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Maya is a popular 3D animation tool, published by Autodesk. But it’s got a brutally steep learning curve, and can be intimidating for beginners. This week, a reader writes in to see if we could recommend some learning material. Ask The Experts contributor Bruce Epper has him covered.

A Reader Asks:

I really want to get into 3D animation with Maya, but I have no idea where to start. Can you recommend any courses or books?

Bruce’s Reply:

Whether you want to get into 3D art, modeling, and/or animation for your own amusement or as a step toward getting your dream job How A Dream Job Comes True: Interviewing World-Class 3D Artist Rafael Grassetti How A Dream Job Comes True: Interviewing World-Class 3D Artist Rafael Grassetti It's not every day that I get to pick the brain of a world-leading 3D artist -- but that's exactly what I got to do with Rafael Grassetti. You may not recognize Rafael's name, but... Read More , you’re going to need to know how to use the tools of the trade. But this can be intimidating, not to mention expensive. Finding the best, most cost-effective software and training materials is vital.

For those who are considering getting into CGI animation What Is CGI Animation? [Technology Explained] What Is CGI Animation? [Technology Explained] Read More , there are less expensive tools such as the open source Blender Blender - A Powerful Free Cross-Platform 3D Content Creation Suite Blender - A Powerful Free Cross-Platform 3D Content Creation Suite Read More which can be used to create awesome films 10+ Amazing Short Films You'd Not Believe Were Made With Free Software 10+ Amazing Short Films You'd Not Believe Were Made With Free Software Read More , though the learning curve is not necessarily any smaller than with its commercial counterparts.

Current and future game makers may also want to take a look at Unity3D Start Creating Games In No Time With Unity3D Free Start Creating Games In No Time With Unity3D Free Read More . It provides an entire game engine for development, as well as the art asset creation tools necessary to produce a full game. Maya, on the other hand, contains all of the tools to develop the art assets but you still need to export them to a game engine such as Unreal or Unity.

Each learner has their own way of absorbing knowledge, especially when dealing with complex software. A few may be able to pick up a book, read it, and be able to effectively use the program. But other people may need to work through hands-on exercises. Others may learn better by watching. We will consider all of these factors as we look at several options for learning how to use Autodesk Maya.

Maya’s Help Menu

There are four options in the Maya Help menu, each leading to a separate page on the Autodesk website or YouTube. These point to Autodesk endorsed tutorials, and basic learning material.

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1 Minute Startup Movies

The 1 Minute Startup Movies option contains seven videos, each under 2 minutes in length, which cover these areas: navigation essentials; creating and viewing objects; moving, rotating, and scaling; component selection; secret menus; keyframe animation; and materials, lights, and rendering.

It is primarily geared for individuals with experience using other modeling, animation, and rendering software who wish to get started with Maya quickly.

Maya Learning Channel

The Maya Learning Channel on YouTube has dozens of tutorials ranging from beginner to advanced, showing different techniques using Maya. In particular, there is a playlist containing nine videos covering everything the beginner needs to know to start using Maya; from navigating the interface to manipulating and grouping objects to hotkeys and hidden menus. The description also includes links to the files that are used in the video, for those who wish to follow along and experiment on their own system.

Official Maya Tutorials

The Maya Tutorials help option brings you to the Autodesk website and seven tutorials:

  • Introduction and project overview
  • Navigating the user interface
  • Building models in Maya
  • The basics of animation
  • Adding materials and textures
  • Working with lights in Maya
  • Rendering with mental ray.

All of these video tutorials are from digital-tutors which will be discussed later.

Going to the 30-day Tutorial Trials will bring you to Autodesk’s list of online training publishers who offer 30-day trials of their training materials relating to the entire library of Autodesk software, including Maya.

For Video Learners

If you’re the type of person who likes to learn by watching, there’s a lot of options available for you.

CADLearning

CADLearning offers both DVDs ($279), as well as online memberships ($49.99/mo or $499.99/year) for access to their training videos. This series is presented by Steve Schain, an Autodesk Certified Professional, so you can be sure the content is relevant and authoritative due to his demonstrated mastery of the software.

Safari’s Learning Autodesk Maya

Safari offers the Learning Autodesk Maya 2016 by Todd Palamar video series, which is designed for the absolute beginner. Again, this is a subscription service that starts at $39 per month or $399 per year.

Safari’s collection boasts more than 30,000 videos and books, including this course, which is 6.5 hours long. They also offer a 10 day free trial, so you can get a taste for whether this course is the right one for you.

Digital-Tutors’s Introduction to Maya 2016

Next, we have Introduction to Maya 2016 from digital-tutors. Only the Introduction and project overview can be viewed without at least registering, which will unlock the first 9 parts of this 88 part series. To get the rest, you’ll have to subscribe.

Subscription rates are $29/month or $299/year for a basic account, which gives you access to all 2,200+ courses with progress tracking. For $49/month or $499/year, you also get access to reference and project files, certificates and assessments, and the option to view the tutorials offline.

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Digital-tutors has a relatively small in-house staff of tutors, augmented by industry professionals outside of the company to make these videos. You really cannot beat instruction from people who make their living by using this software on a day-to-day basis. To me, this is an important distinction from what you may find on a random search on YouTube and it clearly shows in the videos.

SimplyMaya.com

SimplyMaya currently has three dozen free tutorials available for viewing along with over 1,000 others on their site. They use a very different model for distribution. You can add complete tutorials to a shopping cart, checkout, and download them in one shot. If you find you are only interested in some videos from one or more tutorials, it may be cheaper to buy video credits which can be used to purchase just the segments you want which works out to about 25 minutes of video per credit. Or you can go with a lifetime membership for a mere $395.

Again, this is another site that is using industry professionals to create their tutorials, so you know they have real-world experience using Maya and it isn’t just another professional trainer whose only experience with the software came from creating the video.

Learning Autodesk Maya 2013: A Video Introduction

Udemy offers Learning Autodesk Maya 2013: A Video Introduction for $89. This course contains more than 8 hours of video in 63 lectures led by Dariush Derahkshani – an award-winning visual effects supervisor.

Although this doesn’t cover the latest version of the software, it still provides all of the building blocks that beginners need to know to use the software effectively, and covers every topic I have seen in courses covering the 2016 version so you should not consider the version number in the title to be off-putting.

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Maya 2016 Essential Training

The last video course I looked at was Maya 2016 Essential Training with George Maestri, an animation director and producer, on Lynda.com. In under 8 hours over 106 videos, he leads you through everything you need to know about the Maya workflow and animation pipeline in an engaging manner.

This is another one where members can download the video for offline consumption as well as access the exercise files that are used throughout the course to more easily follow along with the video demonstrations.

Lynda.com

Lynda.com is another subscription service that ranges from US $20-$35/month. The premium level includes project files you can download and allows offline viewing on mobile devices if billed annually. There are currently more than 3,800 courses on the site with plenty of them covering advanced Maya and 3D topics, so you’re getting value for money.

For Fans of the Written Word

But some of us like to learn by reading. What good books on Maya are there?

3D Animation for the Raw Beginner Using Maya by Roger King ($55.47 at Amazon)

Okay, this one is not specifically about Maya, but rather a book on 3D animation using Maya as the instructional tool. 3D Animation for the Raw Beginner Using Maya is written by a professor teaching 3D animation and it clearly comes through as a textbook.

That said, it is also more than just a quick-start guide for using Maya with its concentration on how the Maya workflow allows the designer/animator to accomplish his or her task by not simply telling how to apply a specific technique, it explains why you would want to do it.

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Introducing Autodesk Maya 2016: Autodesk Official Press by Dariush Derakhshani ($43.62 at Amazon)

Yup, the same guy who did the video on Udemy mentioned above wrote this. It provides a step-by-step guide to build the necessary skills to gain mastery over Maya. This book follows the same outline as the video with additional coverage of a few of the new features of the latest version of Maya, and appears to use the same sample content. If you’re doing his Udemy course, this would be a great companion guide.

Autodesk Maya 2016 Basics Guide by Kelly Murdock ($75 on Amazon)

Though not released yet, this appears to be a complete treatment of everything you need to know to get much more than your feet wet with 3D animation using Maya. The sample content available demonstrates an effective writing style with plenty of screenshots to clearly explain the interface and if the entire book continues in that vein, it will be utterly amazing.

Other Resources

A CGTalk forum thread was started more than a decade ago dedicated to links to Maya tutorials. Many of the early ones are clearly outdated though some are still useful for the novice but there are some really incredible ones that are still being posted today. Once you have a firm grasp of the fundamentals of CG in Maya, be sure you check out what these guys have to offer.

Hey, readers! Do we have any Maya users in the crowd? What resources have you found or used that would be useful for a beginning modeler/animator learning the software? Please leave me a comment below with your suggestions.

  1. Hildegerd Haugen
    September 17, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    I am a Blender head, been since 2005. Perhaps I should dip into Maya as well.

    • Bruce Epper
      September 17, 2015 at 11:16 pm

      A solo artist has a distinct advantage of being able to use whatever tools they prefer, but those who work in a shop with others are frequently restricted to only a few options. The same applies when collaborating with others who have their own tool preferences. Having the flexibility to switch to other tools and remain productive is a definite plus.

      This type of mindset is why I am comfortable working with multiple operating systems, office suites, audio editing systems, and more. And it has been a huge benefit many times.

      In your case, being familiar with Blender and the entire animation workflow will make learning Maya a relatively simple task. I would say "go for it!"

      Knowledge is never wasted.

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