Archive for April, 2011

Learning resources – Lighting and Rendering

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Since November I’ve been working at Static Control Components as a 3D animator. I can’t go into gross detail about what I do (confidentiality agreements and all that), but the short version is that I’m demonstrating technical processes involved with laser printers, including many that happen on a microscopic level. Given that my studies while at UGA and SCAD were focused on character setup/technical direction, this was a bit of a change of pace, and I’ve had to learn a lot while on-the-job.

Fortunately, I’ve had access to plenty of research material. I’ve read through textbooks I own that’ve gathered dust from not being read in a while (if at all), taken tons of notes, and watched dozens of hours of tutorial videos. In doing so I’ve learned a lot about areas I previously had a weak grasp on: MEL scripting, render management, compositing, post-production cleanup, particles, and others. I wouldn’t say I’ve got an expert command on those areas yet, but I’ve really been able to round-out my “jack of all trades” skill set.

As I can’t really post samples of what I’ve been working on (again, confidentiality agreements), I’ll instead talk about some of the books and DVDs I’ve been studying. I’m also going to update my blog periodically with some of the tricks and processes I’ve learned.

First and foremost, I cannot recommend Digital Tutors enough. They’ve been in the digital learning business for a while, and
over the past few years they’ve shifted their business model so that all of their tutorials are available streaming online. It’s a subscription-based model, and while it isn’t particularly cheap (as subscriptions for streaming content go), it’s well worth every penny. If you’re the type who likes to study new things constantly, it can work out to be a lot cheaper than buying the textbooks.

My next recommendation is for Jeremy Birn’s Digital Lighting and Rendering. This goes into great detail on how lighting in 3D works, and as it’s not specific to any particular animation package it’s a valuable resource to absolutely anyone. He also has a separate DVD that’s Maya-specific, and I’d strongly recommend that to anyone junior to intermediate-level; it covers many of the same concepts as his book, but seeing how he sets things up in real-time makes it very easy to follow. He also demonstrates a bunch of useful tips hidden in the Maya interface that’re easy to miss but make for excellent timesavers.

Along similar lines, Lee Lanier’s Advanced Maya Texturing and Lighting is another book I’ve referenced time and time and time again. This one focuses more on Maya shading networks, but it also has a few chapters on general color and lighting theory.

One thing that surprised me with Maya is how much useful information is in the actual documentation: when in doubt, read the freakin’ manual. Not sure how a particular process works? Open the Help menu and load up the Tutorials. Want to know what all the sliders do for a given command? Check the Node and Attribute Reference. Does MEL frighten and confuse you? There’s a MEL command reference built right in to the program. While none of these are quite as intuitive or easy-to-follow as a dedicated book on a given subject, the documentation will give you enough of a crash course to at least dabble.

As I haven’t really had that many independent projects going on outside of work, I’ve decided to use this blog to post about any useful resources I find or 3D tricks I discover. I’ve already got ideas for some future posts, so with any luck I’ll be able to update this regularly. Thanks for reading!

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