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  • How to Learn 3D Animation (Without Leaving Your House): Part One

    [10.30.06]
    - Brad Kane
  •  Introduction

    So you're interested in learning the art of computer animation.  You want to build computer models in three dimensions, slap on some shaders that make them look cool, throw in a little animation, add some lights and particle effects, then render it all out and show off your work to your friends.

    Or maybe you're a little more serious about learning 3D - planning for an eventual career in game development or computer animation - but aren't able to throw down thousands of dollars for weekend workshops, correspondence courses, or a University-level visual arts education.

    Can computer animation be learned from the comfort of your own home?  The answer is a resounding YES!  There are many authors out there publishing books aimed at helping you learn 3D on your own, and with free license-restricted "learning editions" now available for once cost-prohibitive software packages, now is the best time ever to embark on a computer animation home-study.

    In this series of articles, we review some of the books available for teaching yourself the industry's two leading computer animation packages: Maya and 3D Studio Max.  We've sifted through a ton of books about these two applications - so that you don't have to - so buckle in and check out our list of the best (and worst) books for learning 3D animation - without ever leaving your house.

    Maya for Beginners

    In Sanskrit, the word "Maya" means something akin to illusion - the spontaneous appearance of an insubstantial universe that looks and feels profoundly real.  What better name, then, for a computer graphics package that does just that: allow us to create entirely illusory, but profoundly realistic, 3D world.

    Maya is the reigning King of all computer graphics packages.  Initially developed for use on high-end Silicon Graphics workstations, Maya 8.0 is now available for Mac, PC, and Linux, and has become the standard for high-quality computer animation - not just in game development, but in feature animation and visual effects as well. If you've seen a Hollywood blockbuster in the last ten years, watched a movie from Pixar or Dreamworks, or played a particularly impressive game on PS2 or Xbox 360, then you've seen Maya at work. 

    Once upon a time, Maya was used only for high-end CGI applications, and 3D Studio Max was considered more than powerful enough to handle anything games-related other than the most pristinely rendered cut-scenes.  However, the bar keeps going up in the game industry, and as our games achieve increased realism and detail, Maya has become as widely embraced by game developers as 3D Studio Max.

    Maya is an incredibly powerful tool, with a remarkably intuitive interface.  The software can handle anything from the most advanced 3D modeling and animation, surfacing and shading, to particle and fluid effects, lighting, cloth simulation, hair and fur, and even includes a powerful renderer.  Entire movies are made inside Maya, and many game engines will speak directly with Maya to move production assets back and forth.

    Learning Maya can be a very rewarding experience, and if you've got the right kind of instructor propelling you forward, students can make huge leaps in relatively short periods of time.  If you're brand new to this software and interested in making a foot-hold, check out this list of titles that might be worth checking out.

    Note: The Maya 7 Personal Learning Edition (PLE) is available for free Autodesk's website.  The company is not planning to release a PLE for Maya 8.

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