Everything I know I learned from Maya

Posted by lfraser, 26 March 2012 8:00 pm

One of the things I love about 3d is how much I've learned about other subjects that really have nothing to do directly with 3d.  Through visiting many different types of customers and working on characters and effects, it's hard not to gain a bit of knowledge whether you want to or not.  I've broadened knowledge of architecture, nature, anatomy and cinematography. I know more about the space program and the Hare Krishnas because of customer visits just off the top of my head. I know more about physics just from using Maya. I don't know about you, but when I was in college, Navier-Stokes fluid dynamics wasn't on the curriculum.  

I've learned about all kinds of topics inadvertently in the process of building characters and environments as I'm sure you have too.  I guess you could argue that art in general carries this ability, but I tend to think of 3d as working on that premise a little faster and maybe broader due to its use in so many areas through visualization.

I'm pretty sure my browser history is useless to internet ads from researching so many different topics.   Google has a hard time figuring out if I want to buy a suit of armor, a hair dryer or a footlong sub.


European Molecular Biology Lab


With that in mind, I learned quite a bit recently.  A few weeks ago while most of my co-workers were off at the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco, I got the unique opportunity to show off Maya in Heidelberg Germany at the third annual Vizbi. Vizbi is a conference focused on visualizing biological data. It was held in the EMBL, or European Molecular Biology Lab.   The DNA shaped building is in a beautiful setting just outside the city high up on a hill.  I doubt I've ever been around so many people with PHDs in my life.  So needless to say, I was glad I brushed up on what little biology I recalled from school prior to leaving.  

While there Erick Ceresato, Carlos Olguin and I got to introduce Maya and Autodesk to people looking to communicate complex molecular information in a visually compelling way. Several of the attendees were interested in protein folding, some wanted to increase the visual quality of the data they were already seeing in simpler ways and some just wanted to improve the communication power of their thesis. If you are involved in the field of life sciences or are in any way interested in different ways of data visualization, I encourage you to watch some of the videos on the Vizbi website


EMBL looking skyward from the lobby

This year Gaël McGill was one of the Co-Chairs of Vizbi. Gaël is a professor at Harvard and teaches a course specifically on using Maya for biological visualization. He also does amazing work through his company Digizyme (Digizyme http://www.digizyme.com/) and is hard at work with E. O. Wilson and others on an Apple Digital Textbook titled Life on Earth. As if that weren't enough, he co-develops a tool you may have heard of called Molecular Maya or mMaya for short.

You can download Molecular Maya from www.molecularmovies.com. The tool is very useful and easy to use for reading in protein structures and displaying them using a variety of commonly used methods. If you remember the ball and stick models from school, you'll recognize one right away.    While you're there, check out the free tutorials on not just mMaya, but many other useful bio-related Maya lessons.

If you want another overview of mMaya's capabilities, check out Eric Keller's 4 part walkthrough on YouTube. 

There are so many people out there doing great work in the field of life sciences using many of the tools found in the Autodesk Suites. Here are just a few links along with a couple of extra nanotech links so you can see what Autodesk research is up to.  


Drew Berry Ted Talk




AXS studio




David Goodsell








Autodesk Research




I'd love to see your favorite life sciences or bio-medical work as well anything you've learned in the course of using 3d that you weren't expecting.

Fire away in the comments.




Posted 27 March 2012 9:54 pm

Very nice article, I really like the title "Everything I know I learned from Maya" and if someone ask me I will say the same. Everything I know about the stuff you wrote (except the biological molecular part) I learned from Maya. Space time Tangents etc...
I am really a big fan of the Autodesk Maya software and its really good to know its utilization in different fields of visualizations.
Thanks for the links it has broaden my vision and helped me understand more!


Posted 28 March 2012 2:01 am

Agree with every word you wrote. CG is just a hobby for me, but the same goes for software engineering. Every time we write software for different area of our life, one becomes an expert in that field. It's really cool!


Posted 29 March 2012 6:35 am

Hi Lee, nice article, great that you have posted something on your adventure to the Vizbi conference!
I really enjoyed chatting with you and your two colleagues in Heidelberg. Hopefully you folks at Autodesk will stay interested in our small world of structural biology and support the people who struggle with high-end software just to let their proteins hop around... thanks for putting up a link to Spronk3D, highly appreciated!
best from Berlin,
- barth

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