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The Definitive Resource for Up-and-Coming 3D Game Artists

Alias' award-winning Maya 3D animation and effects software continues to lead the industry in technological innovation and is being adopted by more and more console and computer game developers. The Game Artist's Guide to Maya is an official introduction to creating 3D game art and animations with Maya, brought to you by Maya Press, a publishing partnership between Alias and Sybex. Written by a production artist at a prominent game company, this detailed book focuses on the skills real game artists use daily to create stunning characters and environments.

By following the discussions and tutorials, you'll bring a concept through the entire game art development pipeline, learning everything from modeling, texturing, rigging, and animation, to special effects. You'll also glean insights from industry professionals and see how Maya has been used in popular games. If you're a 3D game artist, or looking to become one, this book will help you master the skills and techniques you'll need to excel in the competitive games industry.

Inside, you'll learn how to:

  • Create a game model using a concept image as your guide
  • Model with predetermined real-time polycount limitations in mind
  • View martial arts videos on the book's CD to animate your character more realistically
  • Prepare a model for texturing with UV mapping and layout techniques
  • Create different kinds of textures
  • Master the rigging process, from setting up a skeleton to preparing blend shapes
  • Practice techniques for creating animation clips to work with in the Trax Editor
  • Use particle effects, such as sprites and animated geometry, to add pizzazz to your model
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780782143768
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/21/2005
  • Edition description: BOOK & CD
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 9.25 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael McKinley is a 3D artist at Warthog Games in Austin, Texas. He is an online instructor at as well as, and previously taught a Maya course at Collins College (Phoenix).

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Read an Excerpt

The Game Artist's Guide to Maya

By Michael McKinley

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7821-4376-8

Chapter One

The Game Industry

For many aspiring digital artists, a job in the game industry is the dream of a lifetime. Whether it's fashioning fantastic worlds and characters from scratch or painstakingly re-creating accurate World War II submarines, the life of a game artist can be greatly rewarding. A game artist's career comes with its fair share of challenging times, however. The more you know early in your career, the better off you will be. Before you delve into learning the ins and outs of art production, take a moment to understand not only what is expected of you as a game artist, but also what the game industry is all about.

Developers and Publishers

More often than not, games are created through a partnership between two distinct companies known as a developer and a publisher. The developer is the company that actually creates the game-design, art, programming, etc. The publisher takes that game, markets it, and distributes it throughout the rest of the country or world.

The relationships between developers and publishers have evolved in many ways. These relationships are normally divided into three categories:

First-Party Developers

Second-Party Developers

Third-Party Developers

First-Party Developers These developers are entirely owned by their publishers. One example is Nintendo. In addition tobeing Nintendo, the creator of the Nintendo-brand gaming consoles (Game-Boy Advance, Nintendo Gamecube, and the Nintendo DS) and publisher of games, they are also Nintendo, the developer. Their trademark games, such as Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda, are games they create themselves using teams of developers under their employ.

Second-Party Developers These independent developers are not owned by a publisher. They have signed agreements giving a specific publisher the exclusive right to publish their titles. An example is Naughty Dog, the developer of popular titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. They have signed exclusive publishing rights to Sony.

Note: The defining line between firs-party and second-party developers is a thin one. Generally, a firs-party developer can be considered an in-house department of the publisher, while a second-party developer is a separate entity.

Third-Party Developers These developers are the most common type. They sign contracts with a publisher on a per-game basis. In fact, many third-party developed games are released on multiple gaming platforms. Warthog is an example of this type of developer. They have developed games, such as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, for the Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube. For this particular title, Warthog partnered with Electronic Arts, a publisher that arranges distribution deals for all major game platforms.

Artist Jobs

As an artist in the game industry, you will eventually work for a developer of some sort. But what jobs are available for someone of your talents? A variety of jobs are available in the art departments of game developers.

Note: The positions at game studios vary greatly. A 3D Artist at one studio may have a completely different set of responsibilities or duties compared to a 3D Artist at another. I can, however, give you a general idea of what you might expect in such positions. These generalizations should help you better understand the kinds of jobs available to you in this industry.

Junior Artist A Junior Artist is most likely the kind of job you can expect to find when first entering the industry. With little or no prior game experience, a Junior Artist will usually be hired into a company primarily to create background elements for the developing games and to learn about the development process.

Many studios hire Junior Artists on a temporary basis. These positions are used to ramp up the art staff to handle the stress period of the development schedule, eventually ramping back down as the game nears completion. You must prove that you are a capable and talented artist during these kinds of arrangements, so that you can increase your chances of becoming a permanent employee.

3D Artist The role of a 3D Artist (or Staff Artist) is fairly generic in title if not in duty. As unexciting as this position might sound, it could very well be the position with the most exciting variety of duties. As a 3D Artist, your duties could require you to create just about anything-vehicles and weapons, structures and environments, characters and creatures, planets and star fields, and beyond. In most cases, 3D Artists make up a large percentage of a studio's art department, and the position can be divided into three main categories:

Modeler A Modeler is an artist responsible for creating the geometry, or shape, making up an object or character in a game. Modeling will be explained in greater detail in Chapter 2.

Texture Artist A Texture Artist takes the completed 3D model and applies textures to create the "skin" of the object. In most cases, the same person acts as both the Modeler and the Texture Artist. The process of applying textures to a model will be explained in greater detail in Chapter 3. Animator An Animator is an artist who is responsible for rigging and animating the characters, creatures, etc., found in a game. They rarely are involved with the modeling or texturing of a game model. Instead, they focus on that model's movement. Rigging and animating a game model will be explained in greater detail in Chapters 4 and 5, respectively.

Concept Artist Concept Artists are responsible for creating the look of the game world. The Concept Artist uses traditional art mediums such as pencil and paper (or stylus and monitor) to illustrate ideas and concepts (environments, characters, vehicles, etc.). These designs, once approved, are then given to the 3D Artists to develop into the game.

Character Artist, Environment Artist, Etc. A Character Artist (or an Environment Artist) is a specialist who is responsible for creating (and sometimes animating) the characters and creatures or the environments and structures found in a game. Such specialized positions are generally filled at larger studios, where there are enough people to make such positions viable.

FX Artist An FX Artist (or Effects Artist) is responsible for creating the many particle effects found in games. These can range from weather effects like rain and snow to action effects like the flash of a gun barrel. The vast majority of such effects are done entirely with sprites, small planes that are affected by dynamic forces. Particle effects in games will be explained in greater detail in Chapter 6.

Technical Artist A Technical Artist is like a blend between an artist and a programmer. While they have the creative responsibilities of an artist, they also have the scripting and programming skills to create scripts and plug-ins for Maya or other applications to make the artists' jobs easier and more efficient.

A Technical Artist can also be responsible for creating setup tools, such as a common animation rig that is used for all of the characters in the game.

Cinematic Artist The art created for cinematics is generally done in much the same way that computer graphics are created in television and film, without the constraints or limitations of their in-game counterparts. If you want to be a Cinematic Artist, this book might not help you as much as it will help you with some of the other jobs in this list. For more information on this job position, see Maya Character Animation, 2nd Edition, by Jae-jin Choi (Sybex, 2004)

Senior Artist A Senior Artist is someone who more than likely has been in the industry for a number of years or who has a couple of published games on their resume. They are generally the ones given more important responsibilities, such as main characters or other critical elements, in a game project.

Lead Artist Lead Artists are put in charge of a group of artists within a team. They ensure that their group follows instructions and accomplishes their goals on time. They are generally the first people who review a finished art asset before it is sent along on the approval process. While Lead Artists incorporate more management into their roles than most others, they also tend to have at least some art production duties of their own. Depending on the size of the team, a project can have any number of Lead Artists.

Art Director The Art Director holds the top position in the artist chain of command. His responsibilities focus on managing and scheduling the rest of the art staff, hiring and firing, and other such managerial duties.

Note: How much money does a game artist make? The answer is highly relative. The latest results (as of this writing) from the Game Development Salary Survey can be found at features/20040211/olsen_01.shtml.

It's becoming more and more common to find many of these positions combined into a single person's job. For example, most Modelers are also expected to be very capable Texture Artists. When browsing a studio's Help Wanted list, always keep the other job criteria in mind. Make sure that you are at least familiar with the whole process that goes into creating a piece of game art, as you never know when you may be called upon to pick up the slack in another department.

Getting the Job

Getting that foot in the door of a game development studio can be challenging. It's mostly a matter of the quality of your portfolio, but applying for the right job at the right time with a little bit of luck can be a big factor. If you don't have much luck in your first few attempts to find a job, have patience and keep trying. With a quality portfolio and the willingness to travel, you should eventually find a job.

Your portfolio is the most important tool you need to get that first job. I also recommend creating a website. Even something simple with only your portfolio of images and animation and an e-mail address is better than nothing. A website will give your potential employers something that is easy to click through, so they can get a good idea of your potential skill. Preparing a demo reel is definitely a good idea. Here are some demo reel tips:

Don't make your opening too long. An opening sequence that shows your name and contact info is fine, but don't make it too long. Two or three seconds should be enough. Don't forget that a viewer can pause it. Try to make sure any blank, silent time before the reel starts is as short as possible. Employers can be pretty impatient, and if they don't see something within a few seconds, they might just discard the reel before it starts.

Put your best work first. Many employers might not have the patience to view an entire reel, or they may simply not have the time. Putting your best work up front will get their interest early, which may entice them to watch the rest of the demo. If a weak piece is the first thing they see, they may not wait to see the awesome work you display later.

Use a pleasant music track. A reel doesn't necessarily need to be an audio extravaganza, but you should put some sort of music to your reel to keep the viewer's ears busy. Silence during a reel's playback can seem boring, even if the work being shown is good. Adding that little aural touch can help make watching your reel a more appealing experience, which is always a good thing!

Keep it short and sweet. Try to limit the length of your reel to two or three minutes. As it approaches the four-minute mark, no matter how good the work is, employers may start looking at their watches. Get their attention with a short, high-quality reel. If you have additional work, they can look at your website or request more directly from you.

Don't dwell too long on a single piece. When your reel is short, focusing on a single piece for thirty seconds or more may seem conspicuously like padding your reel for length. Don't be afraid to have a shorter reel, but make sure the work is your best.

Keep your reel focused. Customize your reel for the job to which you are applying. If you are applying for a Modeler/Texture Artist position, don't have too much animation or other, off-topic work. Otherwise, you're just wasting the employer's time. If applying to different kinds of jobs, make multiple reels that focus on the jobs in question.

Label your work accurately. Make sure that the employer understands what your contribution is to the work they are viewing. If you collaborated with a group to complete a certain piece of work, send a breakdown sheet, a description of the reel that details the project title, what the piece was used for, and your role in its creation. This way employers can focus on your work and not someone else's. If you did all the work yourself, say so.

Be kind. Rewind. Possibly the most frequently committed mistake that job candidates make is forgetting to rewind their reels before sending them to potential employers. Don't forget to rewind your VHS reel before you submit it.

Note: Make sure you carefully read the submission requirements of a job ad. Many will specifically ask for a website or a VHS reel rather than other, more-modern media. CDs and DVDs are not as desirable because of the many different DVD brands and audio/video codes out there that potentially won't work on their players. In contrast, a VHS tape works with any VCR.

Art Tests

Employers frequently ask applicants to complete an art test. This is usually a good sign, because it means they are interested in you for the job and they want to see how you perform a given task.

Art tests are also given to make sure that the work you are taking credit for is actually yours. If you deliver an out-of-this-world demo reel, but your art test results are poor, they may call into question your truthfulness.

But in most cases, the art test is to gauge your performance for their current project. After all, you may have shown in your demo reel that you can create awesome skyscrapers and motor bikes, but can you do just as well with a war elephant and a halfling tree camp? The art test will find out. Make sure you're prepared.

Crunch Time

The thought of creating games is obviously very appealing. One common misconception, however, is that working at a game studio means you're just playing games all day. That could not be further from the truth! In fact, your game-playing time might dwindle because of the amount of work that is involved. It can be fun work, but it is work just the same.

Most people interested in game development have heard of the dreaded crunch time. This refers to a period of time in a game's development schedule where overtime is mandatory in order to meet fast-approaching deadlines. What was once a fairly mild 9-hour day, suddenly balloons to 12, 15, or more hours a day. Crunch time can potentially last weeks or even months on end.

The best way to avoid massive amounts of crunch time is to do your best to get things done efficiently, accurately, and on schedule during your normal workday. Some crunch should probably be expected. However, if everyone on a project works together and makes full use of their time, it can be minimized.

The Game Development Pipeline

The art production pipeline is the path that a game object takes from beginning to end, from conception to effects. This path actually comprises only one facet of the overall Game Development Pipeline. Understanding the pipeline processes early is a great asset to potential employers, as it gets you that much closer to being able to contribute to it.


Excerpted from The Game Artist's Guide to Maya by Michael McKinley Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 The Game Industry.

Developers and Publishers.

Artist Jobs.

Getting the Job.

Art Tests.

Crunch Time.

The Game Development Pipeline.

Chapter 2 Polygonal Modeling.

Game Art Limitations.

Game Modeling Common Tools and Commands.

Game Modeling Pointers.


Edge Flow.



Reference Usage.


Scale and Orientation.

Tutorial: Creating the Weapon.

Creating the Blade.

Creating the Hilt and Grip.

Tutorial: Creating the Character Model.

Creating Silenus's Head.

Creating Silenus's Body.

Creating Silenus's Armor.

Chapter 3 Texturing.

Texturing in the Gaming World.

Mapping UVs.

UV Projection Commands.

The UV Texture Editor.

Texture Resolutions and Formats.

Alpha Channel and Pixel Shader Effects.

UV Mapping the Sword.

UV Mapping the Body.

UV Mapping the Torso.

UV Mapping the Leg.

UV Mapping the Arm.

UV Mapping the Armor.

UV Mapping the Head.

The Hypershade.

Applying a Material to a Model.

Applying a Texture to a Material.

Optional Procedures.

The 3D Paint Tool.

Vertex Coloring.

Baking Normal Maps.

Texture Painting Tips.

The Finished Model.

Chapter 4 Rigging.

Skeletons and Joints.

Creating a Skeleton.

The Pelvis and Legs.

The Spine.

The Arms.

The Hands.

Extra Joints.

Setting the Local Rotation Axis.

Forward and Inverse Kinematics.

Leg IK.

Displaying Selection Handles.

Armor Parenting.

Binding to the Skeleton.

Painting Weights.

Joint Rotation Limits.

Eye Controls.

Rigging the Face.

Blend Shapes.

Binding the Head.

Set Driven Key.

Facial Skeletons.

Creating SDK Controls.

Sword Constraints.

Chapter 5 Animation.

Creating a Character Set.

Editing the Character Set.

Creating a Subcharacter Set.

Creating a Quality Animation.

Animation Reference.

Making an Attack Animation.

Creating Emphasis.

Modify Timing in the Trax Editor.

Secondary Motion.

Idle Animation.

Forward Movement.

Blending Between Clips.

The End?

Chapter 6 Particle Effects.


Creating a Sprite Effect.

Adjusting the Effect.

Creating a Second Effect.

Continuing the Dust Effect.

Geometry Effects.

Creating Impact Effects.

Additional Helpful CD Files.

Final Thoughts.


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