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This introduction provides an overview of the scope of this book. It is meant to give you a good idea of the book’s focus and the intended audience. Each of the chapters is described, so you will have a good understanding of their contents and how the information is organized and presented.

Who Should Read This Book

This book is intended for beginning-intermediate Maya users who want to expand their understanding of how to create complex 3D characters for animation. The typical reader should have a basic understanding of the Maya interface and know how to navigate around in 3D space. For brand new Maya users, it is recommended that you first go through all the basic learning tutorials that came with your software documentation. In addition, I recommend that the beginning Maya user consider purchasing Maya 4.5 Fundamentals by Jim Lemmers and Lee Gooding, which provides a thorough introduction to the Maya software.

Who This Book Is Not For

Maya is a robust 3D program that includes many different tools for every aspect of the 3D production process. The focus of this book is on how to model and set up 3D characters for animation. Although this book shows you how to create the controls essential for animating a 3D character, it is not a how-to-animate book. If you want to learn how to animate your character, consider buying George Maestri’s Digital Character Animation books. This book also does not cover in detail the lighting, texturing, and rendering aspects of the 3D production process. Two books that cover these skills in detail are Digital Lighting and Rendering by Jeremy Birn, and Digital Texturing and Painting by Owen Demers.


Maya Character Creation: Modeling and Animation Controls is designed to take the reader through the process of designing, modeling, and setting up animation controls for a biped 3D character. The concepts, techniques, and Maya tools used for each step in the process are presented in each chapter, followed by many hands-on exercises and examples.

Chapter 1: Creating Organic 3D Characters

This chapter begins by describing the trend in computer graphics toward creating realistic 3D characters. This is followed by interviews with professionals in the fields of character modeling and character setup. The chapter ends by showing you how to create preproduction character designs that are used for accurate modeling of your character in Chapter 2.

Chapter 2: Modeling the Skin of a Biped Character

This chapter shows you how to model the skin of your character using NURBS, polygons, and subdivision surfaces. The advantages and limitations of NURBS surfaces are presented, as well as how to use specific NURBS modeling tools in Maya. Special consideration is given to edge placement and tangency between NURBS patches. You are also shown how to convert your NURBS skin into a polygon skin, so you can take advantage of polygon modeling techniques. In addition, you are shown how to smooth your characters skin by converting it to a subdivision surface. The chapter ends by introducing how you can approach creating skin textures on a NURBS or polygon skin.

Chapter 3: Character Skeleton Setup

This chapter shows you how to create detailed animation controls for all the main body parts of a biped character. It begins by explaining how to draw the skeletons that will be used to deform your character’s skin. Then it details how to parent the skeletons with icon controls to create a complex character rig. The chapter also shows you how to refine the controls by connecting channels through the use of math expressions, and by setting driven keys.

Chapter 4: Deforming the Skin

This chapter details how to bind the skeletons created in the preceding chapter to the character models created in Chapter 2. Both smooth and rigid binding methods are presented, with a main focus on developing a good smooth skin bind. Several methods for improving the deformations on your skin are described, including manually adjusting the smooth skin weighting. In addition, how to create muscle flexing, skin wrinkles, and fat jiggle on the skin are shown.

Chapter 5: Character Setup for Animating the Face

This chapter covers the creation of more detailed controls for animating the face of a character. It shows techniques for simulating the muscles of the face using skeletons and influencing objects. You also learn how to create and animate blend shapes, with special consideration given to properly ordering the deformers.

Chapter 6: Scripting Mel Character Controls

This chapter shows you how to use MEL scripting to create custom window interfaces for your character. MEL is a powerful tool that enables you to create more efficient, fast, and intuitive animation controls. Details are given on how to write, save, and access MEL procedures and scripts. Many practical examples of MEL character controls are presented.

Chapter 7: Finishing Your Character for Animation

This chapter shows you how to complete your character controls, and how to prepare for animating them. It describes how to easily keyframe your rig controls by creating a character node. In addition, you are shown an approach to using multiple resolutions of character rigs by storing animation as clips in the Trax editor.


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, Sphere.translateY = 5 + Cube.rotateZ.

  • Code lines that do not fit within the margins of the printed page are continued on the next line, and the continuation of the line is preceded by a code continuation character .

Example files, MEL scripts, and updates for this book can be downloaded from www.newriders.com.

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