One of my goals this summer has been to buckle down and finally learn some 3D modeling techniques that don't require include statements and callback functions. I started out working with Blender, an open source 3D modeling package, after seeing a demonstration by Roger Wickes. Blender has some impressive features and an impressive learning curve to match. It's capabilities are impressive. If you haven't seen it check out Big Buck Bunny, an animated 3D short put together by Blender volunteers.
Blender is great, but as my job hunt continues I've found that a number of employers would really like to see some experience with one or more of the popular commercial packages. I've shied away from these in the past because they are all so darned expensive, but it turns out that Autodesk (who for some reason seems to own just about all of them), has a student program in which you can get free licenses for extended periods. Hurray!
I've spent the last few weeks learning Maya, which it turns out is not that hard, at least for basic modeling. I've been through a few tutorials, but I decided a few days ago to try and make something for myself, so I started on a model of the hacker crab I designed for the corporate training materials. Here's what I've got so far:
Here you can see the wireframe of the model. The model itself is in blue. The orange and yellow objects are bones which rig the character like a puppet so that I can articulate his arms and legs for animation.
If I turn the surfaces on you can get a better look at the model. In this form he's a little blocky, but that's ok. Maya uses a system called subdivision surfaces that round over blocky geometry like this to make a smooth model algorithmically. This means that the model itself contains fewer polygons, and so is easier to store and manipulate. Pretty clever huh? You can thank (among others) Edwin Catmull, computer scientist and current head of Disney Animation via Pixar.