Saturday, August 20, 2005

Adventures in the Third Dimension

Well, my friend (who has been working with Maya for the last couple of years) talked me into trying out Maya. He's a brilliant artist, I'm not. He's studied art, done 2D art for years and can actually doodle; the only thing I can draw is a toilet. But, he talked me into it none the less. You see Maya is more than an artists tool, it's built around a language [MEL Script]. MEL Script permeates the tool, and I know programming. So does he, but I've been doing it for over 20 years, him about 3. The plan is to get good enough with him doing the art and me behind the scenes (literally and figuratively) and then hang out a shingle.

My plan is to chronicle the woes of learning the tool and starting up a business here in this blog for absolutely no reason other than I want to.

My first experience with Maya's Personal Learning Edition was "Wow, this thing rocks". I watched the included movie shorts, read some of the online documentation and ran across a little tool called Maya Mentor. This thing is totally cool, it's kind of like having a personal tutor walk you through the steps in the actual tool (except it wigged out my taskbar and went nuts when it discovered the widescreen on my laptop). Yup, that's right, I tried to use this incredible graphics program on my laptop. It's a beefy laptop (Compaq Presario R3000Z, AMD Athlon 64 3400, 1GB memory, NVidia GeForce 4 440 Go 64M display adapter, dual monitor, the works), but the one place they skimp big-time on laptops is the video processor. There's only so much power and heat dissapation to go around and they usually put it in the main processor instead of the graphics processor.

I made the wise choice of getting the Beginner's Guide Bundle from Alias (the company the make Maya) and started going through the included DVD movie tutorials. I felt pretty cool with my dual monitors, watching the DVD on the external 21" monitor while I followed along in Maya on my 15.4" widescreen laptop display. Until I tried to build a bowl of fruit and salt & pepper shakers on a table. With shading turned on, every move in Maya caused the screen to freeze up while it tried to update the model. I tried it for a while in wireframe, but that got old pretty fast. Luckily I still have the workstation I used before I got the laptop (Dell Precision 330, Intel Pentium 4 1.7 GHz, 1GB memory, NVidia GeForce2 GTS Pro 32MB). Surprisingly (or not) Maya works much better on this old card with it's back-rev Video card than my new Laptop. At least I can still watch the video's on my laptop while following along on my old Workstation.

I've done a couple of the Tutorial Examples (previously mentioned Bowl-o-fruit and a Helecopter body) and decided to try and model something I had on hand that didn't look too tough, but was more than a cup or box. So I started to model my trusty Palm Tungsten T3 PDA. Started out pretty good, created a cube, scaled it to the right size, found the "Round Tool" did a brilliant job on rounding the sides of the case, but it didn't change the top and bottom, which made for a very odd looking PDA. I tried using the trim tool to trim off the excess, but couldn't get the hang of it. So I threw away the top and bottom surfaces and decided to try and build them up (since they're not flat anyway). I threw some surfaces in to match the flat portions on the sides. My plan is to bend it into the proper curve and then try to loft it onto the face and back to make the proper curve, but since I can't figure out how to bend the silly thing, that might take a while.

I can see this is a powerful tool, and I hope I can get my head around it pretty soon.


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