Maya Visual Effects: The Innovator’s Guide

I’m often a stickler for abiding to methodologies that conform to ways tools are used in the production world’especially when it comes to manuals, books and tutorials. This is because most people trying to learn these techniques are doing so because they want to work in the animation, gaming or visual effects industries (not knowing what they are getting themselves into!). So, in my mind, you should know these ‘rules’ from the get go. This means knowing that there are other programs out there to make your life easier, that there are going to be artists before and after you in the pipeline that you have to consider and who will do a lot of the stuff to help make your stuff look better.

Eric Keller comes to you with a different approach in his book, Maya Visual Effects: The Innovator’s Guide. He goes by the assumption that you don’t have the support system you would have in a production pipeline, and you don’t have the supporting software packages. All you have is Maya. It’s like Tom Hanks with his buddy Wilson on a deserted island with some wood and a FedEx package. How to get off the island with what you have? To be honest, I’ve come to appreciate this Castaway approach because it shifts the paradigm.

Keller frequently uses tools that are made for a certain function and pushes them into a completely different direction. This begins to open your eyes to alternate ways of solving problems’which is really the name of the game in visual effects. There are things in the world around you, which have always been there, and you’ve never noticed before. Once they are revealed in a different context, then you begin to see them everywhere. The same is true for CG techniques. You may go through the manuals that explain how a tool should be used. Yet, this explanation is from the person who designed the tool to provide a certain function. They may not see the potential that someone from the outside looking in sees and says ‘What if we used it this way?’

It should be noted that this book isn’t for beginners. You have to have a pretty good handle on the inner workings of Maya. He doesn’t get into heavy-handed MEL scripting or anything, but you need to know your hypergraph, connection editor and expressions’which are things you should know anyway. There is quite a bit of focus on paint effects and dynamics, both rigid and soft-body. So, a healthy knowledge of these techniques will help you get the most out of the book.

Keller is not only knowledgeable and innovative, but he is also fun and entertaining’an absolute must for anyone who’s explaining such dry topics as spring dynamics and animated gradient ramps. I know that I’ll keep this book within reach for easy reference for possible answers that just can’t be found in the normal places.