3 Ways to Quickly Learn Autodesk Maya 2

Autodesk Maya

When I first started learning Autodesk Maya in 2010, it was in a school environment at Video Symphony. The Motion Graphics program I had been taking had a total of about 25 classes to go through in order to graduate with a certification in Motion Graphics for Post Production. It was towards the end of these classes, as I was starting the advanced module, that I began my introduction into Maya for the first time.


Autodesk Maya

When I first started learning Autodesk Maya in 2010, it was in a school environment at Video Symphony. The Motion Graphics program I had been taking had a total of about 25 classes to go through in order to graduate with a certification in Motion Graphics for Post Production. It was towards the end of these classes, as I was starting the advanced module, that I began my introduction into Maya for the first time.

From the very first day, my frustration with Maya began. I could tell right away that there was going to be a huge learning curve attached to this software. It looked completely foreign to me from the very minute I opened up the program. It looked like the inside controls of a spaceship cockpit! There were buttons, tabs and diagrams on every side, multiple menu options to choose from and a timeline. Even the viewing grid space had its own buttons and menu set.

I struggled pretty bad through the two week class. To me, It was a complete failure to grasp these new 3D concepts I was learning about. As I slowly learned how the user interface worked, I grew even more confused at the volume of capability and options available for me to choose from. Even after two weeks, I would have confused myself trying to explain the difference of functionality between the Channel Box and the Attribute Editor. It was complicated.

I was relieved when the class was over, but anxious about a new Autodesk Maya class our cohort was taking the next month. This next class dealt more with combining 2D images with the 3D geometry we could create in this program. It did help a lot to have gone through the first class. I wasn’t totally lost this second time around and the class was only three days long.

Because of the short length of time though, it was very rushed to take in all the info given. Between the two classes, I was disappointed I had a lack of understanding of how the program fully operated. I had a little, but I wished I had known more.

A couple of months went by and I finished my required classes, but noticed I felt left behind in a lot of areas of my schooling. My skills weren’t good enough to get work from my experience anytime soon. It became clear there was still a need for more time with the programs I had learned over the last 8 months.

Second wave of learning

One fortunate benefit to my schooling was the ability to re-take classes I had already been through. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to get a better understanding if I took some of the classes again. When the Maya class became available for me at the end of the year, I jumped on the chance to sign up.

The second time around of taking Maya classes came and went really quickly. This time, I struggled less and had a better teacher who was not only able to explain concepts better, but also inspired me towards character animation; something I wasn’t expecting to learn about at all. The acting situations and the performance in character animation jump-started my desire to really dig into the Autodesk Maya software program and find out everything that I could about it. It was no longer something that I had to do to meet a requirement for school.

In trying to find out all I could about how to learn Maya outside a class environment, I came upon several different ways of learning. There wasn’t one specific way I came to know this program the best, it was a combination of efforts. Maya, takes years of dedication to learn. Even professionals who work with the program constantly, comment that they nearly learn something new about it every day. If they continue to learn, you need every possible way of help you can get.

Because of my own struggle with my learning, I realize that there may be a lot of people who may need help in starting at the beginning. They may be curious in what areas they should invest their time and money in to see the quickest results.

These are the resources that I’ve invested my time in through a lot of trial and error.  I’m still continuing to learn through these resources years later. They’ve really helped me get over the edge of the learning curve, and I can say that I now feel comfortable using Maya now.

Trial versions

If you don’t already own Maya, before you use these resource recommendations, I suggest that you obtain a copy by downloading a free 30 day trial of Autodesk Maya 2015. This link will lead you directly to a main download page, and not to worry, this is not an affiliate link of any kind.

If you’re a student, and meet Autodesk student requirements, a free personal version is available to you for three full years in their Autodesk Education Community. Get this if you can! It’s completely worth filling out the information form. I’m barely entering year two.

The student version comes without watermarks, which is important. It means that I can do anything the program is capable of, including using what I create on my demo reel. The only negative I’ve seen from this version is minor. You will have a pop-up notify you that it is a student license and you are bound to your agreement. Not too big of a deal, right? This pop-up comes up every time you save your project, which can be quite often if you are smart and thinking ahead.

If you aren’t a student, and you’ve already gone through a free 30 day trial, I would highly recommend buying this software program. There are so many directions 3D is moving in, it would be beneficial to your career for years to come and set you on a path to your own animation or visualization goals.

You can feel free to go to my Amazon affiliate link for Autodesk Maya 2015 (It also includes a 1-Year Maintenance Subscription) and read more about the software benefits available to you there. You can also use the contact form above if you have any questions I can answer about the program before you make a purchase. If you make the decision to buy through the above link, I do receive a commission at no additional cost to you.

So, without further ado, here are 3 awesome resources I would highly recommend to someone just starting out. I’ve found these very helpful in my journey to getting better with Autodesk Maya:


1: Autodesk Maya website training path


Autodesk has a lot of accessible features to help you learn their software programs from beginner to advance levels. Check out this page for a complete list of what they have available for you directly.

Most of the tutorials I found helpful on this page were the PDF files. It’s basically a book for you to go through in PDF form. You could probably switch it over to your tablet if you have one and use it as your second screen while working on your main computer. This is what I did.

There’s also a page full of beginner videos and a link of Autodesk Maya’s YouTube channel. You’ll also get some basic videos once you download the program. So, either way, you are bound to use these videos at some point. During school, these greatly helped me orient how to operate the tools associated with the program.

If you would like a forum to ask questions, Industry news, or a Gallery of artists’ work, Autodesk has you covered there as well. Click on their Area community to access additional resources you may also find useful or for simple inspiration.


2: Digital-tutors.com

This site isn’t free. Far from it. But, it was probably the best investment I’ve ever made when it comes to learning software programs. It helped me directly with my Maya training, but is not exclusive to that program alone if you wanted to learn others. It comes out to $45/month unless you buy in 6 month or yearly increments, then it winds up with a month or two less, depending on the option you choose.

I’ve used Lynda.com before and this far surpasses anything I’ve ever come across in lessons there. There is a large amount of detail that would be hard to find anywhere else. I have nothing but good things to say about this site. They update regularly and stay on top of industry standard, production quality training. In fact, a lot of studios buy licensing to help their employees get up to speed fast. This should say a lot about how this company delivers a quality product.

They too have a free demo trial. Now they only provide selective courses and lessons of their choosing, but you will be able to see the sheer amount of lessons they provide if you were to sign up with them. I tell people about this site on my own if I know they are into any kind of professional design software.

The only negative thing about this site is a big one to me, but may not be for you. Once you stop paying the membership fee, you lose all access to the videos that have trained you and helped you learn. You either learn it and use it, or you don’t and there’s nothing more you can do about it–minus some hacking techniques maybe? You have no way of saving your videos to review as reference any longer.

When they first converted to a membership site a few years ago, they did have this option available through an adobe product, but that’s a thing of the past. I only wish I could retain some of the value I paid for after my membership is over.

***Update: 10/31

Digital-Tutors has recently been working on an app for a better user experience with their videos. One of the new features they are planning to roll out in the near future is an Offline Beta player.

At the moment, they are testing it out on members, by invite only. This will be a way for members to have access up to 12 courses offline (as long as they have a membership).

Overall, if you have the opportunity to do so, I would use this site constantly. It’s a wealth of information that you will never stop learning from. To me, it’s hands down the best in learning design software. You will come to understand details that you won’t find anywhere else.

Since referencing is always handy to have and go back to on a continual journey of learning, it brings me to one last way of learning if videos don’t allow you to study as well. Another option would be to learn from this next resource:


3: Books

Video has helped make things a lot easier to learn things over the internet these last few years. But, sometimes you need to go through lessons listed in a book, take your time to focus on words, instead of going back and forth on a screen. It can be easier on the eyes over time and allow you to focus on what the author is trying to get across to you. Sometimes, in a video, if you miss something important, you might not realize it until further into the project.

When I first started learning Maya, I was given a pretty thick book called “Learning Autodesk Maya 2008-Foundation” by Autodesk Maya Press. This is the first book I started with when I really wanted to figure out Maya for animation. It’s one of those books where you put your nose to the grindstone and just dig in and go through the lessons. Even if you don’t end up understanding every point they try to make, you come out better.

Later, after some time spent using the Digital Tutors website, I switched over to using books when their monthly membership got to be a little too expensive for me. I bought two books to get me to an intermediate level. “Mastering Autodesk Maya 2013” by Todd Palamar and “Maya Visual Effects-An Innovators Guide” by Eric Keller.

Mastering Autodesk Maya 2013 is a pretty heavy duty book. It’s pretty technical, so if you’re not ready for it, you’ll find out right away. Even if you think you are, like I did, it will kick your butt in all seriousness. It’s pretty dry to go through the tools in this book and there were plenty of errors made, but you can get by. If you don’t have a good understanding of the Maya UI at this point, I would highly suggest you wait to purchase this one.

Maya Visual Effects was the complete opposite. It was probably my favorite Maya book to learn from. The author wrote everything very clear, minimum mistakes, and had short do-able projects that were very creative. He wrote the book as mini-projects that you would find in the real world. I’m not really sure if a person should buy this book after Mastering Autodesk Maya 2013, or before.

I bought this after I had gone through the previous 18 chapter book, and by the time I got to this one, I understood the concepts on an intermediate level. Then again, if I would have used the lessons beforehand, it might have made the previous book instructions more interesting to digest. Your choice, but I would put this as a book to eventually get.



If you are new to Autodesk Maya, you have a tough road ahead of you, or maybe you have more previous 3D experience than I did. Interesting enough, even if you have your troubles, you might come to find that after a lot of time pulling out your hair from the ins-and-outs of the program, you find a joy in the challenges that face you like I did.

I hope that somewhere along your path that I’m able to guide you in the right direction, just as I’ve had people guide me in mine-and continue to do so!  I haven’t even touched on the inspirational creations that I find have come out of this program.

If you’d like to keep up to date on the benefits of what Autodesk Maya can do for you, see for yourself here. I plan on writing a lot more here on this blog. Make sure to subscribe above on the top right side of the page if you find any of this information useful to you-so you can get more good stuff to your inbox.

Also, let me know in the comments below of any resources that you’ve found helpful to you, and how you are currently using Autodesk Maya for your own projects!