A brief note about history:

The book described and illustrated on this page came out in summer 2000 together with the release of Maya 3. Maya 4 was released a year later and in september 2001 Addison Wesley Germany published a much more light-weight book under the title Maya 4 Sketches - 30 Tutorials in 3D . Peachpit Press, Berkeley, published this book in november 2001 in English translation: Exploring Maya 4 - 30 Studies in 3D. This page, however, is a brief journey through the comprehensive Maya 3 book. Enjoy!

Maya 3

Ästhetik & Technik von High-End 3D-Animationen

By Maximilian Schoenherr

Published in German language by Addison-Wesley Germany

600 pages, over 1000 photographs and screenshots

300 pages full colour

Hardcover 129 DM, 948 ATS, 116 SHF, ca. $ 56


The book was first shown at the world's largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany, in October 2000.

It was the first European book on Maya and the first book world wide covering version 3 of Maya.


Maya is a High-End 3D computer animation package by Alias, Toronto, Santa Barbara. Check the website for a free trial version of Maya.



I am the autor and would like to invite you to a tour of the book. Your feedback is highly appreciated: max.schoenherr@uni-koeln.de. I work as a journalist for German public radio, TV and computer and film related print media. I ran Alias|wavefront's Poweranimator versions 7 and 8 on my SGI O2 and Maya since version 1.0 on different machines. I've written many short stories and dramas for radio and use the software now mainly for storytelling in children's TV. I also gathered some experience in creating scientific visualisations and 3D-footage for commercials. The idea to write a book came up early in 2000 when Maya's popularity reached a critical mass here in Europe and more and more people in newsgroups and in my professional environment asked for a book on Maya in German language. It consists of 12 chapters and 13 sketches. The sketches are brief tutorials of simple and entertaining tasks. They range from creating a flash of lightning to animating the surface of water with wave deformers and the creation of a traffic light by just typing MEL-commands. Most sketches are less than 10 pages long and can be used independently from the much larger main chapters.

The first chapter leads the very beginner into the realm of dynamic simulations. Towards the end of the chapter we have 10 cubes in 10 colors moving in a field of turbulence. Not a single keyframe. A friend of mine, Martin Hilbert of Aquinofilm, a professional cinematographer, finally helps to set and move the camera, so the animation looks exciting to the viewer. By this time, the tone for the whole book is basically set: Let's create interesting scenes, develop good stories, animate the objects and characters and dramatize the camera (and, later, the light).
The second chapter gives four examples of how to use Maya very differently and achieve impressive results with very little effort and knowledge of the software: We draw a 3-dimensional field of daisy flowers; we interactively deform a cube and enjoy its realtime fun; we ride on a spot light; and we set an object on fire. After these two chapters the reader has gained a good basic feeling for the software.
I didn´t want to write a point-and-click-book. Of course, we have to click and point, but this is also a book about how we see the world, how flat the screens of our computer monitors and TVs and cinema projections are and what kind of magic is used to add depth to flatland. The title of this chapter is "The Flat Empire of Depth". It not only discusses common 3D phaenomena such as fog, perspective, projection, stereoscopy, shadows and depth of field, but also simulates each of them using Maya 3.

The letters in the opening picture of chapter 4 are seen from the back and mean "From the back". We animate cameras in the tradition of early 1990ies techno music videos and simulate timewarps to get a feeling for the history of 3D computer animation and ist notoriously hyperactive use of flying cameras. We also use sound in these animations and discuss the dilemma of synthesizers in the 60ies and 70ies when they wanted nothing more than imitate real instruments such as violins or pianos. Of course, they never succeeded. Current 3D animations suffer from a similar problem. Which leads us to chapter 5 where we draw a stroke with a pencil on a piece of paper and try to construct (model, texture and render) an aesthetically as pleasing stroke in 3D. Although the 3D-stroke looks impressive, it still fails in certain ways, and this experience gives us a feeling of how hard it is to imitate reality using a high-end 3D package such as Maya. Chapter 6 is about Maya´s very fine interface and serves as a collection of the main keyboard, menu and hotbox functions. The reader will frequently return to this chapter. This ends the introductory part of the book. We´re at page 150 (out of 600) now.

Time for a larger project: "Good Character". With minimal modeling and a recorded dialog of two people we get an impressive character animation. This is also a chapter on lipsync and anticipation, as well as project organisation, pivots, character setup and management, groups, the different ways to set and edit keyframes and how to use MEL for simplifying repetitive tasks. Several plots for the story are being discussed with the Martin, our director of photography. Martin also helps to set good light and simple, yet effective camera movements. We render the animation with motion blur and alpha as well as depth masks. "The Realm of Logic Nodes" is the title of chapter 8 where connections of parameters, expressions, driven keys and MEL scripting set the tone. You might not expect it, but this brief chapter is real fun! Many things first being touched here will be useful in many different contexts later in the book. Actually, we´re in the middle of the book now, and as late as here we first put our hands on polygon and nurbs modeling. While discussing the basic differences between nurbs and polygon and subdivision modeling we create some "wild and fun" objects. Later in this context, it´s time for a project of precision modeling: We create a toilet bowl out of several delicately arranged nurbs circles. We discuss tessellation and shading and finally paint 3D-grass on the top rim of the bowl.

This is the largest and, in terms of kilograms, heaviest chapter and it sure carries a very impressive name: "Shoe - A Central Project of Organisation". Basically we model and texture a pair of shoes, create a skeleton with hip, legs and feet, import a miniature love song and make the two shoes do an emotional dance ending in a pirouette. There´s much more to this project, however: We make heavy use of Maya´s online documentation, of sophisticated shading procedures, of inverse kinematics, of expressions and artisan. Martin kindly points out that a nicely textured landscape would do the animation good. Then he gives us hints of how to set the light and animate the camera. The animation is rendered with depth of field and autofocus - achieved by a simple hypergraph connection.
The shoe dance is a very ambitious project where everything is under our control. In chapter 11 we let dynamics do the work for us. We try to match the motion of a falling cone in a real video with a falling cone in 3D. We create planets and use Newton forces to make them rotate. We discuss in depth groups and constraints. We create a picture frame with pendulums inside and let dynamic forces drive their motion.
Some objects start emitting particles - fire and kryo-steam - which we hardware and software render. We use compositing packages like Maya Fusion an After Effects to bring the different layers together. We deform soft bodies with forces and model a loudspeaker membrane using wind energy on soft bodies.

In the closing chapter I run the reader through a routine animation job. I use the membrane from the previous chapter to create a mask. I let an Apple Macintosh voice (Kathy) speak "Hello World!" I use Blend Shape for lipsynching the mask´s mouth when it says Hello World. Construction History and Trim Surfaces help to animate the slits of the eyes. Before rendering, I use Maya Fur to add a chinese chin beard to the mask. Finally a drunken camera and a cup of late night tea...


A list of my favourite pages and literature on computer animation and the history of motion pictures follows. Among them is www.highend3D.com, the newsgroup comp.graphics.apps.alias and Peter Lord´s and Brian Sibley´s very fine book on character animation (using clay). Finally, the index to the book. It´s not less than 11 pages long and very detailed. Check out the entry "Lambert, Johann Heinrich"!

All Maya-scenes in the book, all the sounds and materials being used and lots of - mainly playblast - movies are on the CD-ROM. The movies are not meant to show off but are samples of work in progress. Most of the scene files in this first edition of the book carry wrong tags and therefore cannot be opened by Maya properly. The publisher and MHS apologize for the inconvenience and offer to download the scene data as a zipped file at Addison-Wesley´s web page. For communication with the publisher, please use this address: lektoratawl@pearson.de, for communication with me, the author: max.schoenherr@uni-koeln.de