July/August 2014

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46 CINEMONTAGE / JUL-AUG 14 46 CINEMONTAGE / JUL-AUG 14 TECH TIPS Creating Visual Effects in Maya by Lee Lanier Focal Press Paperback, 305 pps, $46.95 ISBN: 978-0-415-83418-6 by Joseph Herman I n a departure from the normal subject matter of this column, for this issue I'll be taking a look at a book: Creating Visual Effects in Maya, authored by veteran animator and visual effects artist Lee Lanier. Autodesk's Maya, as with any fully featured 3D animation application, can be used for many different tasks. You can create and animate characters and creatures, build vehicles and spaceships, construct the interior and exterior of forts, and make small objects and props to be rendered photo-realistically. However, there is another side to 3D animation software: its ability to create more ethereal visual effects. This includes smoke, fire, water, hair, explosions, particle-driven effects and a host of other subtleties needed to really sell a shot. In this book, Lanier focuses on using Maya to create visual effects such as fire, water, debris and destruction (as seen on the front cover), and examines the creation of fur, hair, smoke, sparks and bubbles. In addition, the book covers how to use expressions, MEL (Maya's own embedded scripting language) and Python (a popular scripting language used extensively in the field). Other topics addressed include match-moving and motion tracking, rigid body dynamics simulation and fluid effects. Finally, there are chapters that deal with how to composite pre-rendered multi-passes using Autodesk Composite, Adobe After Effects and The Foundry's Nuke. The book starts off by taking a scene that Lanier has put together of a cavewoman sitting outside near some large rocky formations as a foundation to which to add effects. To get the necessary files so you can follow along with the lessons, you first need to visit the book's website ( and download them. Chapter 1 begins by adding foliage to the scene using Paint Effects, an interesting feature in Maya that allows you to paint 3D procedural geometry onto 3D surfaces. Paint Effects comes with pre-sets and includes such things as a variety of plants, grasses, feathers, flowers, lightening and more. In the scene with the cavewoman, Lanier has us add some plants on the ground with a Paint Effects pre-set called Cactus Grass by simply dragging around a few strokes (the plants are rooted in the strokes). Once the cactus grass has been added to the scene, we are shown how we can modify the attributes of the paint effects — size, color and others — by digging into the various Paint Effects nodes. There are a wide range of attributes that can be modified, such as leaves in clusters, leaf twist, leaf bend and leaf stiffness, to name a few. With the Paint Effects Cactus Grass, we are informed how to make them cast shadows as well as convert them to NURBS (Non-uniform rational B-spline) and polygons, which is necessary if you want to render them with the Mental Ray renderer instead of the Maya software renderer. After adding the cactus grass foliage, the book then Secrets of the Maya DIGITALLY CREATE YOUR OWN APOCALYPSE CineMontage_Jul-Aug_14-4.indd 46 6/18/14 5:54 PM

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