Maya 3D – Alternative Uses, Alternative Careers

By Geoff Beatty

Maya is well known for its role in feature animation production, special effects and the video game industry. Indeed, when students enter one of my DMA Maya classes, it’s usually one of these three things that they are interested in pursuing. However, in addition to teaching the fundamentals of Maya, I also like to broaden students’ perspective about what it can be used for. That way, when students finish the class, they not only have an understanding of the software; they also have a lot more potential job titles they could be looking at.

Augmented Reality
In a previous post, I discussed the burgeoning field of Augmented Reality (AR), and how Maya was used to create some interactive AR exhibits at MSI Chicago. This technology is not only for static displays and cameras, however. There is a growing body of AR applications for mobile devices. Users place a card or some other marker on a tabletop and then point their mobile device’s camera at the target. On screen, graphics are superimposed on the live video and users can interact with these on screen graphics, and even play games with them.

South Park

Did you know that Maya is used to create South Park? That surprises a lot of people, probably because the show looks like it was created with paper cutouts. The truth of the matter is that it takes a lot of sophisticated work to make something look this crude. While the original pilot was made with cutouts, the demands of weekly television production soon dictated a digital workflow. The production quickly moved to Maya because of its robust animation tools and virtual camera. 

Data visualization
What is data visualization? Data visualization is the art of turning information into something visible. We are all familiar with the charts and graphs in the newspaper or our science textbooks. It can be much more than just charts and graphs, and it can be much more than static 2D images. It can encompass 3D graphics, and some data is best visualized using time-based visuals, like animation and video. More and more, engineers and designers (among others) are turning to 3D software to make complex information come to life in a way that is both accessible and entertaining.

Virtual sets
If you’ve got young kids, or if you just happen to watch Sesame Street nowadays, you’re probably familiar with one of the recurring segments called Elmo’s World. Elmo’s world is made to look like a child’s drawing, and it’s got a lot of whimsical elements – dancing desks, bouncing computers, etc. Elmo is a real puppet, but almost none of the elements around him are real.  Elmo is performed in front of a blue screen, and then the background is filled in with a virtual set created in 3D. The moving furniture around him are actually digital puppets, performed in real-time with the real Elmo puppet. This approach isn’t unique to Sesame Street, as you can see from the example below. The puppets are manipulated in front of a blue screen, which is then replaced with a virtual forest set that is connected to match the moves of the real camera. It may be for kids, but like in the case of South Park, there is really sophisticated technology behind it.

And more…
In a future post, I’ll explore some more examples of alternative uses for Maya and 3D including motion graphics, non-photorealistic rendering, and even illustration. Until then, find some inspiration by perusing some of the work produced by users of Maya, as showcased on the Autodesk website.