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Maya 5 Fundamentals helps new animators quickly grasp the main tools and techniques that production Maya animators use. This book is not a collection of dabblings in Maya, and few of the tutorials start with loading a preconstructed scene. As gently as possible, this book helps you dive into the water and learn how to swim like a pro.

Maya has historically been targeted to larger effects studios and animation houses. To some extent, that targeting continues in the current version, in that no complex sample scenes are included, and material libraries, marking menus, and hotkeys are minimal. This book includes all these aids to help you absorb the working methods of a Maya animator. In addition, this book includes a “tear card” in the front with all the standard hotkeys listed for a handy reference that you can pull out of the book.

A Brief History of How Maya Came to Be

To continue on the subject of history, take a look in the following sections at what has led to the current state of computer graphics in general and Maya in particular. It gives you some perspective for the choices made in Maya's design.

The “Olden Days”

Electronic computers have been with us since the 1940s, but have been applied to imaging for aesthetics only recently. By the 1950s, the idea of combining technology with visuals could be seen in television, oscilloscopes, and radar screens. The first major step was probably Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad electronic drawing system, created in 1961. This vector-based system worked with a lightpen, allowing users to create art directly on a display screen. Vector graphics are primitive line art, common in early video games and movie effects.

In 1967, Sutherland joined David Evans at the University of Utah to create a computer graphics curriculum that merged art and science. The university developed a reputation for computer graphics (CG) research and attracted some of the future principle players in the CG business: Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI, today the parent company of Alias|Wavefront); Ed Catmull, an early developer of computer-animated movies; and John Warnock, founder of Adobe Systems, developers of industry-defining products, such as Photoshop and Postscript.

Algorithms, Invented and Improved

CG pioneers developed the 3D concept: using a computer to form a perspective drawing from whatever theoretical set of geometry was entered—usually triangles, but sometimes spheres or paraboloids. The geometry was depicted as solid, with foreground geometry obscuring background geometry. Next came the creation of virtual “lights,” producing flat-shaded 3D elements that gave the earliest computer graphics a hard-edged, technical look (see Figure i.1).

Figure i.1. Rendered polygons.

Averaging the shading from corner to corner produced a smoother look, an innovation called Gouraud shading for its inventor, Henri Gouraud. This form of smoothing polygons takes minimal computation and is used for real-time smoothing in most 3D video cards today (see Figure i.2). When Gouraud proposed it in 1971, computers could render only the simplest scenes at a glacial pace.

Figure i.2. Gouraud shading achieves a smoother look.

In 1974, Ed Catmull introduced the concept of the Z-buffer—the idea that if an image has horizontal (X) and vertical (Y) picture elements, each element could also have depth (Z) embedded. This concept speeds the removal of hidden surfaces and is now standard in real-time 3D video cards. Catmull's other innovation was wrapping a 2D image onto 3D geometry. Texture mapping, as shown in Figure i.3, is fundamental to attempting realism in 3D. Before texture mapping, objects had only one solid color, so creating a brick wall might require each brick and bit of grout to be modeled individually. Now, by applying a bitmap image of brick to a simple rectangular object, you can build a wall with minimal computation and computer memory, not to mention less frustration for the animator.

Figure i.3. Texture mapping—applying a 2D texture to a 3D surface.

Bui-Toung Phong improved on Gouraud shading in 1974 by interpolating shading across the entire polygon instead of simply using the corners (see Figure i.4). Although this render method can be up to 100 times slower than Gouraud shading, it yields the hyper-real “plastic” look that characterized early computer animation. Two variants of Phong shader types are built into Maya.

Figure i.4. Phong shading yields a plastic look.

James Blinn combined elements of Phong shading and texture mapping to create bump mapping in 1976 (see Figure i.5). If the surface normals are already being falsely smoothed via Phong shading, and you can wallpaper 2D imagery over your 3D surfaces, why not use a grayscale image to give the illusion of bumpiness rather than smoothness? A gray level higher than medium gray is treated as bumped up, and darker levels are bumped down. As with Gouraud and Phong shading, the geometry is unaffected, and the trick is revealed in the object's silhouette. However, Blinn's innovation added a new realism to 3D rendering. When coordinated texture and bump maps are combined with a moderately detailed 3D model, realistic 3D rendering comes within reach.

Figure i.5. Bump mapping gives the illusion of surface detail.

Blinn also developed the first method of environmental reflection mapping. He proposed creating a cubic environment by rendering six views outward from the center of a object. These six images are then reverse-mapped back to the object, but with fixed coordinates so that the imagery does not move with the object. The result is that the object appears to be reflecting its environment, an effect that holds up well unless parts of the environment are moving or changing rapidly during animation.

In 1980, Turner Whitted proposed a new rendering technique called raytracing; it works from the camera's render plane, tracing each pixel of the final image into the virtual scene. The rays ricochet through the scene, striking surfaces or lights and modifying the pixel's color accordingly (see Figure i.6). Reflective and refractive surfaces create more rays that modify the pixel's color. Although computationally expensive, the results are quite realistic and accurate for reflections and refractions. Raytracing is used particularly for chrome and glass effects.

Figure i.6. A raytraced all-CG image that really uses the effect!

The 1980s: Pretty Pictures at Last

In the early 1980s, as PCs became more common in business, some early attempts at incorporating computer graphics in entertainment included the movies Tron and The Last Starfighter. These attempts used specialized hardware and supercomputers to create a few minutes of film-resolution computer graphics, but the way had been shown.

By the mid-1980s, SGI had begun to build high-powered personal workstations for research, science, and computer graphics. In 1984, Alias was founded in Toronto, combining two meanings for alias: as a “pseudonym” (the founders were moonlighting then) and to describe the jagged appearance of CG images that aren't sampled enough. Initially, Alias focused on CAD-oriented use of its software, mostly for modeling and designing complex surfaces. Later, Alias created Power Animator, a powerful and expensive software product that many production houses regarded as the best 3D-modeling package available.

Wavefront, which was founded in Santa Barbara in 1984, was named for the front edge of a light wave. This company immediately began developing software for creating 3D-rendered visual effects and produced opening graphics for Showtime, Bravo, and National Geographic Explorer. Wavefront's first software program was called Preview. Another 3D software package, called SoftImage, released in 1988, was also popular and renowned for its power with animation. The software and hardware used for professional animation throughout most of the 1980s was specialized and expensive. By the late 1980s, only a few thousand people worldwide were creating visuals, almost all using SGI computers with 3D software from Wavefront, SoftImage, and many other competing products.

The 1990s: Innovation Leads to Popularization

Soon, this small animation clique began to expand quickly, thanks to the desktop computer invasion: IBM PC, Amiga, Macintosh, and even Atari computers produced their first 3D software applications. In 1986, AT&T introduced the first desktop animation package, called TOPAS. This $10,000 package was a full-blown professional animation system that would run on DOS-based computers with an Intel 286 CPU. TOPAS made freelance animation possible on a large scale, despite primitive graphics and relatively slow computation. Electric Image, another desktop-based animation system, was developed the following year for the Apple Macintosh. In 1990 AutoDesk began to sell 3D Studio, created by the Yost Group, a small independent team that had created graphics products for the Atari. At $3,000, 3D Studio competed with TOPAS for the PC user. NewTek's Video Toaster came out the following year, bundled with an easy-to-use 3D software product called LightWave; both worked only on Amiga computers. NewTek sold thousands of these packages to aspiring video producers, wedding videographers, and music video enthusiasts.

By the early 1990s, computer animation was no longer an elite enthusiasm. Hobbyists everywhere began experimenting with raytracing and animation. Even users with no money could download raytracing software, such as Stephen Coy's Vivid or the Persistence of Vision Raytracer, better known as POVRay. (POVRay continues to be an excellent free way for kids and beginners to explore 3D computer graphics.) Movies with groundbreaking and stunning effects, such as The Abyss and Terminator 2, illustrated that a new kind of imagery and visualization process—based on computers—had become possible. Unfortunately, most people gave all the credit to the transistors and none to the toiling animators, a misconception that continues to this day.

Alias Meets Wavefront

As the market for 3D applications matured and competition intensified, many of the older companies merged to pool technologies. In 1993, Wavefront acquired Thompson Digital Images, which offered interactive rendering and NURBS-based modeling, features that evolved into Maya's Interactive Photorealistic Renderer (IPR) and NURBS modeling. Microsoft purchased SoftImage in 1994 and ported the software to the Pentium-based Windows NT platform, marking the arrival of top-tier 3D software on inexpensive and generic PCs. SGI reacted by purchasing and merging Alias and Wavefront in 1995, presumably to prevent further erosion of 3D applications that worked exclusively on SGI's specialized graphics computers. Almost immediately the new company (renamed Alias|Wavefront) began to consolidate its collective technologies into a completely new program.

Finally, in 1998, Maya was released, priced at $15,000 to $30,000 and available only for SGI workstations' IRIX (a variation of UNIX). A complete ground-up rebuild, Maya pointed the way to the future of animation with an open application programming interface (API), dependency-graph architecture, and enormous extensibility. Despite SGI's original intent of protecting its platform exclusivity, in February 1999 it changed direction and the software was released for Windows NT. The old price structure was discarded, and Maya's base package was set at a radically lower $7,500. In April 1999, Maya 2 was released with many major enhancements and refinements. In November 1999, Maya 2.5 was released, adding a still unrivaled feature called Paint Effects. In the summer of 2000, Maya 3 was released, adding the nonlinear animation feature TRAX to many other enhancements. Ports of Maya to Macintosh and Linux were announced early in 2001, and by June 2001, Alias|Wavefront had shipped Maya 4.

In April 2002, Alias|Wavefront again instituted a major price reduction, setting Maya Complete's price to just $1,995. A watermarked but otherwise full version of Maya Complete was also freely available to any visitor of the Maya home page at http://www.aliaswavefront.com, an unprecedented move that beckoned millions of animation aspirants to download the Personal Learning Edition (PLE). Maya 4.5 was unveiled in September 2002, adding the Fluids module to Maya Unlimited. Not long after, Maya PLE 4.5 was available for download, and this time it could load native .mb and .ma files. The 5.0 version of Maya shipped in May 2003, with the integration of the Mental Ray renderer as one of its most significant changes.

What Is Maya?

Maya is a software program for producing images and animations based on what the user has created in the virtual 3D workspace, lit with its virtual lights, and photographed from its virtual cameras. Maya is offered in two versions for animators: the basic Maya Complete version and the enhanced Maya Unlimited version, which adds several major features outlined later in this introduction. Maya runs on normal PC-type Windows 2000/XP computers as well as Linux, SGI's IRIX, and Macintosh OS X. With Maya, you can create images that border on photo-real by creating bitmap images such as those a digital camera produces. Maya's world is virtual, however; you create each light, camera, object, and material yourself, starting with an empty black void. Any parameter can be set to change over time, creating animation when you render many images in sequence: The camera can move and rotate, textures can change from chrome to wood, objects can fly apart or assemble, and much, much more. The possibilities truly challenge the imagination. Here are some popular uses for Maya:

  • Cartoons and movies The most well-known use for Maya is 3D cartoon-style animation, as in Shrek, Ice Age, and Monsters Inc. Another movie-related application is creating photo-realistic elements combined with film or video to create a special effect that would otherwise be impossible, expensive, or dangerous, such as explosions, background sets, spacecraft fly-bys, and so forth. With the film Final Fantasy (created by Square USA, primarily using Maya), a new use has emerged—the completely synthetic but utterly realistic feature film.

  • Computer games As home computers have become more powerful, with 3D accelerated video cards commonly included, game developers have relied more on 3D applications such as Maya to create game entities. Earlier games used 3D software only for static backdrops and movies shown between game levels. Most modern computer games are of the real-time immersive 3D variety, and the objects and textures experienced in the game engine are prepared in a 3D application such as Maya. In fact, a reduced Maya version known as Maya Builder is offered to game developers for this function.

  • Advertising TV commercials and network ID spots are punctuated by frequent use of 3D animation. The earliest uses were for show titles and announcements, such as The ABC Monday Night Movie, with big beveled chrome letters flying through the air. The series of commercials featuring the flying Listerine bottle also broke ground for 3D animation on television. Computer graphics are ideal for advertisers because they can capture viewers' attention with compelling imagery that's unlike any earthly scene.

  • Promos Maya can be used in promos for flashy effects, such as graphics to play on stadium scoreboards, to start a large meeting in an upbeat manner, or to produce a dazzling logo treatment for a company's presentations.

  • Architectural animation Typically, this use is for sales or zoning purposes to a small audience. A virtual version of a proposed design is created as a large poster or a fly-through animation on videotape.

  • Forensic animation Animations are sometimes used in lawsuits when a sequence of events needs to be played out for the jury, usually for accident re-creations or technical explanations.

  • Industrial design This use is similar to architectural animation, in that a design is being considered for a product to be mass-produced; Maya's virtual method is a much faster, cheaper way to review a design than building prototypes. Industrial design encompasses anything sculpted and mass-produced—cars, boats, perfume bottles, blenders. A|W's Studio Tools software focuses more on this use of computer-based 3D design, but some people prefer using Maya for this task.

  • Industrial animation This catch-all phrase includes work requested by people giving business presentations—animated graphs, metaphorical explanations, “eye candy” visuals, and so on.

Maya is the pre-eminent off-the-shelf 3D animation software. It finds use in nearly every major effects film and has a large market share in the preceding list of uses. Many consider it the best overall 3D animation program, despite a comparatively difficult learning curve. Maya's primary competitors are currently Lightwave, SoftImage XSI, and 3ds max, which all fall in the $2,000 to $7,000 range. The under-$1,000 3D programs include trueSpace, Inspire 3D, Cinema 4D, Bryce, and Animation Master. Most of these programs work on the PC platform, and many have versions for other operating systems, such as Macintosh. Comparisons are difficult, but in general, the best 3D programs enable more complex animation and offer more ease of use and automation when creating complex objects or animation.

Who Should Read This Book?

Maya 5 Fundamentals is designed for the beginner, but many segments are worthwhile for an intermediate Maya user. Maya is a complex package, and even seasoned animators who use Maya might find some unexplored areas of the software. Maya is well designed and uses similar conventions throughout, so you'll find that the more you know about Maya, the easier it is to learn more Maya. It's consistent and logical, so you don't need to memorize endless exceptions to the rule.

The 3D beginner should not be a beginner at both computers and art, however. Ideally, you'll bring to this book some skills with traditional art and a basic knowledge of a computer operating system. The animator is at heart an artist, however, and must embrace principles of color, design, contrast, motion, direction, and other creative aspects. The animator's primary tool is the computer, so you must be able to at least navigate its storage areas and perform the tasks that don't happen automatically in Maya.

Most 3D animators come to Maya by way of 2D bitmap image-editing programs, such as Photoshop, Fractal Painter, and Corel PhotoPaint. Many also use 2D vector art (“line art”) programs, such as Corel Draw, Freehand, or Illustrator. Some have experience with animation in compositors, programs that combine a timeline with a bitmap editor, such as After Effects or Combustion. Some Internet-oriented animators have experience with products that combine a timeline with vector art, such as Flash animation. Experience with these software programs helps you understand parts of Maya. At a minimum, you should investigate bitmap image editors; for example, Paint Shop Pro is available at http://www.jasc.com in an evaluation version. Bitmaps are used frequently in creating 3D animation.

Bring tenacity: 3D animation is challenging because it requires using both technical and artistic mindsets, often simultaneously. Don't be discouraged if you struggle at times; all computer animators hit challenges that take some time to solve. As you progress through this book, and through Maya, remember to allow time to reinforce the concepts you learn and to consolidate your learning frequently with small projects and experiments. Each chapter includes a “Going Further” feature to give you some ideas for this sort of excursion. Complete the experiment and move on: If some rendered results look promising, you can return to them after you have more mastery over other parts of Maya and refine the project to make it worthy of your portfolio. You need to get the big picture of animation production before working in earnest on a single project, and you should have that overview by the time you complete the tutorials in this book.

How This Book Is Organized

Maya 5 Fundamentals is composed of four parts. Part I, “A Quick-Start Guide to Maya,” gives you the basics of using Maya and creating 3D animation with it. Chapter 1, “Pre-Maya: A Primer,” gives some guidance to users who haven't had much of a background in art or computer graphics. Chapters 2, “A Tour of Maya,” and 3, “Maya Interaction,” give you the basics of navigating through and interacting with Maya so that you can begin your 3D creating. Chapter 4, “Diving In: Your First Animation,” consolidates all the steps of modeling, texturing, animating, and rendering with Maya into one tutorial that gives you a overview of the entire process.

Part II, “Maya Basics,” is where you become proficient at using Maya. You revisit the major stages of creating animation with Maya by working through tutorials in each chapter, and move into a more sophisticated mode of using Maya. Because Maya offers polygons, Subdivision Surfaces, and NURBS for modeling, all three forms are covered in the modeling chapters. In Chapter 5, “Modeling with Polygons,” the tutorial subject is an architectural rendering with an emphasis on realism. In Chapter 6, “Polygon Character and Subdivision Surfaces Modeling,” you see how to use photographs of a model to begin building a fully detailed human head, using the polygonal aspect of Subdivision Surfaces modeling. In Chapter 7, “More Subdivision Surfaces Modeling,” you continue modeling the head and learn more about using Subdivision Surfaces techniques. In Chapter 8, “Modeling with NURBS,” you focus on building with curves and creating NURBS patches that are stitched or attached together to form a long Matrix-style robe. Chapter 9, “Materials,” explains how to create many standard surfaces and textures with Maya's Hypershade. In Chapter 10, “Lighting,” you see how to get dramatic and realistic lighting results with Maya's virtual lights. Chapter 11, “Animation,” demonstrates Maya's strength with animation and automating animated responses. Chapter 12, “Character Animation,” teaches techniques for getting your character models to animate in a lifelike way as easily as possible. In Chapter 13, “Cameras and Rendering,” you learn to finalize a project by fixing a viewpoint and producing your final rendered results from it. This chapter also gives you an overview of the new Vector and Mental Ray renderers.

Part III, “Going Further with Maya,” begins with Chapter 14, “Paint Effects,” which demonstrates this powerful module, capable of creating all manner of plants, trees, hair, and even clouds, stars, and nebulae. Chapter 15, “Particle Systems and Dynamics,” shows you methods for creating complex animation in an automated way. At the end of Chapter 15, you will have completed the book's projects and produced several sophisticated animated sequences from beginning to end in Maya, starting from an empty screen. Chapter 16, “Your Next Steps: Efficiency and Artistry,” offers guidelines on speeding and simplifying the animation process and steers you away from common traps.

Part IV, “Appendixes,” includes two useful reference appendixes. Appendixes A, “Maya Headstart for Max Users,” and B, “Maya Headstart for Lightwave Users,” give 3ds max and Lightwave users brief compare-and-contrast guidelines to help them adapt more quickly to using Maya.

Conventions Used in This Book

Translating software interaction to text (when describing it in writing) and back (when you read it) can be difficult. To make it easier for you to understand, the following typographic conventions are used in this book:

  • A monospace font is used for text you type in, such as values changed in a dialog box or filenames used to save projects.

  • A bold font is used for hotkeys.

  • Italics are used to introduce new terms or for emphasis.

  • The pipestem character (|) indicates Hotbox or menu choices.

Some tidbits of information are set off in boxed elements: Tips, Traps, Notes, Going Further sidebars, CD files, and CD movie files.


As you're working through tutorials, this is where you find helpful guidelines or reminders of how to perform certain techniques.


Pointers on potential trouble spots are highlighted as traps.


General comments in a tutorial or interesting background comments are often highlighted as notes.

Going Further

Here you find tips on personalizing your Maya experience and some ideas for further exploration at the conclusion of some tutorials and chapters.

On the DVD

This symbol indicates when to load a scene file from this book's CD-ROM. In most cases, you can continue with your previous work, but if you're having trouble, you can dissect the problem by examining the scene file or just forge ahead by loading the next scene. Tutorials are saved at several points so that you can easily move around the book if you want.

On the DVD

Full-resolution movies with audio are included on the CD, too. These movies should prove invaluable in speeding your progress. Instead of translating a complex series of moves and mouse clicks from the book's text, you can actually look over our shoulders while we perform each step in the tutorial and explain what we're doing. See the next section if you have any difficulties playing these .wmv files.

Movies on the CD-ROM: How to Play Them and Use Them

The movies on the CD-ROM were created with Camtasia from Techsmith. With this utility, users can capture movies from a computer desktop with perfect fidelity and simultaneously record audio. To help you understand offscreen actions, left mouse clicks are designated with a blue circle emanating from the pointer, and right mouse clicks show up as red circles. Unfortunately for Maya, the middle mouse click is not circled, but verbal cues for the middle mouse button have been added. Camtasia also overdubs noises of key clicks and mouse clicks to clue you in to what's going on. You can easily shuttle these movies forward or backward if you want to replay difficult parts or skip sections you've already learned. Nearly every chapter in the book has supporting movies that are worth exploring, totaling several hours of direct instruction.

To make these movies multiplatform, they have been recompressed into WMV format, a streaming media format that plays with Windows Media Player. The Windows Media Player is available for PC, Macintosh, and Sun Solaris. The WMV screen codec is very clean and compresses tightly for the maximum amount of recording time in a fixed storage space. The full 800×600 capture is crisp and clear, and the audio is distinct. If the movies are noisy or inaudible, check your system for speaker power, connection, speaker volume, and desktop volume. Right-click the speaker icon in Windows so that you can adjust overall volume and wave output volume. Distortion could occur in the audio if the computer volume is set too high, but the amplified speakers' volume knob is set too low. Adjust both to a moderate level for the best results.

Because the video plays back at 800×600 resolution, you need to set your desktop resolution to 1024×768 or larger so that you have access to the Media Player controls placed below the movie. If you must view them at 800×600 or smaller (as with laptops), set your player to resize the movie player to 50%. You'll get some image degradation, but you'll still be able to view the movie. After playback starts in Media Player, toggle the full-screen mode.

If you get errors such as “invalid file type” when attempting to play the movies, you simply need to download the latest Media Player version from Microsoft. Point your web browser to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/ and download the player for your operating system.

You might also want to check this book's web site (see “This Book's Web Site and Author Contact Information” later in this introduction) for other tips on movie playback and new free movies for you to download: http://www.mayafundamentals.com/.

Maya and Hardware

Because of the relatively high cost of the Maya software, you might have the impression that some sort of super-computing PC is required to run Maya. On the contrary, almost any modern PC from a discount supermart will suffice, with the exception of the video card, as you learn in the next section.

3D Video Cards

Your Maya experience will be much better if you start with one of the better 3D video cards, and eventually, you'll probably need to buy a professional 3D video card to use Maya. See the compatibility guide that Alias|Wavefront keeps updated at its web site (http://alias.com; click the Support tab, click Maya under Product Support, and check the link under the Qualified Hardware section).

In general, 3D Labs, nVidia, and ATI cards targeted to professional users are the most compatible. Check with the manufacturer to find driver modes. If it offers a driver mode specifically designed for Maya, it will almost certainly work well for you. Many offer taskbar mode switching, as shown in Figure i.7. A key feature to look for is “overlay planes”; without it, all the interactive paint functions, such as Paint Effects, will be painfully slow. In general, game cards (such as GeForce) forgo hardware overlay planes when their “pro” equivalent (such as Quadro) includes the option. You might need to go into the video hardware configuration to enable hardware overlay planes. You'll probably need to budget at least $200 for your video card. Check http://www.pricewatch.com to price these pro-level 3D video cards from hundreds of retailers.

Figure i.7. Resetting the video driver mode to work with Maya.

A few tips on video cards: Be sure to visit the web page of your card's manufacturer often to find the latest drivers. After installing the drivers, in Windows you can right-click on the desktop and choose Properties. In the Display Properties dialog box, select the Settings tab, where you set resolution and color depth. Click the Advanced button to display the customization settings for your video card, so you can test that its OpenGL 3D acceleration is functioning correctly. This is also where you find program-specific settings, with a preset for Maya. Test your card at 1024×768 or lower at first; some cards have trouble when set to high resolutions. Acceleration is usually designed for a specific color depth: 15/16-bit (32,000 color) or 24/32-bit (16 million color). Most newer cards are 24-bit (also known as Truecolor), but some less expensive cards accelerate only in 15-bit mode.

A Three-Button Mouse

A minor expense is a three-button mouse. The scroll wheel button can substitute for the middle mouse button, but it might feel awkward to some users during the frequent use Maya makes of this button. Using Maya is often more natural and ergonomic with a three-button mouse.

Some mouse drivers have caused problems, such as not recognizing the middle mouse button in a mode compatible with Maya. Often, you can reconfigure this setting by accessing the device's setup dialog box.


Another recommended hardware purchase is a tablet. All the paint tools in Maya are pressure enabled. A tablet gives you more control over the results because you can make your paint strokes change along their length based on stylus pressure. Typically, brush size or opacity is made to vary based on stroke pressure, but any variable you see in Maya that appears twice, with a (U) and (L) after the parameter name, can vary between these upper and lower limits based on stylus pressure. If you're using a mouse, it simply uses the upper value for all parts of all strokes—a fairly ham-fisted way to do business! A tablet can cost from $100 to $4,000, but Wacom's Graphire 4x5 and Intuos 6x8 lines range from $100 to $300 and yield excellent results. It's worth the investment if you plan to make use of Maya's paint tools.

Minimum Requirements

Maya 5 for Windows requires the following:

  • Pentium II or higher or AMD Athlon processor

  • 512MB of RAM

  • CD-ROM drive

  • Hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card

  • About 450MB of disk space for a full installation

  • Windows XP Professional or Windows 2000 Professional with Service Pack 2 or later (no longer certified for Windows NT)

  • Netscape 7 or higher or Internet Explorer 4 or higher to view online documentation

  • Three-button mouse with driver software

  • Optionally, a sound card

  • Requirements unique to Linux:

    • Red Hat Linux 7.3 or 8.0

    • Intel IA32 CPU (a modern 32-bit Intel processor)

    • Ethernet card

  • Requirements unique to IRIX:

    • IRIX 6.2.15 or higher

    • Hardware Z-buffer

    • 24-bit graphics

  • Requirements unique to Macintosh OS X (supports Maya Complete only):

    • G4 chipset (450, 500, 533, 633, 733, 800, 867, and so forth)

    • Dual-processor configurations supported, but batch rendering isn't multithreaded in this release

    • ATI Rage 128 or ATI Radeon graphics cards recommended

    • Three-button USB mouse (such as Contour Design UniMouse)

    • Mac OS X 10.2.4 or later (Mac OS X must be installed on its own disk partition. Do not install Mac OS X on the same partition as Mac OS 9.)

    • Local Mac OS extended-formatted drives

    • 512MB of memory minimum


For more details on requirements to run Maya 5, check http://www.alias.com/eng/products-services/maya/system_requirements.shtml.

Regardless of the OS you're using, most animators consider it essential to have a scanner, a Zip drive, a CD burner, Internet access, and possibly a video capture and output device. If your budget at the beginning is tight, you can add these items as needed in your work.

System Recommendations

This section outlines the unofficial recommendations for PC hardware. It's not “blank check” advice; these tips are based on experience and current prices in relation to Maya software.

  • Processor Get a dual-processor system if you can afford it. Both Athlon and Pentium systems are offered in multiprocessor configurations, as well as higher-end Macintosh workstations. Dual CPUs make your system more robust at multitasking, if you want Maya to render while you browse the web, work in Photoshop, or even start a new session of Maya on the same machine. Maya's Batch Render mode can use the number of processors you specify, so you can let Maya work with one when it's in the background, and set it to use both when you won't be sitting at the computer (nearly doubling the rendering power).

  • RAM 512MB is typical for most users because the price of RAM has plummeted in the year leading up to Maya 5's release. If you'll be working with larger models or heavy texturing, you might opt to get 1GB or more, if your motherboard supports it. RAM acts as a bottleneck if your needs exceed what you have installed, but doesn't help if you have more than necessary. Simply watch your physical RAM use and if it runs low often, buy more RAM. In Windows 2000/XP, check the Performance tab in Task Manager to view the available physical RAM. Usually, it won't go to zero, even when you have far too little RAM. Instead, you'll see it drop to 10MB or lower and then vary up and down. Also, you'll notice the hard drive light flashing constantly and a fidgety response from your computer when it's RAM-malnourished. This is because RAM needs are met by paging memory to the hard drive, a progressively sluggish function.

  • Video card Don't use a video game–oriented card; buy a professional CAD and 3D video card. Also, consider the geometry and texture RAM available on the 3D video card. If you use big scenes or make lots of large textures visible in your Maya shaded viewports, you could overrun the video card's available RAM. If you do that, your shaded views will become extremely slow to interact with. If you're certain you will be using large scene files, choose a video card with an abundance of RAM.

  • Network card Although Alias|Wavefront still offers the hardware lock, getting a network card for your Maya authorization is advisable. Because network cards have unique internal ID numbers, they can be used in lieu of a hardware lock, also known as a dongle. The reasons for using the network card include the hardware lock's possible exposure to damage and theft, the $150 charge from A|W to get a hardware lock, and the potential for parallel port trouble when the dongle is put between the device (usually a printer) and the parallel port. Most PCs are now equipped with a network card, but you can buy one for $20 or less; any PCI Ethernet 100BaseT card will do. The one benefit of having a hardware lock is that it's easier to use Maya on multiple machines; you can simply take the hardware lock with you wherever you go. Note that A|W also offers a “floating” license option for an additional charge when you want the license to work on any single machine in a large LAN.

Where to Weight Your Computer Budget

If your budget is on the low end, prioritize as follows:

First, choose the best video card possible. Check this book's web site for more up-to-date advice on card choices; 3D video technology changes rapidly. Consult the officially approved video card list at Alias|Wavefront's web site (listed previously in the “3D Video Cards” section). Then, check prices and hardware evaluations to narrow your selection.

For this book's tutorials, 512MB should be enough RAM to create and render all the projects. If you have 256MB of RAM, upgrade to 512.

Next, get a tablet. They are relatively inexpensive and enable you to really take off with 3D Paint and Paint Effects.

Last, consider replacing your CPU; making a major leap on CPUs usually requires a complete new system. Simply raising a Pentium 3 500MHz to a Pentium 3 700MHz is not going to make a big difference. Older motherboards might not support the fastest clock rates; for example, your old P3-500 motherboard may not allow you to switch it to 1000MHz. Check before you buy a new CPU! In general, buying a complete new integrated computer is better than trying to upgrade because of the inevitable hardware incompatibilities when you push new hardware to work with older hardware and firmware.

A luxury item for animators to consider is a second monitor. With most PC motherboards using the AGP slot for the video card, you must replace the entire 3D video card with a new video card that supports dual monitors, preferably with full 3D acceleration on both monitors. Adding a second monitor gives you the ability to move any of Maya's floating palettes and windows to the second screen where they don't obscure your 3D views of the scene and can stay open all the time. Almost every Maya panel or menu can be “torn off” to float.

About Maya Personal Learning Edition (PLE)

To help students and interested artists explore and learn to use Maya, Alias|Wavefront took the unprecedented step of releasing a full free version of its software. Anyone can download the software bundle or, for those with low bandwidth, purchase a CD from Alias|Wavefront for a nominal price. After installation, a one-year license of the software is free from Alias|Wavefront. The software is not licensed for any commercial purposes; it is for learning Maya only. This student version, known as Maya Personal Learning Edition (PLE), is identical to Maya Complete, with a few major exceptions:

  • PLE is watermarked—every screen and dialog box in Maya has a large repeating diagonal Alias|Wavefront logo. The watermark is light enough so that it shouldn't interfere with your work, but it's noticeable enough to prevent files from being used for commercial purposes.

  • PLE does not allow plug-ins to run, except those that Alias has specifically created for the PLE.

  • You can import .ma and .mb files, but you can output files only in the PLE file format (.mp files).

  • PLE doesn't include the Vector or Mental Ray renderers.

At this writing, the Maya 5 Personal Learning Edition is available for Windows (XP or 2000 Professional) or Macintosh (Mac OS 10.2.4 or later). (As of yet, there's no IRIX or Linux version of PLE.) Consult this book's web site, where modified PLE scene files are posted, if you encounter problems loading the scene files into Maya PLE. For other questions on working with Maya PLE, you can consult the A|W support site at http://www.alias.com/maya/ple/resource.

Maya Complete Versus Maya Unlimited: What More Would You Get?

Maya Complete contains a majority of Maya's features, and it meets the needs of most animators. This book covers only the features of Maya Complete. Four unique modules are added for those who purchase the upgrade to Maya Unlimited:

  • Cloth This module allows you to define a clothing pattern and stitch it to a character, and then have the cloth move realistically in reaction to the character's motions. You can simulate cloth-like effects with good results by using Maya Complete's soft-body dynamics, but for characters wearing clothes, Maya Unlimited offers an elegant and complete solution.

  • Fur Like cloth, the fur applied with this module moves realistically in reaction to motions of the character it's applied to. It also calculates and renders quickly. It's not designed to create the effect of long hair. You can simulate fur with good results using Maya Complete's Paint Effects, but it doesn't bounce in reaction to character movement and takes longer to render.

  • Live This module can analyze live-action footage, deduce the camera position, and then create a virtual camera in Maya that's animated exactly the same as the real-world camera. This feature enables perfect compositions of CG elements into filmed real-world backgrounds as well as putting filmed foreground objects (usually filmed against a blue screen) into CG environments.

  • Fluids New in Maya 4.5, fluids make it possible to simulate smoke, fire, clouds, liquids, lava, and other fluid materials quickly and easily. The Fluids module also includes a water and terrain simulator for making environments such as turbulent oceans or craggy mountainscapes. A full palette of settings appears in Visor for Maya 5 Unlimited installations.

These modules, when enabled, appear seamlessly in Maya as additional pull-downs or modes.

Help Within Maya

Since Maya 4, the voluminous reference manuals are available online only. The set of documents supplied with Maya are just get-started material, such as “Instant Maya,” how to install, what's new, and release notes. The online documentation, however, is thorough and detailed. Press F1 in Maya to bring up Maya Documentation. As a new user, you might want to have the documentation open all the time in the background; when you start work in an area where you're not confident about the exact meaning of each variable label or pull-down option, do a little reading. The search utility built into the documentation is fast and reliable. There's no need for confusion or uncertainty about the many (often strangely named) variables. Just look them up as you go to get a complete grasp of every part of Maya.

This Book's Web Site and Author Contact Information

To interact with this book's readers and improve their understanding of Maya, a supporting web site for this book is available at http://www.mayafundamentals.com/, where you can pick up additional tips and ideas, new movies and other new supporting content, and links to helpful sites and focal points for the Maya online community. Any important corrections to the book will be listed here, too.

Please note that the authors will try to help you when possible and are interested in knowing how future editions of this book can be improved; however, they can't act as unlimited advisors and e-teachers for your personal projects.

You can contact Garry via email at glewis@me3d.tv and Jim at jim@trinity3d.com. If things change, the most current contact information is kept at the book's web site at http://www.mayafundamentals.com/.

A Last Note

This book is not about making spreadsheets or designing newsletters. 3D animation programs in general, and Maya in particular, can lay claim to something no other software can—the ability to create and visualize entire worlds, full of detail and realistically imaged, all from your own mind. Between the price/power ratio of modern computers and Maya's lower price point, we're entering an era in which one person can create fully realized environments, characters, and stories, all from four simple resources: a desktop computer, Maya software, time, and talent. There might be moments of difficulty mixed with other moments of triumph as you progress from neophyte to master. For the most part, however, I have found that the primary emotion is the joy of creation as I get better. I hope you find your journey a rewarding and pleasurable one.

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