core concepts ■ 23
Symmetrical objects in a frame are mirrored from one side to another and create a cer-
tain static balance in the frame. An asymmetrical composition, therefore, denotes move-
ment in the composition.
A popular technique used by painters, photographers, and cinematographers is called
framing in thirds. In this technique, the frame is divided into a grid of thirds vertically and
horizontally. Interesting parts of the frame or focal points of the subjects are placed at
strategic locations in the grid. Placing your subject in the lower third makes it seem small
or insignificant. Placing it in the upper third makes the viewer look up to it, magnifying its
perceived scale or importance. Figure 1.4 illustrates the difference between a static, sym-
metric frame and a frame based on thirds.
A purely symmetri-
cal frame looks
static, but framing in
thirds helps create a
sense of motion.
Contrast in design describes how much your foreground subject “pops” from the back-
ground. As you can see in Figure 1.5, when you create an area in your frame that contains
little variation in color and light, the image will seem flat and uneventful. Using dark
shadows and light highlights increases the perceived depth in the image and helps pop out
the subject from the background. Animating contrast can help increase or decrease the
depth of your frame.
With low contrast,
the subject seems to
disappear into the
background. If you
add shadows and
highlights, the sub-
ject will “pop out.”
24 ■ chapter 1: Introduction to Computer Graphics and 3D
As you’ll see in Chapter 10, light plays an important role in creating dynamic contrasts
within your frame.
Your use of color also plays a big part in creating impact in your frame. As stated above,
warm colors tend to advance toward you, and cooler colors seem to recede into the frame.
Placing a warm color on a subject on a cool background creates a nice color contrast to
help the dynamics of your frame.
Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are complementary colors and usually
clash when put together. Using complementary colors can create a wide variation of con-
trast in your scene.
Basic Film Concepts
In addition to the design concepts used in framing a shot, you’ll want to understand some
fundamental filmmaking concepts.
Planning a Production
Understanding the paradigm filmmakers use for their productions will make it easier to
plan, create, and manage your own shorts. Most narrative films are broken into acts,
which comprise sequences made up of scenes, which in turn are made up of shots. CG
productions concerning even the simplest topics should follow this pattern. By using a
similar layout in the scripting and storyboarding of your own short, you will find the
entire production process will become easier and the effect of your film will be stronger.
A narrative film is a film that tells a story of a hero called a protagonist and his or her
struggle against an antagonist. Narrative films are typically divided into three acts. The first
act establishes the main characters and the conflict or struggle that will define the story.
The second act covers most of the action of the story as the hero attempts to overcome this
conflict. The third act concludes the film by resolving the action in the story and tying up
all the loose ends.
Acts can be deconstructed further into sequences, which are groups of sequential scenes
that unite around a particular dramatic or narrative point.
A scene is a part of a film that takes place in a specific place or time with specific charac-
ters to present that part of the story. Films are broken into scenes for organizational pur-
poses by their locations (that is, by where or when they take place).
Don’t confuse the filmmaking concept of a scene with the word scene in CG terms, which
refers to the elements in the 3D file that make up the CG.
basic film concepts ■ 25
Scenes are then broken into shots, which correspond to a particular camera angle or
framing. Shots break up the monotony of a scene by giving different views of the scene and
its characters. Shots are separated by cuts between each shot.
Shots are defined by angle of view, which is the point of view (POV) of the camera.
Shots change as soon as the camera’s view is changed.
Although CG lighting techniques can vary wildly from real life, the desired results are
often the same. The more you understand how real lights affect your subjects in photogra-
phy, the better you will be at CG lighting.
Without lights, you can’t capture anything on film. How you light your scene affects
the contrast of the frame as well as the color balance and your overall design impact. If the
lights in your scene are too flat or too even they will weaken your composition and abate
your scene’s impact.
Most lighting solutions are based on the three-point system. This method places a key
light in front of the scene, which is the primary illumination and casts the shadows in the
scene. The key light is typically placed behind the camera and off to one side to create a
highlight on one side of the object for contrast’s sake. The rest of the scene is given a fill
light. The fill acts to illuminate the rest of the scene but is typically not as bright as the
key light. The fill also helps soften harsh shadows from the key light. To pop the subject
out from the background, a back light is used to illuminate the silhouette of the subject.
This is also known as a rim light because it creates a slight halo or rim around the subject
in the scene. It’s much fainter that the key or fill lights.
You’ll learn more about Maya lighting techniques in Chapter 10.
Basic Animation Concepts
As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, animation is the representation of change
over time. This concept is the basis for an amazing art that has been practiced in one way
or another for some time. Although this section cannot cover all of them, here are a few
key terms you will come across numerous times on your journey into CG animation.
Frames, Keyframes, In-Betweens
Each drawing of an animation, or in the case of CG, a single rendered image, is called a
frame. The term frame also refers to a unit of time in animation whose exact chronological
length depends on how fast the animation will eventually play back (frame rate). For
example, at film rate (24fps), a single frame will last 1⁄24 of a second. At NTSC video rate
(30fps), that same frame will last 1⁄30 of a second.
26 ■ chapter 1: Introduction to Computer Graphics and 3D
Keyframes are frames at which the animator creates a pose for a character (or whatever is
being animated). In CG terms, a keyframe is a frame in which a pose, a position, or some
other such value has been saved in time. Animation is created when an object travels or
changes from one keyframe to another. You will see firsthand how creating poses for ani-
mation works in Chapter 9, when you create the poses for a simple walking human figure.
In CG, a keyframe can be set on almost any aspect of an object—its color, position,
size, and so on. Maya then interpolates the in-between frames between the keyframes set
by the animator. In reality, you can set several keyframes on any one frame in CG anima-
tion. Figure 1.6 illustrates a keyframe sequence in Maya.
Weight is an implied facet of design and animation. The weight of your subject in the
frame is a function of how it is colored, its contrast, shape, and location in the frame, and
the negative space around it. In animation, the idea of weight takes on a more important
role. How you show an object’s weight in motion greatly affects its believability. As you’ll
see in the axe tutorial in Chapter 8, “Introduction to Animation,” creating proper motion
to reflect the object’s weight goes a long way toward creating believable animation.
Weight in animation is actually a perception of mass. An object’s movement, how it
reacts in motion, and how it reacts to other objects all need to convey the feeling of
weight. Otherwise, the animation will look bogus, or as they say, “cartoonish.”
Weight can be created with a variety of techniques developed by traditional animators
over the years. Each technique distorts the shape of the character in some way to make it
look as if it is moving. Although it may seem strange to distort an object’s dimensions,
doing so makes the character’s motion more realistic. Chapter 8 will touch more on creat-
ing weight in animation. Here’s a quick preview.
SQUASH AND STRETCH
This technique makes a character responds to gravity, movement, and inertia by literally
squashing down and stretching up when it moves. For example, a cartoon character will
squeeze down when it is about to jump up, stretch out a bit while it is flying in the air, and
squash back down when it lands to make the character look as if it is reacting to gravity.
EASE-IN AND EASE-OUT
Objects never really suddenly stop. Everything comes to rest in its own time, slowing
before coming to a complete stop in most cases. This is referred to as ease-out.
Just as objects don’t suddenly stop, they don’t immediately start moving either. Most
things need to speed up a bit before reaching full speed. This is referred to as ease-in. The
Bouncing Ball tutorial in Chapter 8 illustrates ease-in and ease-out.
basic film concepts ■ 27
In the first frame of
this sequence, a
keyframe is set
on the position,
rotation, and scale
of the cone. On
frame 30, the same
properties are again
Keyframe at frame 1 calculates all the
Frame 5 Frame 10
Frame 15 Frame 20
Frame 25 Keyframe at frame 30
28 ■ chapter 1: Introduction to Computer Graphics and 3D
FOLLOW-THROUGH AND ANTICIPATION
Sometimes exaggerating the weight of an object is necessary in animation, especially in
cartoons. You can exaggerate a character’s weight, for instance, by using follow through
You should create a little bit of movement in your character or object before it moves.
Anticipation is a technique in which a character or object winds up before it moves, like a
spring that coils in a bit before it bounces.
Likewise, objects ending an action typically have a follow-through. Think about the
movement of gymnasts. When they land, they need to bend a bit at the knees and waist to
stabilize their landing. Likewise, a cape on a jumping character will continue to move a bit
even after the character lands and stops moving.
The Axe tutorial in Chapter 8 will give you a chance to implement these two concepts.
In Chapter 12, “Maya Dynamics,” you’ll see that one of Maya’s most powerful features is
its ability to simulate the dynamics of moving objects. To use that capability effectively,
you need a general awareness of the properties of physics—how objects behave in the
Newton’s Laws of Motion
There are three basic laws of motion. Sir Isaac Newton set forth these three laws, summa-
rized here. Everyone in animation needs to understand the first two laws because they play
a large part in how animations should look.
• An object in motion will remain in motion, and an object at rest will remain at rest
unless an external force acts upon the object. This is called inertia, and understanding
it is critical to good animation. You’ll find more on this in Chapters 8 and 9.
• The more massive an object is, the more force is needed to accelerate or decelerate its
motion. This law deals with an object’s momentum.
• Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you press on a brick wall, for
example, the wall exerts an equal amount of force on your hand. That way your hand
doesn’t smash through the wall.
In particular, it’s important to understand what momentum is all about. When an object
is in motion, it has momentum. The amount of momentum is calculated by multiplying
the mass of the object by its velocity. The heavier something is, or the faster it is moving,
the more momentum it has and the bigger the bruise it will leave if it hits you.
basic film concepts ■ 29
That’s why a tiny bullet can cause such a great impact on a piece of wood, for example.
Its sheer speed greatly increases its momentum. Likewise, a slow-moving garbage truck
can bash your car, relying on its sheer mass for its tremendous momentum.
When one moving object meets another object—moving or not—momentum is trans-
ferred between them. So when something hits an object, that object is moved if there is
sufficient momentum transferred to it. For more on this notion, see the Axe-Throwing
exercise in Chapter 8.
The more you know about all the arts that make up CG, the more confident you’ll feel among
your peers. To get started, check out the following excellent resources.
Art and Design
These books provide valuable insights into the mechanics and art of design. The more you
understand design theory, the stronger your art will be.
Bowers, John. Introduction to Two-Dimensional Design: Understanding Form and Function.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1999.
Itten, Johannes. Design and Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus and Later. New York:
John Wiley & Sons, 1975.
Ocvirk, Otto G., et al. Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
Wong, Wucius. Principles of Form and Design. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993.
CG has an interesting history and is evolving at breakneck speeds. Acquiring a solid knowl-
edge of this history and evolution is as important as keeping up with current trends.
Kerlow, Isaac Victor. The Art of 3D: Computer Animation and Imaging. New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 2000.
Kundert-Gibbs, John, Derakhshani, Dariush, et al. Mastering Maya 8.5. San Francisco:
Kuperberg, Marcia. Guide to Computer Animation. Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2002.
Masson, Terrence. CG 101: A Computer Graphics Industry Reference. Indianapolis: New Rid-
ers Publishing, 1999.
Computer Graphics World (free subscription for those who qualify)
30 ■ chapter 1: Introduction to Computer Graphics and 3D
Block, Bruce. The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV, and New Media. Burlington,
MA: Focal Press, 2001.
Myers, Dale K. Computer Animation: Expert Advice on Breaking into the Business. Milford, MI:
Oak Cliff Press, 1999.
In this chapter, you learned the basic process of working in CG, called a workflow or
pipeline, and how it relates to the process of working on a typical live film production. In
addition, you were introduced to the core concepts of CG creation and the fundamentals
of digital images. Some important ideas in design as well as traditional animation concepts
were also covered.
Now that you have a foundation in CG and 3D terminology and core concepts, you are
ready to tackle the software itself. Maya is a capable, intricate program. The more you
understand how you work artistically, the better use you will make of this exceptional tool.
There is a lot to think about before putting objects into a scene and rendering them
out. With practice and some design tinkering, though, all this will become intuitive. As
you move forward in your animation education, stay diligent, be patient, and never pass
up a chance to learn something new. Above all else, have fun with it.
The Maya 2008 Interface
This chapter takes you on a guided tour of all the elements visible on the
Maya 2008 screen. You will visit the menus, the icons, and the shelves, just to get an idea
of what everything is. You’ll learn how to work with these tools later in this book. For
now, while you’re first getting into this, knowing what everything is called and its purpose
is a good idea. Don’t get nervous, though; you won’t need to retain all this information at
once. Think of this more as a nickel tour.
This chapter can also serve as a good reference for later, when you’re wondering what a
particular icon does. If you are already familiar with the Maya interface, you might want
to skip this chapter.
Topics in this chapter include:
■ Navigating in Maya
■ A Screen Roadmap
■ Panels and Frequently Used Windows
■ Maya Object Structure
32 ■ chapter 2: The Maya 2008 Interface
Navigating in Maya
The key to being a good animator, with Maya or with any other tool, is not necessarily
knowing exactly where to find all the tools and buttons. It’s about knowing how to find
the features you need. Don’t let the interface intimidate you; it’s much friendlier than you
might initially think, and there is more than one way to get something done through the
user interface (UI).
Maya is intricate and multifaceted, with layers upon layers of function sets and inter-
face options, separated into categories. The purpose of this chapter is to help you get to
know Maya and how it operates rather than how to use it. If you’re looking to get your
feet wet right away, you may even want to jump ahead to the Solar System exercise in the
next chapter; you can then check back here for explanations of UI elements and windows
in this chapter.
The best way to start is to explore the interface. Using your mouse, check out the
menus and the tools. Just be careful not to change any settings; the rest of this book and its
projects assume your Maya settings are all at their defaults. Just in case you do change
some settings, reverting to the defaults is easy. Choose Window ➔ Settings/Preferences ➔
Preferences. In the Preferences window, choose Edit ➔ Restore Default Settings. Now, all
the settings and interface elements are restored to their default states.
A Screen Roadmap
Let’s get to the basics of how Maya is laid out (see Figure 2.1). Running across the top of
the screen, right under the application’s title bar, are the main menu bar, the Status line,
and the shelf.
To the left of the screen, running vertically, is the Tool box, offering quick-view selec-
tions, and across from it is the Channel box/Layer Editor and sometimes the Attribute
Editor (not displayed in Figure 2.1). Running horizontally at the bottom of the screen
(from the top down) are the Time slider, the Range slider, the Character Set menu, the
Auto Keyframe button, and the Animation Preferences button.
In the middle of all these elements is the workspace, which is host to your panels (or
Scene windows) and their menu options, (known as views or viewports in some other 3D
packages). This is where most of your focus will be; this is where you create and manipu-
late your 3D objects.
a screen roadmap ■ 33
The initial Maya
Maya requires the use of a three-button mouse, even on a Macintosh system. The clickable
scroll wheel found on most mice can be used as the third button. The scroll wheel also lets
you zoom into or out of a View panel.
In Maya, holding the Alt key on a PC or the Option key on a Mac along with the appropri-
ate button allows you to move in the View panel. The left mouse button (LMB) acts as the pri-
mary selection button (as it does in many other programs) and allows you to orbit around
objects when used with the Alt key. The right mouse button (RMB) activates numerous short-
cut menus and lets you zoom with the Alt key. The middle mouse button (MMB) with the Alt
key lets you move within the Maya interface, and the mouse’s wheel can be used to zoom in
and out as well.
34 ■ chapter 2: The Maya 2008 Interface
The Main Menu Bar
In the main menu bar, shown here, you’ll find a few of the familiar menu choices you’ve
come to expect in many applications, such as File, Edit, and Help.
One difference in Maya, however, is that menu choices depend on what you are doing.
By switching menu sets, you change your menu choices and hence your available toolset.
The menu sets in Maya Complete are Animation, Polygons, Surfaces, Rendering, and
Dynamics; Maya Unlimited adds the Cloth and Maya Live menu sets to those five. You’ll
find more in-depth information about these later in this chapter.
No matter which menu set you are working in, the first six items are constant: File,
Edit, Modify, Create, Display, and Window. The last menu, Help, is also constantly dis-
played, no matter which menu set you choose.
In Maya, you can also create your own menu sets by choosing Customize from the Menu Set
pull-down menu. Here you can select which menu headings to display. Customizing Maya is
a powerful way to optimize your workflow; however, you should keep your settings at their
defaults until you feel comfortable with the UI first.
When searching for a particular tool, keep in mind that each menu set controls partic-
ular functions. You’ll notice two different demarcations to the right of some menu items:
arrows and boxes (called option boxes). Clicking an arrow opens a submenu that contains
more specific commands. Clicking an option box (❒) opens a dialog box in which you can
set the options for that particular tool.
As noted above, the following menus are always visible:
File Deals with file operations, from saving and opening to optimizing scene size and
Edit Contains the commands you use to edit characteristics of the scene, for example,
deleting and duplicating objects or undoing and redoing actions.
Modify Lets you edit the characteristics of objects in the scene, such as moving or scaling
them or changing their pivot points.
a screen roadmap ■ 35
Create Lets you make new objects, such as primitive geometries, curves, cameras, and so on.
Display Contains commands for adjusting elements of the GUI (graphical user interface)
in Maya as well as objects in the scene, allowing you to toggle, or switch on or off, the dis-
play of certain elements as well as components of objects, such as vertices, hulls, pivots,
and so on.
Window Gives you access to the many windows you will come to rely on, such as the
Attribute Editor, Outliner, Graph Editor, and Hypergraph broken down into submenus
according to function, such as Rendering Editors and Animation Editors.
Help Gives you access to the help files.
ADVANCED TIP: FLOATING MENUS
In Maya you can “tear off” menus to create separate float-
ing boxes, which you can place anywhere in the work-
space, as shown here.
This makes accessing menu commands easier, espe-
cially when you need to use the same command repeat-
edly. Let’s say, for example, that you need to create
multiple polygonal spheres. You can tear off the Create ➔
Polygon Primitives menu and place it at the edge of your
screen. You can then click the Sphere command as many
times as you need without opening the dual-layered
menu every time. To tear off a menu, click the double line
Click here and drag
at the top of the menu, and drag the menu where you to tear off a menu.
The Status Line
The Status line (see Figure 2.2) contains a number of important and often used icons.
The Status line
The Status line begins with a drop-down menu that gives you access to the menu sets in
Maya. Selecting a menu set changes the menu set in the main menu bar. You will notice
immediately after the Menu Set drop-down menu, and intermittently throughout the Sta-
tus line, black vertical line breaks with either a box or an arrow in the middle. Clicking a
break opens or closes sections of the Status line.