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Welcome to Inside Maya 5. This book will guide you through using Alias|Wavefront's Maya animation, modeling, and rendering software in a production setting. We've written this in a unique way, taking you through all the discreet processes toward making your own short film. The book is for intermediate to advanced users who want to learn big-picture issues with the exact details of how it is done in Maya. A major emphasis is the how and why of creating a memorable piece while using a dominant tool. All the authors and interviewees are at the top of their craft and work with Maya professionally on a daily basis. All of us go through our specialized knowledge in dedicated chapters while trying to get a short film called Parking Spot produced. The entire digital studio production pipeline is shown here using Maya 5.

Who Should Read This Book

This book is intended for people who have a fundamental mastery with Maya. Think of this as a way of raising the hood of a car and getting inside the engine to get untapped horsepower. Users who want to know at a deeper level how Maya works and how to customize it will find this book enlightening. Power users will learn alternate approaches to their techniques and will explore in depth other aspects of Maya that they might not be as familiar with. Because no one is a specialist in every aspect of Maya, we have them show off only their expertise. The high-level overviews and workflow will be of interest to the power user (or the soon-to-be power use). All of us authors have a great deal of artistic knowledge to share with you as well. This is not just a “press these buttons” type of book; instead, it is intended to show the salient aspects of Maya from a production point of view by professionals for professionals or advanced users.

Who This Book Is Not For

People who have just started with Maya or 3D computer graphics (CG) might not be able to keep up with all the highly developed material in this book. People looking for a smorgasbord of menu picks will not find this here, either. Some areas and aspects of Maya, such as patch modeling, will not even be covered at all. We assume that you are not just dabbling into 3D. We also know that after reading this, you can't then apply everything to a large digital studio in a week. There is no substitute for mileage on complex systems, and this book is no exception. Even with all the pages written here, we couldn't tell you all the possibilities with Maya. If you want an idea of how Maya works and want to get familiar with it, we suggest getting Maya Fundamentals, by Jim Lammers and Lee Gooding, published by New Riders Press. (Yes, it sounds like a plug, but it's a great book and CD combo.)


This book attempts to show users of the software how a project would go from start to finish. Inside Maya 5 is broken into three distinct parts. The first section describes Maya in its latest guise and shows how to customize it. The Parking Spot project is described in both visual and technical terms. With the context set, the next section delves into the guts of Maya. Here we follow the production process in creating the models, providing technical direction, and laying out the scenes. The last section gets very technical as well as artistic in unleashing the power of Maya. The node-based architecture and particle dynamics comprise some of the technical detail. Character setup is explained thoroughly, as is shading, lighting, and rendering. Here is more detail in each chapter:

  • Chapter 1, “Using Maya Well,” by Mark Adams— Major applications for Maya are enumerated, followed by a broad summary of its toolset and characteristics. A brief history of Maya and Alias|Wavefront is also included. Finally, the skills and traits needed to become a successful Maya user are described.

  • Chapter 2, “Project Overview,” by Mark Adams— The project on which our book centers, called Parking Spot, is described. Briefly, this is the story of a dog who finds his restful spot next to an open parking spot disturbed by an impatient man who needs a place to park his car. The objectives of the piece, both creatively and technically, are explained and our plan of attack for the book is described.

  • Chapter 3, “Digital Studio Pipeline,” by Mark Adams— Digital animation production studios have only recently become a reality. The process of creating an animation in such a studio is described, with particular emphasis on the flow of data through the production process. Our book's structure and Maya's tools are explained in the context of this digital production process.

  • Chapter 4, “Technical Considerations,” by Mark Adams— The environment in which a project is begun is an important factor in how easily and how well it is completed. To this end, we review the ways in which the Maya environment can be adapted to suit user needs. Customizing menus, defining useful hotkeys, tailoring shelves, and even modifying the interface itself are discussed. Recommen dations are also made for efficiently navigating within and managing files and projects.

  • Chapter 5, “MEL,” by Erick Miller— The Maya Embedded Language is at the core of Maya. It permits interpreted scripting and acts as a simple yet powerful way to automate and interface directly with the Maya program. MEL is introduced and discussed clearly and in depth, as this chapter slowly builds up your knowledge of structured scripting and code authoring. Procedures, variables, control structures, loops and UI manipulation are all demonstrated in an easy-to-comprehend and directly applicable, yet fun manner. All code examples are fully tested, and included on the CD-ROM for immediate use by the reader.

  • Chapter 6, “Formats,” by Mark Adams— Modeling in Maya can be done in polygonal, NURBS, or subdivision surface formats. We examine the features, advantages, and disadvantages of each format and provide guidance for choosing among them or even mixing them. Distinguishing characteristics among these formats, such as continuity, shading, deformability, and topological flexibility, are carefully compared. Formats suitable for selected models in our project are also considered.

  • Chapter 7, “Methods,” by Mark Adams— Various useful modeling techniques are shown, independent of the project work. This both provides a useful set of techniques for general modeling purposes and saves time when we later describe how various models in our project are made. Techniques covered include creating rounded edges, working with artwork and image planes, making holes, and mitering corners.

  • Chapter 8, “Sets,” by Mark Adams— The process of modeling sets is first described and then examined in action as we walk through the process of modeling several set pieces. The street and buildings necessary for the Parking Spot project serve to illustrate typical modeling problems and how they are solved, with an eye to efficiency and fidelity to design intent.

  • Chapter 9, “Props,” by Mark Adams— A prop has different requirements than a set or a character, so we spend some time describing those requirements. Then we model a few. Starting with a simple prop, we work our way up to modeling a really complex model, the hero car (although not every gory detail is shown). Various modeling techniques are shown in context, with the rationale given for significant choices made along the way.

  • Chapter 10, “Characters,” by Max Sims— A lovable dog and odious jerk are modeled in subdivision surfaces. Techniques for eliminating modeling dead ends and efficient workflow are discussed. Maintaining the character's appeal and smooth flow of points are also addressed.

  • Chapter 11, “Layout,” by Max Sims— This chapter discusses the process of digital cinematography using Maya's robust camera tools to create an animatic. An interview with Adam Schnitzer, head of layout at Lucas Arts, further illuminates the art of layout.

  • Chapter 12, “Node-Based Architecture,” by Erick Miller— Maya's node-based architecture might sound technically complex, but it can easily be understood here. The varying aspects of how Maya's Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) and Maya's Dependency Graph (DG) both function together to create the powerful combination of transforms, shapes and compute nodes that make up a Maya scene is covered. Attributes and connections are all explained in clear view, and will deepen your true understanding of how Maya works, as well as enhance your ability to harness the full power of nodes and connections in Maya.

  • Chapter 13, “Making Advanced Connections,” by Erick Miller— The next step up the learning ladder is to make some advanced connections. Techniques for complex connections between nodes are demonstrated in simple and easily understood step by step tutorials. The tutorials vary from short (“Creating a Hand Controller”) to quite in-depth (“Using Particle Dynamics to Create an Overlapping Action Skeleton Rig”), and explain to you the connections that are occurring between all the nodes along the way. Each tutorial contains a nugget of knowledge on its own. This chapter gives you further knowledge of how Maya operates and, how you can use the knowledge of node connections in real world tutorial based examples.

  • Chapter 14, “Particles and Dynamics,” by Daniel Roizman— Dynamic simulations are one of Maya's greatest strengths, yet they remain one of its most untapped resources. This chapter explains the ins and outs of creating a water spray simulation, focusing on how to create high-level simulation controls, set up rendering parameters to achieve various looks, and properly integrate your final elements with other rendered layers.

  • Chapter 15, “Character Animation in Maya,” by Will Paicius— Maya's powerful animation tools are interwoven with the principles of animation. An interview with Scott Clark, an animation director at Pixar Animation Studios, sheds light on this misinterpreted art form. The correct sets of tools are combined to analyze and bring the illusion of life to the screen. Blocking, refining, and finishing off the animation complete the reality.

  • Chapter 16, “Character Setup Pipeline for Animation,” by Erick Miller— Setting up a character rig in Maya involves several key concepts and ideas, all of which must be considered within the context of the production pipeline. This chapter explains the concepts behind what makes a good character rig, and the methods involved with implementing these concepts within a production environment using Maya. Five golden rules of character setup are introduced, and common character setup pitfalls are discussed, each with Maya specific software solutions. This chapter is capped off with a special bonus interview with Paul Thuriot, the character setup Puppet Supervisor from Tippett Studios, one of Computer Graphic's most respected and celebrated CG Studios specializing in character and creature animation.

  • Chapter 17, “Rigging Characters for Animation,” by Erick Miller— A bipedal character and a quadrupedal character are both set up as digital puppets in order to make them the animated characters that they long to be. This is one of the core parts of Maya's forte. Character Setup techniques and custom controls show you how it is all done in a real world production environment. This chapter is packed full with in-depth tutorials for character setup, varying in complexity from mid-level to advanced. Rigging the quadruped setup of the dog and the bipedal setup of the Jerk are both explained in great detail through the use of rich multi-part tutorials. The clavicle, squashy, stretchy arms and legs, and complex spine setup of the Jerk's versatile bipedal character rig, as well as the four-legged Ik setup of the dog, his ears, and his tail, are all explained in much detail in separate contained rigging tutorials. Facial, jaw, and eye setups are all covered, as well as numerous skin-binding and weight painting techniques to achieve smooth deformations on your character. If you are interested in learning some new and sophisticated techniques in character setup to get the most out of your animated characters, then this chapter is definitely for you.

  • Chapter 18, “Shading,” by Max Sims— The process of creating hand-painted and procedural shaders is shown and compared here. Texture-mapping techniques also are demonstrated to eliminate confusion. Additionally, you will learn how to wire up your own custom shaders. Your observational and Maya skills needed in approaching any shader will greatly improve if you read this chapter.

  • Chapter 19, “Lighting,” by Adrian Dimond— When the scene is set, you can write with light using all of Maya's lighting tools. Efficient setup and workflow speed up this process. You'll learn here how to simulate a warm summer day and observing six-point lighting, to give you an added cinematic edge.

  • Chapter 20, “Rendering,” by Adrian Dimond— Pointers, tips, and tricks help speed up the rendering process for getting to see your final images. This is the icing on the cake for a complete short film project.

  • Appendix A, “Intermediate and Advanced MEL,” by Erick Miller— This appendix goes into more detail on how MEL can be used leveraged on a production level. Many details are covered, including the ideas and concepts behind the core of several scripts and algorithms at the heart of these scripts. Many concepts are covered, including the use and power of Script Nodes, Script Jobs, Error Hand ling mechanisms in MEL, writing data to ASCII text, and much more. The appendix finishes with an introduction to Maya's extremely powerful C++ API, with a fully implemented example plug-in deformer, the rippleDeformer. All source code for each example in this chapter has been fully tested, and is included on the companion CD-ROM for immediate use by the reader.


This book follows a few typographical conventions:

  • A new term is set in italics the first time it is introduced.

  • Program text, functions, variables, and other “computer language” are set in a fixed-pitch font—for example:

    optionVar -intValue attachCrvKeepOriginal 0;
  • Code lines that do not fit within the margins of the printed page are continued on the next line and are preceded by a code-continuation character . Please note that the printed versions of the coded examples may have some lines that wrap in publishing, potentially causing a syntax error to occur if the code were to be typed by hand with actual returns in an editor. All code in this book has been thoroughly tested, and is included on the companion CD-ROM, in fully functional and usable form, which can be directly opened in any ASCII text editor for viewing without any possibility of syntax error due to the line wrapping or formatting of the text that occurred due to publishing.

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