If you’re interested in becoming a 3D video game or character designer, the first thing you want to do is learn how to use the tools of the trade. One of those tools is ZBrush.
What is ZBrush?
ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that lets artist paint, texture and model 3D computer objects.
ZBrush uses a proprietary “pixol” technology that captures all the information an artist needs to create character or object including color and lighting information.
How is ZBrush different from other 3D modeling tools? With ZBrush, users actually sculpt their objects like traditional artists might use clay or stone. Introduced in 1999 at SIGGRAPH by Pixologic Inc., today ZBrush is used by everyone from Electronic Arts to Disney to produce characters and objects for video games, movies and television.
Next-Gen Production Tools and Techniques
“I rely heavily on ZBrush to render anything organic in an environment,” Kevin Johnstone is a Senior Artist for Epic Games, the company behind the video game mega-hit Gears of War. “(ZBrush) give(s) most of my mechanical hard surface models a degree of weathering and damage so I can avoid making things look too manufactured or unused.” Learn how Epic Games used ZBrush to create Gears of War.
This advanced production tool is capable of producing anything from rocks to people and it does it with ease.
Learning how to use 3D modeling software like ZBrush starts by getting the right training – and those best practices are taught by DMA. It’s important to get the right start, why? Artist who pick up bad habits or workflow spend more time re-learning correct and industry standard methods.
Using Pixologic’s ZBrush and learning advanced digital painting and texture mapping with Photoshop® can help make you a professional digital artist. Knowing techniques for creating architecture, characters, creatures, vehicles and other objects are essential. Techniques for normal mapping, grunge-color maps and specularity maps are also important.
To create the incredible detail you see in the games, DMA teaches both fine art principles such as color theory, layout compositional design, form and structure, as well as other techniques to expand your understanding of the art of game design.
“Digital Media Academy fulfilled my passion for creating video games.”
What do you want to be?
“Ever since I was seven years old, I’ve wanted to be a video game designer. When I grow up, I want to work for Blizzard Entertainment. It’s my favorite game-development company and I have wanted to work for them since I was very young.”
What did you learn at DMA?
“At DMA, I learned how to do 3D modeling using Autodesk® Maya®, and used that skill to make a model of a StarCraft II® Void Seeker. My model was very detailed and intricate, and took a lot of work to make it look good. One of the cool things I learned (and which was vital to completing my project) was that I could model only half of the spaceship and then use the mirror feature to finish the other half, which I could do because my model was symmetrical.”
What was your most memorable camp moment?
“I really enjoyed working in class and then getting to compare my work with my classmates. That allowed me to see what other designers did and share with them what I did, and maybe help them a little on part of their work or get an idea for something cool that I could use in mine.”
How did DMA inspire you?
“To become a game developer. (DMA) gave me an environment where I could get a head-start and learn the skills I needed.”
For gamers who want to go behind the scenes and learn how to design their very own video game, Digital Media Academy’s video game design camps can turn players into creators.
DMA offers a variety of cool locations on North America’s greatest college campuses and professional instruction from instructors who have actually worked in the video game industry. The world’s best tech camp by Worth.com in 2011, DMA delivers a world-class experience.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s an age-old question, and one people ask themselves, believe it or not, well into their 40’s and 50’s. Today, computer imagery plays a major role in entertainment and even business.
From online games to super hero blockbusters like Batman, computer generated characters, environments and animation are what hold our attention. Today, it’s pretty easy to start dabbling in 3D modeling. Off the shelf and developer provided tools allow games to be modded, to add your favorite shirt to a character, or even put your face on a famous hockey player or video game fighter.
Modeling Your Future
3D modeling and animation put fantastic worlds and characters at our command. Learning 3D modeling can be the first step to a career as a game designer, a creative director or a film producer. For a technical field like 3D modeling, a four year college can be expensive, especially if you’re looking at a very technical field like 3D animation and want to have access to the newest tech.
That’s where DMA comes in, sure it’s possible to learn on your own, but learning from a professional is the smartest path. So is getting hands-on experience with the the latest hardware and software, like Maya, or 3D Studio Max. Before you know it, you could be pushing polygons around to animate the next Shrek. Or creating a video game level, or wonderful random abstract whimsical thing.
Digital Media Academy gives you a chance to get the experience and get it from expert educators who been studying and practicing what they teach for years. Teachers who will answer all the questions you can throw at them without investing in 4-5 years at college. (That’s not to say a one-week summer camp takes the place of a four-year education, on the contrary, DMA can help you get ready for a four year school or provide the skills you need to help you get a job.)
Software like Autodesk Maya and 3D Studio Max brings professional quality tools to independent artist, hobbyist, and the student with an interest in animation. Maya 3D modeling software is the industry standard for creating 3D characters and objects. Maya is used in the game, film, television and tech industries and computer generated imagery is a standard in almost every form of media.
What’s Your Experience?
In my experience as a Digital Media Academy instructor and university professor, I have seen more and more students showing up to class with prior experience creating 3D models and animation. These student artists are usually self-taught, having picked up whatever lessons they could find online and in print.
I experienced this myself when I was first learning Maya. I had first worked in Softimage and 3D Studio Max, and I had practically taught myself 3D modeling through manuals and online tutorials. (To a certain extent this method works fine, but professional instruction teaches best practices and professional techniques.) To learn Maya I thought I would go through the same experience, and was on my way to doing that when the company I worked for hired a Maya professional to come in for a few days and get our team of 3D animators up to speed on how to model, rig, and animate a character. (Yes, it’s true, even professional 3D modelling artists can benefit from Maya workshops.) I learned more in those two days than I had learned on my own in the past two years.
Not only was it personalized instruction, but I had never had someone tie it all together into such a well-organized workflow. Things made sense and were directly relevant to the 3D modeling task at hand. Now all the bits and pieces of the online tutorials and book chapters came together like puzzle pieces falling into place.
And not only was that time productive, my future self-directed learning in Maya was made more valuable because I was able to put it into the solid framework established during that 3D modeling training session.
Modeling a Career Path
Do you want to become a professional 3D animation artist? If so, you’re beginning a long and rewarding journey. My best advice? I highly recommend you take the time to get started on the right foot with some quality instruction. Digital Media Academy offers great courses to learn how to create and animate using Maya.
DMA’s Maya Certification program centers on its series of 3d modeling and animation courses. These courses are broad and deep and tackle some of the most complex problems and powerful tools in Maya, Autodesk’s industry standard software for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and visual effects. From a beginning of how to create basic shapes in Maya I, to a finalized piece with finished facial animations, body rigging, and narrative based story – the Digital Media Academy series of courses provides an intense submersion into the Maya toolkit and workflow.
Paul Randall and Karen Laszkiewicz – who attended DMA at Stanford University as part of a partnership with NOVA this past summer – in collaboration with other students at animation summer camp created the sample project displayed below. Both Paul and Karen were among the Digital Media Academy attendees who tackled all four courses back to back. The amount of technical information was huge. The requirements to process and apply the information were quick. And the necessity to work as a team came as an extra spice to the mix. Paul and Karen were integral parts of a diverse team that included participants of varying ages, abilities, gender, and nationality. They both kept learning, kept producing and working with the team through the deadline to create the final piece seen here.
This project is based on a story from a children’s book and due to time constraints does not have voice over or final render. That said, in this format you can see the scripted words (for voice over) and the skeleton (rigged, model) and other directional tools. The important thing to remember is that Paul and Karen started with no experience in 3d or Maya and after 20 days of class were able to produce this. Digital Media Academy will get you started on your new career path! The skills they departed with will enable them to pursue the field of 3d art, modeling and animation as a viable career path. What are you interested in learning with Maya? Is it time to learn new skills to be competitive in today’s employment marketplace? Why not learn new skills and have fun too at Digital Media Academy’s Maya summer camp? Please join the conversation, and leave a comment below!
Looking for more information on Maya Certification? Please click here: Maya Certification Which Digital Media Academy location will work best for you? Take a look! Please click here: Digital Media Academy Adult Training Locations.
How-To by Geoff Beatty
When you’re creating an animated character there are many things you need to consider. 3D modeling and the animation process, by default, requires constant evaluation and decision-making. That’s why it’s helpful to group the thousands of visual choices you need to make into available into basic, fundamental principles. One of the most important elements is asymmetry.
The dictionary defines asymmetry as an inequality between two parts, and in the world of mathematics, this is usually not ideal. But in the context of design (and in 3D modeling and animation in particular) asymmetry is vitally important in establishing interest and believability. Asymmetry helps to establish believability because we live in a world where things are naturally assymetrical.
Asymmetry helps to establish variation from one thing to another, in this case left to right, and makes the subject look more interesting.
For a basic example of asymmetry look no further than the human face. Take a look at the image above, which face looks more natural? The image on the left is natural, while the one on the right is mirrored, or symmetrical.
Now how does this translate into the context of 3D modeling and animation? How do we achieve asymmetry while creating a character in a program like Maya? Don’t fret, there are some simple ways to do this:
1. Create, Mirror, then Modify
A common approach to modeling characters is to work on one half and then mirror the geometry to the other side. This is a smart way to work, as it resembles the rough symmetry of most characters and simultaneously cuts the work in half.
Still this leaves us with a completely symmetrical model when we want something more believable. It looks, for lack of a better word, “computer-ish.” You can avoid this by simply altering certain elements of one side of the model through scaling or sculpting or using lattice deformers.
Modifying small elements will help bring life and believability to your model.
2. Animate with Style
How do we incorporate asymmetry into animation? While posing a model consider a more dynamic, more readable pose. During animation, motion curves representing opposite sides of the body can be offset to provide a sort of temporal asymmetry. This creates a pleasant overlap and flexibility to a characters action, an important step in creating a believable sense of weight.
Asymmetry, is a vital step in making your characters believable. The presence of asymmetry not only brings your characters to life, but indicates to the viewer, you thought about the design, both as a modeler and animator. You can learn more about 3D modeling by going to a 3D art and computer graphics camp, with the latest animation and modeling tools at your disposal, you’ll be creating 3D art in no time.
By Geoff Beatty, Lead Maya Instructor – DMA @ UPENN
One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is opening doors for my students. At the beginning of each class, I literally unlock the door to the computer lab, turn the lights on, and lead my students in. But in a more meaningful sense, I enjoy being the one (or one of many) who introduces them to a new medium, a new set of tools for creating imagery and telling stories. The part of that experience that is especially gratifying is seeing my students making connections between their respective backgrounds (e.g. illustration, music, graphic design) and this newfound world of 3D modeling and animation.
Last year, during DMA’s Maya sessions at the University of Pennsylvania campus, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach an amazingly diverse group. Among that group, there was the middle-aged illustrator from the midwest, learning a new skill. There was the recent art school graduate with a graphic design degree. There was the home-schooled high-schooler with an interest in visualization. And there was the teenage musician and composer with a talent for digital imagery.
Each person brought a unique sensability and focus to their study of Maya. And I can truly say that by the end, there were just as many unique 3D creations. The characters, environments, and animations they made each reflected a personal vision. And this is what I consider the strength of both the software, Maya, and the type of course I was teaching at DMA. My duty as an instructor was two-fold. First, I introduced students to the basics of the software. This included both the explicit features and the implicit workflow, which is the proper process and sequence for using those features. Secondly, I attempted to build on that foundational and common knowledge by guiding each student to a point where they could begin to use that tool to fulfill a personal interest or vision.
This ends up being the point at which I grow too as a 3D artist and instructor. DMA courses bring together such a variety of students that it ends up being an antidote to the homogeneity common to most 3D classrooms. I learn new things every time I interact with my students. My experience last summer was so gratifying in that respect that I couldn’t turn up the chance to teach again. I look forward to opening doors, turning on lights, and having my students do the same for me.
News from HQ by Phil Gibson
Here’s a look back at a cool animation project made at Digital Media Academy by animator Keith English, who talks here about the processes he used to make it. The project used a lot of the early versions of software tools now taught at DMA, where you can learn how to use Maya this summer. “Red Carpet” ran before every movie at the Sonoma International Film Festival of April 2009.
We were first given the poster, which the client had designed in Sonoma, California, and although they gave us carte blanche, from that point on it was obvious it needed to be styled as an art deco piece. To give it a poster-like look we rendered using only a 20-degree angle of view camera, so that it was almost orthographic with only a tiny amount of perspective, and then added a paint, cartoon and film grain filters all mixed back into the original so that everything was kept subtle.
The character models were built to be almost comic-like, flat and graphic, and the last thing we did was to take off the specular highlights on their eyes to flatten it a even more. The sets were also designed to be slightly exaggerated, especially the car of course, which is just the front end of a car. We only built just as much as we needed for each shot.
Champagne and Flash Bulbs
The champagne was created using RealFlow. The bubbles were from Maya’s underwater Paint Effects, painted onto the interior bottom of the animated glass, which had its visibility turned off, and then those bubbles rendered, taken into Shake, color corrected, then warped with a filter to look like they were inside the liquid, rotoscoped out to be seen only in the area of the liquid and finally layered over the glass as a “screen” to combine the lighter areas of both the original image and the bubbles.
The flash bulbs were created by rendering the two finished characters separately (as they were massively different scales), then rendering them again with an all white version of each character with a single spotlight ahead of their faces for the complete sequence. This created a grayscale image of each face front lit and black on the back of their heads, which when applied as a matte to a brightness node in Shake would brighten just the front of their faces.
Wrapping It Up
Their eyes were tracked, again in Shake, and a 2D flare added to the front of each eye. So now we had two complete sequences, the first with their normal face renders and the second with the flash on the front of their faces continuously including a continuous flare. Now we just used a “mix” node in Shake to dissolve between the two sequences every time we wanted a flashlight to go off. 3 frames up for the flash and 10 down for the bulb fading.
Only the bottoms of her dress and bottoms of his pants used Maya’s nCloth, with all else being regular polygonal geometry modeling. The hair on both characters was created using Joe Alter’s Shave plugin in Maya, but without any dynamics on it. Everything was rendered using Maya’s software renderer except for the champagne liquid and glass shot for which we used Mental Ray in Maya as it’s much faster with refractions. The project, from conception to delivery, took just three weeks.
Master Maya This Summer at DMA!
With locations at prestigious universities across the U.S. and Canada, Digital Media Academy offers kids (ages 6-12) and teens (12-17) expert instruction in today’s hottest creative subjects, like 3D animation with Maya. Registration is going on now for the summer camp season. Find out more at DMA!
Andy Hoffman is currently a junior at Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston, Texas, set to graduate in the Spring of 2010. Andy has known since he was 10 years old that he wanted to find a college that would allow him to get a degree in Video Game Design and allow him to go into the gaming industry.
The following is an interview with Andy. Read how Digital Media Academy inspired Andy and helped him acquire great skills that have allowed him to pursue his passion.
DMA: How old are you?
DMA: How many summers have you been attending DMA?
Andy: This will be my fourth summer.
Andy has taken the following game creation courses at DMA:
- 3d Game Creation I with 3ds Max (July 06)
- 3d Game Creation II with 3ds Max (July 07)
- 3d Game Creation III with 3ds Max and Maya (Aug. 07)
- Advanced Video Game Production I with 3ds Max, Maya, & Zbrush (July 08)
- Advanced Video Game Production II with 3ds Max, Maya, & Zbrush (July 08)
DMA: Which DMA location did you attend?
Andy: Stanford University. I enjoy the campus environment, it’s very easy to get around and a relaxing environment.
DMA: Prior to attending DMA, did you know what career path you wanted to take?
Andy: Somewhat. The main issue that prevented me from deciding to go into game design prior to attending DMA was the practicality of it.
DMA: Describe your experience at DMA.
Andy: In the past three summers I’ve learned a lot and had fun doing it.
DMA: How has DMA helped you in deciding what you would like to do when you “grow up”?
Andy: Meeting other kids with similar interests, and the instructors and speakers who came and spoke to us about the game design industry really inspired me.
DMA: Do you know which University you would like to attend?
Andy: Through the help of DMA and my high school counselor, I found several incredible options that are considered prestigious in the game industry. I’ve now narrowed my search down to Savannah College of Art and Design, Ringling College of Art and Design, Southern Methodist University, The University of Texas at Dallas, and University of Southern California. SMU offers a 5 year program that includes a masters degree as well.
DMA: What stands out the most for you from your time spent at DMA camps.
Andy: Being in high school, but living on a college campus for a few weeks out of the summer doing what I will hopefully be doing a year or two from now when I’m actually in college.
DMA: Describe the quality of the facilities, computers, instructors, etc.
Andy: Beyond expectations.
We also got a chance to talk to Andy’s mom, Joni Hoffman.
DMA: As a parent, please describe your experience with DMA.
Joni: My son Andy has been interested in Video Game Design since he was 10 years old. He attended several local video game creation computer camps offered in Houston. We found that Andy knew more than the instructors, even at a young age. He would ask questions they simply could not answer. We soon learned that Andy needed a more serious and rigorous program than what we had locally. I was thrilled to find DMA. It has been an incredible experience for Andy. This summer will be his 4th summer and unfortunately his last. He will be a senior. However because of DMA he is pursuing a degree in Video Game Design. The portfolio he has created from what he learned at DMA has helped him become a serious candidate for scholarship money at several universities that offer Video Game Design as a degree.
DMA: Do you feel that DMA is your typical camp? Explain.
Joni: NO. Living on the Stanford campus was an incredible opportunity.
DMA: Do you feel that DMA has opened your son’s eyes to know which career path he wants to pursue?
DMA attracts kids literally from all over the world who have a similar passion and interest. Andy has had roommates from the UK, Canada and France. These same kids may even reconnect someday once they are in the real world pursuing their dreams of being in the gaming industry.
DMA: Would you recommend DMA to others?
DMA: Anything else you would like to comment on about DMA?
With the state of the economy, many “stable” degrees no longer offer a guarantee of landing a good job after graduation. It’s more important than ever to pick from degrees that are going to have jobs available. The video game industry is booming and probably only going to get stronger. I think Andy is fortunate that his passion for this industry has great potential for a very successful career as an adult.
I truly believe that DMA helped shape Andy’s future and his DMA experience has definitively given him a competitive advantage in the college admissions process. Not to mention he had a blast. Kudos to the staff and counselors at DMA!
News from HQ by Philip Harding
Summer 2014 is in full swing at Digital Media Academy! Now here’s a look back at some earlier days at DMA…
Palo Alto, CA March 1, 2008 — Digital Media Academy is recognized as the premier summer camp for youngsters, teens and adults. The whole family can enjoy learning the latest digital art and media techniques from top instructors in an encouraging project-based environment using state-of-the-art equipment. The 5-day courses for kids and teenagers can be taken individually or combined for multi-week certifications at prestigious college and university campuses that includes University of Chicago, Stanford University (San Francisco area), Harvard (Boston), George Washington U. (Washington, D.C.), University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), UC San Diego, UC Berkeley and more. At DMA, your child will be taught how to design and create video games, movies and websites, while developing lifelong passion and skills that translate directly to careers in design, engineering, computer science, and more.
DMA has something for each member of the family with its diverse offering of courses. Digital Media Adventures summer computer camps cater to ages 6-12, with day and residential camps in robotics, game design, web design, filmmaking and cartoon and comic creation, taught by professionals and teachers with a passion and talent for inspiring young minds.
Teen summer tech courses for ages 12-17 are offered at beginning to advanced levels with an optional residential pre-college experience. DMA is partnered with the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus (www.lennonbus.org) to offer a music and video production course that is sure to attract students from around the world. Adults can take professional level courses in film, web design, photography, animation and more.
What better summer experience than channeling your family’s creativity and passion for video games and technology into an exciting educational experience? Contact DMA online for more details or call DMA Guest Services at (866) 656-3342 to register for classes now!