3D Animation

Last Edited – February 7, 2010 by Randall Crock
Filed under: Personal, Technology

So this term I am taking AR2001 – The Art of Animation. I thought we would start with simple 2-d animation, creating GIFs and such, but instead the first day of class we are doing full-blown Maya animation. Autodesk Maya is the leading contender in the 3D animation market. Pixar uses it, Dreamworks uses it, and many other animation studios use it for their work. It is renowned for the photorealistic images you can create with it. It is also one of the buggiest pieces of software I have ever used.

It seems to react differently every time I use it. Sometimes it works just fine until I try to combine two polygons, when it just does it wrong and crashes. Other times I have to restart it withing 5 minutes of working because it is behaving wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I am coming to love it for a lot of reasons, but it could be cleaned up and made to run better. It is really awesome that I can create a ploygonal model, then bind it to a skeleton and make the skeleton react the way I want in under ten minutes. It is also really cool that you can add realistic fur and hair to objects simply by setting a couple sliders and brushing it on. I am having a blast in this class, but it is occupying a ton of my time.

I now have a greater appreciation for many of the animated films out there simply because I am seeing how much work goes into making animations work the way you want and still look good. Today, I spent 5 hours in the lab and got 20 seconds of animation for my time. I am working with simple skeletons and animating only one object. Professionals are spending hundreds of hours to get seconds of video, and that is just the animation, then you have to wait for the render. Granted, most big studios use a render farm, a cluster of computers where they send files to be rendered and a managing program splits it up so it takes less time, but rendering my 20 seconds of video at draft quality (320×240, 24fps, low quality shadows and lighting) still took 15 minutes. When I do my full render, it is going to take me several hours just to get output!

I am also thinking that I could get by doing 3D animation professionally, and so I may add it to my set of skills. It is fun to sit and jiggle the sliders back and forth, moving your creation around and watching it do what you have told it. Animating is a lot like programming, only it is way easier to see exactly where your time is going and what you get out of it. The satisfaction of getting my figure to move the way I wanted was the same as finishing a programming project and publishing it. It is a really great feeling to watch your character jump and dance around the stage you have created for it.

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