it's useless to do that here, since the point is to follow along and build the scene alongside the instructor. Trish & Chris Meyer do this in their excellent After Effects training books in that they'll include the scene1_start.aep and then the scene1_end.aep for the student to open in case they got lost along the way. This would be an excellent habit to pick up on.
- The UV explanation on the label on Texturing Disc 2 was excellent.
- Follow this example during the other topics and you'll be well on your way to excellence. Again, just my opinion.
- On disc 2, the explanation was good on how to increase the resolution of our label but also how you showed a better way to accomplish that through IPR rendering. You showed a pitfall and a way around it. Maya is full of pitfalls, you should emphasize this more in the other topics as well!
- Also, Good use of fcheck and a quickie tutorial on how to use it for checking alpha on disc 2.
- Verbally repeat what you're doing.
- We'll at least have a clue as to what you're pushing, even when you mess up, because newbies mess up and hit the wrong keys sometimes too. I had to stop the DVD and go look how you inserted your knots without going to the menu first. When someone's watching your tutorial DVDs, remember they're probably pretty new to Maya and may be watching them out of order (or may have forgotten what they've learned).