Posts Tagged ‘digital tutors’

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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Read any good books lately? I have!

Monday, May 24th, 2010

I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I should have, and I wanted to post a little to talk about what I’ve been working on the past few months.

I’ve recently completed my work contract with Maia Magnus Entertainment where I was brought in to work on a number of character rigs. I’ve done some rigging before for my own projects, but I’ve learned a lot in just a few short months and now feel like rigging is my strongest aspects. I’ve learned some MEL scripting as well, as well as customized Maya to speed up my workflow. I’d like to go into more details on the rigs but unfortunately I’m bound by NDA.

My work with Lich King Entertainment is still ongoing. I’ve spent most of my time studying texturing, using procedural nodes in Maya as a base to generate color, spec, and bump maps. I’ve recently incorporated ZBrush into the workflow, sculping the models in order to generate normal maps. I’ve also found ways to merge the normal maps out of ZBrush with pre-existing bump maps.

As for independent work, I’ve actually shifted gears a little bit and am reading up on character animation. I took a few classes at UGA and SCAD, but I was never formally trained in the ‘basics’ of character animation; I picked things up as I went along in my studies. I think I can churn out some pretty decent animation, but I know there are ways I can improve my workflow. With that in mind I’ve finally gone and read through The Animator’s Survival Kit, which I’m embarrassed to admit only reading now as I’ve had it on my bookshelf for the past five years (with it being recommended in my very first animation class back during my sophomore year in college). If you’re an aspiring animator, stop what you’re doing and order a copy of this book. It talks you through the basic concepts of animation and gives you case examples of every kind of walk cycle or character motion you can imagine. It’s geared a little more towards 2D animation than 3D, but the lessons transfer over between mediums very well.

I’m also taking a closer look at Acting for Animators. I took an acting class at UGA and while there’s a lot of overlap, this book is a pretty quick read and has some very valuable information as towards how to really ‘sell’ your characters’ behavior.

Maya is an amazing program and I know there are so many tools under the hood that I don’t know the first thing about that would help better develop my character animation skills. With that in mind I’ve recently ordered How to Cheat in Maya 2010: Tools and Techniques for the Maya Animator. I ordered this as a companion (or maybe foil?) to the Animator’s Survival Kit because as the name implies, this book is geared towards Maya users. I’m hoping I can combine the lessons in the two books to develop some new character animation pieces for my portfolio.

While we’re talking about learning resources, here are some books or tutorials I’ve studied that’ve really helped with my rigging work:

-The Art of Rigging Vol. 1 – The companion files and scripts that accompany the book alone are worth the very affordable $10 price tag. The information in this book is just a little antiquated, but it’ll guide you through how to put together some very powerful rigs and it goes into a good amount of detail about the MEL scripting that drives everything.

-Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right – This book is specifically about setting up face rigs. They guide you through modeling a face and plotting out the geometry so that it’ll deform smoothly, as well as describes one-by-one the kind of blend shapes you’ll need to make a versatile rig. Like Art of Rigging, the companion scripts to this alone are worth the cost of the book— it includes a whole shelf of tools for things like setting up your blend shapes, building a UI for your face rig, and incorporating fix or half shapes is a snap. Highly recommended.

-Digital Tutors – It looks like they’ve gone subscription-only, but the tutorials on Digital Tutors have been a very valuable resource. I especially recommend their ‘Cartoon Character Rigging in Maya’ tutorial set; it doesn’t cover everything you’ll need to make an efficient rig, but combine this with the lessons in the Art of Rigging and Stop Staring and you’ll know everything you need to make a good rig.

That’s about all for now. Once I get my animation book in I’m thinking about redoing the animation in the Parkview Music Tech commercial, so I’ll post dailies as that comes along. Thanks for reading!

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