Maya Character Modeling and Animation

January 16, 2008 10:00 pm

When I became a Moderator for the Renderosity Maya community, I came to realize how important it was to have different resources for both newcomers and advanced users. If you visit the Maya Forum, you will see links to a wide variety of resources available over the internet. However, some users (especially non-experienced users) will try to get their hands on one or more books instead of browsing through countless pages of tutorials.

As you may have realized, there are plenty of books available that are related to Maya in one way or another. For this particular article, I’d like to share my experiences with a recently released book by Tereza Flaxman titled “Maya Character Modeling and Animation: Principles and Practices.”

The first thing that drew my attention was the fact that the book was written by a woman (if you’ve ever been to SIGGRAPH you may know what I mean). The second thing was that it’s aimed specifically at schools or students.

The first chapter of the book covers different aspects not only related to Maya, but animation and cinematography. It briefly describes different types of shots, light setups and preproduction processes. Personally, I could argue about the actual objective behind that chapter since there are various books that will guide you through those subjects more deeply (such as “Film Directing: Shot by Shot” by Steven Katz), and some readers will feel tempted to just jump ahead to the next chapter.

The rest of the chapters are more Maya oriented. The first exercises are about animating props, and also modeling and animating a simple character (a sack). Then you jump directly to working with biped characters.

For an introductory book, I think that Maya Character Modeling and Animation: Principles and Practices does a relatively good job in explaining how things work when it comes to biped characters. However, I completely disagree on the exercise used to take the user through the animation workflow: a walk cycle.

Anyone is free to disagree with me on this, but I never encourage beginners to use a walk cycle as a first approach to animation for one simple reason: a walk cycle is a chain reaction of many interconnected events, and it may prove too difficult to understand, especially if you’ve never animated before (if you own any animation book, such as The Animator’s Survival Kit, you will notice that walks are somewhere in the middle, meaning that you’ve already mastered the animation principles before you even start to animate walks). On the other hand, more useful animations (such as a character jumping or lifting heavy objects) are only explained on the surface.

The book ships with a CD where you can find models, finished projects, movies and even a Maya shortcut list. Sometimes the CDs included with other books include Maya PLE, but that’s not the case here, which means you’ll have to download the Maya demo from Autodesk.

As I said before, the book is aimed specifically for both schools and students. There’s actually some “course samples” at the end of the book which are meant to be used for general, modeling or animation courses. For example, the 10-week animation course takes you through preproduction and storyboard and then jumps to simple animations and finishes with biped animations. Note that these are not extra chapters, but rather a different ordering on the chapters you’ve already read (going back to the animation course example, which completely leaves out the modeling chapters, focusing exclusively on the animation ones).

If you are completely new to Maya, the book will give you a very good introduction to the software, as well as its creative side. However, if you already have some Maya experience (if you have already read a couple of Maya for beginners books), there’s a chance you won’t find anything new here. Either way, I can’t stress enough that you will need to buy more task-specific Maya books after you’re done with this one, since this book is mostly aimed to be a “first contact” with the Maya environment.

Available from:
Charles River Media

Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.

January 28, 2008

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Article Comments

forester ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 03 February 2008

Nice job! Thanks for the book review. These are extremely helpful, and you are a good and balanced writer.