Maya Character Creation: Modeling and Animation Controls Review

Maya Character Creation: Modeling and Animation Controls
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First impressions. A quick glance through the book reveals that this book is for beginning to intermediate Maya users. It includes all one needs to know about character modeling and preparing the model for animation from modeling to skeleton setup to skinning to scripting. Actual character animation itself is not covered in this book.
The book is illustrated with many sketches and screenshots but the illustrations are not in color which makes some of the screenshots hard to see especially the ones with wireframe models.
As the book concentrates on character setup, the examples and tutorials in the book involve creating and working with fairly realistic characters that have muscle and bone structure. If you are only interested in creating highly stylized or simple characters for use in your animation then you won't find much that is useful in this book. If you want to create the next Gollum then read on.
The book starts off with some information on the evolution of digital characters in film. This is followed by an introduction on the basics of character modeling.
The next chapter is on modeling the skin of a biped character and this happens to be the biggest chapter in this book. It begins with an introduction on different modeling methods for modeling a head, usually the most difficult part to model. Here and in the rest of the book as well, the author explains carefully on the pros and cons of each method and possible associated pitfalls that might be encountered when the model is used in an animation later on. Most books on modeling do not take into consideration the problems that might arise later on when animating the model and character animation books usually concentrate on the animation aspects. The author of this book does a commendable job of getting both these bases covered.
This is followed by modeling of the torso and limbs. Later on, the multipatch character is converted into a polygon skin to simplify the process of adding details to the model. Last but not least this chapter covers skin texturing including the use of UV polygons.
There are exercises intersped within the chapters after every few section which covers in detail with step by step instructions on how to perform the lessons covered in the previous sections. Although the steps are explained carefully it would have been better if more accompanying screenshots had been included to guide the reader. As it is, great care has to be taken to read the text carefully as there is no graphical reference to compare if the steps have been followed correctly.
Chapter 3 is on character skeleton setup. This brings back memories of my biology classes as the author covers the importance of having a good understanding of the skeletal anatomy of the human body. Both Forward Kinematics (FK) and Inverse Kinematics (IK) are explained as is when each method is to be used. Pointers to naming convention is included.
All of the above is then employed to create a basic character rig. Controls are added to the rig using the Connection Editor, the Expression Editor or the set driven keys to simplify animation with samples and exercises for each method. Each method is covered in detail in this chapter.
Chapter 4 covers skin deformation with a process known as skin binding with focus on the smooth skin binding method. Muscle flexing using both muscle skeleton and influence objects are covered. For additional realism, methods on deforming the skin with bones, wrinkles and fat are given attention as well.
Face animation is up next. Because it's the most expressive part of the body, special attention has to be given to the animation controls in this area. Techniques such as morph targets and using influences to mimic facial muscles are included as well.
The next chapter is on scripting controls using Maya Embedded Language, something that most Maya users including myself, find daunting. Only the basics are covered with a little information on what advanced scripting can do. Although this chapter only scratches the surface on MEL, it serves it's purpose of whetting the reader's appetite for more information.
The book ends with some guidelines on finishing touches like cleaning up and optimizing the character controls. Some animation methods are also covered and lastly, readers learn how to simplify and streamline animation by using multiple rigs of varying complexity.
Overall, the book is informative and would be a valuable asset to it's targeted audience, beginning to intermediate level Maya users who want to learn about character modeling and setting up the models for animation. The exercises are detailed enough but illustrations and the use of colors are a bit lacking.
The author's style of writing is easy to comprehend and I liked the way how each chapter is nicely summarized at the beginning of each chapter with an indication of what the reader can hope to accomplish at the conclusion of the chapter.

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A unique, in-depth approach to creating realistic characters in Maya. Maya Character Creation: Modeling and Animation Controls' author, Chris Maraffi, has expertise in the field and in the classroom that translates to the knowledge and solid teaching skills needed to make this book a "must-have"!The current trend in computer graphics is greater organic realism. Many of thetop-grossing movies today, such as Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park 3 ,and Star Wars Episode 2, all feature realistic 3D characters. There is a majorneed in the 3D community for educational material that demonstrates detailedtechniques for achieving this organic reality. Maya is one of the main packagesused on such cutting-edge films, and has an established toolset for creatingbelievable 3D characters. Maya Character Creation: Modeling and Animation Controls is designed to take you through the process of designing, modeling, and setting up animation controls for complex 3D characters. The concepts, techniques, and Maya tools used foreach step in the process are presented in each chapter, followed by manyhands-on exercises. NURBS, polygon, and subdivision surface modelingtechniques are shown for creating the character's skin, and skeleton-basedanimation controls are covered in detail. You will learn how a character'sskin should deform when the skeletal joints and muscles move. AdvancedMEL scripted animation controls are also covered extensively.

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