The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya – Book Review

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Learn 3D Modeling for Games in Autodesk Maya With Michael McKinley

Autodesk Maya is amongst the more complicated 3D modeling software packages available today, and due to its comprehensive tool set and the astonishing results Maya can produce, it is a popular choice for professional and hobbyist game artists.

This complexity and popularity has led to Autodesk Maya being one of the most documented 3D modeling solutions. A Google search for “Maya video tutorials” returns 20 million results. Furthermore, there are literally hundreds of book titles concerning content creation with Maya.

However, when learning Autodesk Maya, the overwhelming availability of tutorials and advice makes finding well-written, workable, repeatable practices difficult. Even narrowing the options to only those books that are written by games industry professionals does not guarantee a good guide to the Maya workflow. Not all game artists are experienced teachers, and not all teachers are experienced game artists.

Michael McKinley and Maya

Michael McKinley, author of The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya, offers the best of both professions. A seasoned game developer, McKinley has worked on such titles as “Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition”, “Fallen Kingdoms”, “Hit and Myth”, and is currently at work as the main artist for the “Saw” movie series game tie-in.

Unlike many authors on Autodesk Maya, McKinley has worked as a teacher of 3D modeling with Maya in the classroom, at Collins College in Tempe. Other than The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya, he is also the author of The Game Animator’s Guide to Maya, and a third instructional title, Maya Studio Projects: Environments and Props, is due for release in this year. He has also written online learning material for Maya at the SimplyMaya website.

The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya Contents

The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya is separated into 6 chapters that guide the reader through the complete workflow for creating a rigged, textured and animated 3D character model with a weapon prop. The chapters, in sequence, are:

  • The Game Industry
  • Polygonal Modeling
  • Texturing
  • Rigging
  • Animation
  • Particle Effects

The book also comes with a companion CD which contains all of the models and reference materials used within the book.

To say The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya is thorough would be an understatement. McKinley covers every aspect of 3D creation in Maya, from an introduction to the game development pipeline as it affects the 3D artist, through the 3D polygon modeling process, and on to texturing, rigging and animating the models created.

The 3D content McKinley creates throughout the book is, as one would expect of an industry professional, of outstanding quality, and yet, the process he uses is made approachable and replicable due to the ease with which McKinley is able to explain the complexities of Autodesk Maya in simple terms, and through illustrated examples.

A Thorough Treatment of 3D Animation in Maya

Perhaps the most admirable feature of the book is the comprehensive coverage of animating the game assets: a vital element of 3D game development that tends to be overlooked in too many 3D modeling books. McKinley details not just the use of blend shapes to animate facial features, but, recognizing that not all game engines support blend shapes, also demonstrates how to rig a head for skeletal facial animation.

A further revolutionary touch is his use of imported video files as a template to assist in posing and key framing animation stances, and his techniques for exaggerating secondary motion to create effective dynamic animations: animations that are further refined with an instructive chapter on using particle effects to add extra visual impact.

3D Modeling in Maya Made Easy

McKinley’s book is a joy to read. The work methods in each section are easy to follow, and each step is thoroughly explained. With each chapter, the 3D content creation process in Maya becomes ever clearer, with McKinley providing the context for every modeling decision. Perhaps the most remarkable element about The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya is that McKinley manages to contain so much in so slim a volume. At 240 pages, this book offers more instructive value than others twice its length.

The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya is, quite simply, the best book available to learn how to model in Autodesk Maya. Along with Antony Ward’s Game Character Development with Maya, it is an invaluable reference to any game developer or 3D enthusiast, and an inspiring example of the results that can, and how they can, be achieved in Maya.

  • The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya by Michael McKinley
  • Available from Sybex Inc.
  • 240 Pages, Soft Cover, Adobe eBook
  • Cover Illustration by Michael McKinley

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