Written by Zero Dean 1997
Most folks don’t understand that what they want to do is really HARD.
People see a computer animated movie, TV show, or some cool images on the web…they think, “Yeah baby! I wanna’ do that!”. They end up putting a good sum of money into buying software and plug-ins (not to mention a machine that can handle this stuff!) only to eventually have this stuff sit on a shelf gathering dust. Ok, maybe it won’t gather dust, but it is likely these folks will not really end up using their software to its fullest potential.
There is a common misconception that in order to get a job in the industry or to be any good, you have to spend _a lot_ of money to do it. It is very easy to spend money in this area. And you know what? The software companies love you for it!
Who else loves you? The 3D schools and educational institutions. They have most folks convinced that in order to be successful in this industry you have to go to school for it. This is a misconception. A solid education _is_ important and highly recommended, but you do not have to go to an extremely expensive school to get a 3D education to be a success.
What these schools will teach you are the Principles of Animation (see: The Principles of Animation). These principles are not secrets. They are out in the open for everyone to learn. Whether you are in high school, college or just on your own, you can start learning what you need to know _now_!
What schools really have over self education are four things…
- 1) Contacts: It’s been said before, I’ll say it again, it’s not always _what_ you know, but _who_ you know.
- 2) An interactive environment: A place where other students and deadlines are pushing you to your limits.
- 3) Instruction and insights from a master animator: Good teachers know how to make what they teach you stick…long after you have left the classroom.
- 4) Access to the facilities: Professional software and tools. In many cases, however, you can save enough money by not attending one of these schools to purchase your _own_ facilities!
How you decide to be educated is your own decision. There are definite plusses and minuses for both methods. In any case, a solid understanding of a wide range of artistic skills (lighting, composition, etc) is pretty much required. Just remember that an education is important, but spending a gazillion dollars on the best animation school in the country isn’t absolutely necessary to be a success.
My suggestion for newbies looking into 3D software would be Animation Master from Hash Inc. This package is available for $199 ($135 with a student discount). And while many may see me spouting AM’s virtues often, I don’t do so blindly or without consideration for the other software packages on the market. It just, as an investment, you don’t have much to lose if you decide this “3D thing” isn’t for you.
AM is cross platform and offers _everything_ you need to become a proficient animator and modeler. And if you can show proficiency in the program by outputting some great models and animations, you _will_ get a job. There is more of a demand for _talent_ in this industry than there is for specific software skills. After all, not everyone has talent…but even a monkey can learn software.
Next, try to learn the program as best you can. If you find 3D is difficult, welcome to reality. Don’t blame the software…it really doesn’t get _much_ easier. Other programs will do the same things and certainly in different ways, but in the end the skill-set you need to learn is pretty much the same. Sure, there are other programs with plug-ins that do the work for you, and don’t require much thinking, but you lose a lot of control over your art… that sort of thing isn’t going to show off your talent.
And yes, if this is something you are serious about, you will eventually (unless Hash can finally create an all-around rock solid piece of software) most likely want to add another piece of 3D software to your arsenal of tools… whether it’s Lightwave, Max2, Softimage, or something else (every program has its strong points!). But as a newbie, AM has everything you need. As for professionals…this software is often praised as rivaling even Softimage’s features.
AM is also a good choice because I’d recommend for everyone to learn _splines_ BEFORE they learn polygons. Why? Because learning these in the opposite order can make your head explode. Unfortunately, since polygonal based programs are most accessible, most folks learn them first… and a lot of heads do indeed explode when they get to splines. It is not because splines are difficult, it is because they are _different_. They require your brain to look at 3D space in a way it will be unaccustomed to (or even resistant to if you are used to polygons).
So anyway, learn AM first and then move onward from there. If you find 3D is too hard, then you will have only lost of a portion of the money you would have otherwise spent elsewhere. Be wary, many newbies will pull this one…
“Animation Master is so hard to learn! I don’t really like it, so I’m going to buy a REAL program like LW3D or Max2. These programs must cost more because they are the REAL thing…not like AM. And boy, the plug-ins I can get for these other programs are cool!”
Sorry pal, AM is the REAL thing too. You’re fooling yourself if you think other software is A) going to be considerably easier to learn B) going to make you better. Every program has its strengths…whether it’s an awesome renderer, great character animation features, or open architecture. But I’ll say it again, there are skills basic to all 3D software that you need to learn. It doesn’t matter which program you use.
And yes…it’s hard not to want programs like LW or Max when they have so many cool looking plug-ins…
Wow Hair! Wow Cool Muscle Sculpting! Wow, “Auto Texturing”! Wow Particles! Well, take a step back from the plug-ins for a minute to focus on what is most important… TALENT. None of these plug-ins are going to show you have talent. I know they look cool, but none of these plug-ins will get you a job. If your demo reel relies heavily on any of these, too bad for you. These types of plug-ins that everyone drools over are simply icing on the cake for folks who have shown they have talent and want to add more complexity to their animations. Don’t use plug-ins as a crutch for lack of animation skills.
Plug-ins do a lot to sell 3D software and 3D companies love them for it. Just think, every time the plug-in is advertised, so is the software. However, if you want to buy a 3D software package because of a plug-in, there is a problem. Do your homework! Don’t let plug-ins make your software investment decisions for you!
Before hair, before particles, before morphing or whatever, you want to show a proficiency in TIMING, MOVEMENT, and other disciplines related to the Principles of Animation (see: The Principles of Animation article). These are skills that may take years to develop and these are skills you can get directly from using AM. Don’t waste your time and energy (and even money) learning skills (ie. various plug-ins) that will be of little use to you. Master the basics first!
And as others have mentioned, there really isn’t one piece of software that does _everything_ perfectly or offers all the features both Customer A and Customer Z are going to want or need. Most companies that are serious about what they do use a combination of programs… Soft, Alias, 3D Studio Max2… whatever. In the end it’s not about what software or computer platform you used to produce something, it’s about the quality of the output. It’s about the art itself.
Software and hardware in the end are just tools. AM can be viewed as a “hammer”. If you think about it, all tools (and many objects that are not tools) are eventually used as a hammer. Go with the flow. Learn the skills of the hammer first. Eventually you may need a wrench…so when the time comes, add it to your toolbox. And one day, when you need to use the wrench as a hammer, you’ll know how because you’ll have the experience. ;)
Did I lose anyone with that one?