The Maya Journal: A 2D Artist's Perspective on 3D

I consider myself a "2D person." That is, most of my professional experience extends to 2D media, specifically film, video, illustration, painting. As would be expected, most of my software knowledge and experience is also of the 2D variety. I'm most familiar with non-linear editing software like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro where you work with 2D images while editing, creating motion titles, or simple green screen compositing. However, I've always maintained a steady interest in learning more about the world of 3D modeling, animation, lighting, texturing, etc. It's not that I'm completely ignorant to 3D software. I've played a bit with some very basic programs and even tinkered with Blender, learning mostly how to create an object or change the camera's perspective. Extremely newb skills? Yes. But I'm completely sincere when I say that learning to do something as simple as rotating a cube along it's X-axis can still be an adrenaline rush for a beginner. Mostly, however, I've learned just enough about 3D software to make myself dangerous. That is, if you put at the helm of a high-end 3D software, I might accidentally make something stunning, or, more likely, I'll somehow crash the program. Knowing just a little of something tends to create anxiety for most people, myself included. It's a nervousness that's amplified by 3D software UI's. They look extremely complex and intimidating, like the dashboard of a jet airplane. Needless to say, I seldom venture further within 3D software than a casual examination. The image is something akin to a completely baffled, mouth-breather gazing in awe at the Gordian Knot.

But what has always been just a dream of learning 3D software, has really become a professional necessity. 3D images are ubiquitous in our culture. They exist within the photorealism of CG models and graphics to the VFX composition within movies and TV. 3D imagery seems to exist in some form within almost every example of artistic and commercial representation today. Therefore, it seems a smart move to gain at least a working knowledge of one title of 3D software.

Although a lot of software titles have different effects or specialize in doing particular things, I think it’s safe to assume that they all contain the same basic features. I’m only looking to understand those basics, so learning one software should help with learning the others. Therefore, I’ve decided to jump waist deep into the dark, virtual waters of 3D software and learn Autodesk’s Maya, the current industry standard for 3D software. To do so, I’ve enlisted the help of Digital-Tutors tutorials, specifically Introduction to Maya 2015. Over the next several months, I will begin a series of articles that covers the entire course (104 lessons).

The series, entitled “The Maya Journal” will explain all that I’ve learned about Maya’s basic features along with articulating my perspective as I move from 2D to 3D. Right now, I’m anticipating the entire series to contain around 8 articles, each one coming out at around two-week intervals. Along the way, I will be producing the course’s project–a mech–that I hope to put on full display by Christmas (a Christmas mech!) When all is said and done, I should have a working knowledge of Maya and 3D software in general. mech

You’re probably asking right now, “Brian, why are you sharing this experience with the world?” It’s a good question. I could just work on learning Maya privately. No one would know whether I ultimately succeed or fail (spoiler alert: I succeed). But that approach would not allow me to share my experiences as a first-time Maya user. As a 2D artist learning 3D software. It’s a situation that, I suspect, is shared by many others out there.

So, while the Maya Journal will include practical information and tips about using the software, it will also contain some of my personal thoughts about the challenges of a 2D-to-3D experience. This along with my frustrations, my confusions, and my epiphanies. More importantly, the Maya Journal will record how I learned to overcome my limits and prevail. I will stare into the face of the unknown, into the foreign world of NURBS and ngons, beyond render passes and shaders, into the gaping maw Maya, the software Leviathan itself.

Please follow along with me if you’re also making the transition to 3D or just a beginner. If you’re a 3D veteran, you might get a kick from witnessing the struggle. The next two installments will deal with the challenges of learning to maneuver inside a 3D environment. They will also cover Maya’s user interface, breaking it down into sections, along with explaining some of the fundamentals of creating, selecting, and organizing 3D objects.can download a trial version of Maya LT at Autodesk’s website.