The Learning Day at Escape studios was great fun, if totally exhausting. I can't remember the last time I felt that (mentally) wiped out. And really, that was a bit unexpected after only a deceptively simple set of exercises. I think it's the mental tiredness I used to experience when working in IT; something I haven't encountered for a long while. When you've intensely concentrated for several hours on the trot and have had to assimilate a lot of information in a short time. Maybe a bit like being in Higher Education (that's if you're actually trying to learn, versus spending your time in the pub...).
In the last two years I might have worked hard physically, but it's a different sort of tired.
When I got home last night I had something to eat, watched Chicken Run (with newfound respect, I must add) and fell asleep on the bed. Was woken up by Timo's call at around 1am: "I'm leaving work." The poor sod had a stupid-busy day.
The software packages we used at Escape were Shake and Maya. I felt immediately at home with Shake; sure, it wasn't simple, but at the same time it felt really intuitive and the concepts were fairly familiar. I've done enough Photoshop work and I "get" certain things more easily than others, so the Shake part of the day was definitely enjoyable on that level. In fact, I wished we could have done more with it. When I begun to understand the power of this package, it was time to stop. It definitely left me wanting to explore it further.
Not so much with Maya. I've had the Maya personal learning edition installed for a while, but unlike Photoshop, which I was able to just play around with in the beginning, until I started learning how to use it properly... well, my experience with Maya was definitely not the same! When I'd looked around it before, I just felt overwhelmed. It didn't seem to have a natural way to learn by trial and error because even to do the simplest thing, you'd have to know some of the basics about the interface and various tools. So you have to have an understanding of it even to get started.
Hence why this introduction to the package seemed like a good way to start; to just get an idea of what Maya was like; just to see whether it'd be something I could get my head around and to possibly even enjoy, or to do something useful with.
Our first task was to get somewhat familiar with the interface. So we made a simple ball shape and animated it to make it bounce. This eased us into the software. So far so good. I didn't fall behind, crash the software, or make my ball resemble a Sea Urchin (like some others in the class). Awesome.
Then, we were asked to open a file with two elements already in place: a human hand (with one digit missing; an odd-looking four-fingered hand) - and a polygon block floating above it. We were informed that the task would be to shape the hand out of the block. So far so good. The beginning all made sense; how to modify the polygon shapes into resembling the hand's structure; how to use the different views available, etc, etc.
However, at the point which the tutor had modelled two perfect fingers, my hand was more like a fairly creepy multi-digit space sausage. At least I hadn't created a zig-zagged 3D chess board like the student sat next to me.
Still. A space sausage. So, by this time I felt uncomfortable and like I'd just fallen off the wagon; the tutor had moved onto explaining skinning and I still had one of the four digits missing and the remaining ones wiggling at me, all misshapen and sausage-y from the screen.
In the end, we animated the "hand" to wave bye-bye. I'm thinking I could apply for SFX in horror films.
I stayed behind to chat with the tutor, who, incidentally, had started from a similar background to mine - from drawing and illustration to software and so on. She'd gone down the animation route fairly early on and I have a feeling that this is the crucial difference; I seem to be happier and more intrigued by the still image and by the 2D (or 2-and-a-half-D, as described by our Shake tutor) world. I expressed my doubts to the Maya tutor and she told me not to be so discouraged. She also mentioned that Maya is also a powerful texturing/skinning tool and that those skills are extremely useful in the industry.
Overall, I really enjoyed my Learning Day. It was exactly what I had hoped - a glimpse into the world of cutting edge digital effects, and a way for me to assess whether it'd be worth trying to learn any of these packages.
I think my next software investment will be Corel's Painter 9 (or whatever version will be out by the time I can afford the price tag!). I doubt I'll be delving much deeper into 3D. I don't have the hunger for it - and the work does not happen by magic. Those packages are a tool, just like Photoshop is - the work is only going to be as good as the skills and patience of the user.
However, if 3D would be something that I'd want to pursue career-wise, then Escape Studios would be a very good way to get into it. I'd recommend them on many levels - the tutors all have extensive industry experience, or are currently working in the industry - and the studios and equipment all seemed appropriate and professional.
My only warning would be: take a packed lunch. And a book. Because at lunch, or breakfast, or just about any other time of the day, you may not want to go out. Sheperd's Bush (at least the bit around the studios/Tube) is a DUMP. Hobos falling over on the road; two branches of McDonald's within 500 metres of oneanother, a KFC, some dodgy all-you-can-eat buffet, a small Starbucks with sullen staff, a slum shopping centre with a Morrisons. Nice.