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Learn Maya Online: The 3D Animation Guide in 2024

by | Last updated Jan 31, 2024

Want to learn Maya? 

You’re in the right place. Maya is an industry-leading animation software. And today, you’ll learn exactly how to use Autodesk Maya, how long it takes, and why you should learn it. 

Want to learn more? Let’s dive right in.

What is Autodesk Maya? 

Autodesk Maya is an industry-leading 3D computer animation software used to build assets and create stunning, true-to-life visual effects for movies, video games, TV series, commercials, VR, medical imaging, and architecture development. 

Top feature film animation studios have used this multi-awarded 3D animation software, including Blue Sky Studios, Framestore, Moving Picture Company, and Industrial Light & Magic. 

Since 1997, Maya has been used in every film that has won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It also received three Oscars for technical achievement. It’s been used in blockbusters including The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Ice Age, Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones, and Spider-Man (2002). 

3D animation lighting by our talented student, Nicholas Ballet

Suffice it to say, learning Maya will give you the edge over the competition. And if you want to learn how to use Maya, you can do it at home. 

But is Maya better than other 3D animation software tools? Let’s look at its top competitor, Blender. 


Is Maya better than Blender?

Blender is an excellent 3D animation software and it’s free. It comes with a similar set of tools as Maya, but the features are mainly used for 3D painting and sculpting.  

Maya, on the other hand, is a powerhouse that comes with basic and advanced animation features. It can support the entire animation workflow. Autodesk Maya is an industry-standard, and Blender’s features just do not compare. Blender is best for small startups, while Maya is the 3D animation software of choice by top studios worldwide.

How much does Autodesk Maya cost?

Maya is a paid software program. While it’s on the pricier side, Maya is a must if you want to work in the animation industry (and earn a six-figure salary). 

The advanced features cost:

Monthly subscription: $205

Annual subscription: $1,620

3-year subscription: $4,375

Note: With some educational programs, such as our own program, you can get Maya for free.

Next up: Why is Maya such a great software to learn to advance your career and more? 

Why should You Learn Autodesk Maya? 

Is Maya worth learning? Yes, it is. Not just because it’s so widely used in the industry, but also for its powerful features and more. 

Is Maya the best 3d animation software? 

Autodesk Maya is one of the best tools for 3D animation and visual effects. Mastering Autodesk Maya enables you to pick up other software applications and achieve a completely different level of success in the animation industry. Maya is more than just a 3D animation software; it will teach you how to work in the 3D animation industry as a whole.

Like DreamWorks, Pixar, and Blue Skies, the world’s biggest studios use Maya to create their Academy Award-winning films. Maya has won many awards since it launched in the late 90s. And with every update, Autodesk Maya just keeps getting better. 


Autodesk Maya boasts a range of tools and features that could support all aspects of a 3D pipeline. With Maya, you can build characters, objects, and environments and animate them. You can create materials and shaders, generate fur and cloth effects. You can also use Maya for simulations and, ultimately, render the final image. 

A requirement for your career 

Every artist worth their salt knows that learning Maya will benefit his career for the long-term because almost every job requirement in the animation and VFX industries lists knowledge of Maya as a requirement to get a job, both within the United States and internationally. If you’re just starting out, learning Maya as early in your career as possible, helps build a solid foundation in animation and visual effects.

What can you do with your Maya skills? 

Maya is packed with so many tools and features that it can be overwhelming for a beginner. Even moving around can be a bit daunting for most people. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll love all the eye-popping effects you can do with this software. 

With Autodesk Maya, you’ll learn modeling, UV mapping, lighting, texturing, shading, rigging, and animating objects, characters, and entire scenes. 

Because Maya is a cyclopean program, you can manipulate any object or character to do just about everything. Inside the software are menus within menus of tools that you can use to create entire virtual worlds!

How to Learn Maya Fast

It is possible to learn how to use Maya quickly without years of watching online tutorials. As long as you understand how the tools work, you’ll pick up the software faster than other people. Use these steps:

How do you learn Maya online?

Maya can be learned online — and in many cases, it’s probably the best alternative. Here’s how you can master it in the right way: 

Start with the basics

To get the most out of the software, go slow and start with the basics. It’s normal for complex software programs like Maya to have a steep learning curve, and you have to give yourself time to understand how Maya works. 

One of the best ways to learn Maya is by watching basic tutorials. Choose how-to videos that focus on the core features of the software, the essential tools you’ll need to learn, and then work your way to the rest of the features. (However, if you want to master the software, we recommend an online course, which we’ll talk about more below.)

Learning Maya on YouTube? Here are a few beginner-friendly videos to get you started:


Learn in steps

You might end up frustrating yourself if you’re tinkering with too many tools all at once. You have to learn the program’s many tools in steps, or otherwise, you might run into a digital wall and end up frustrating yourself. 

To learn Maya fast, try breaking down each animation task into small steps. Focus on completing one task at a time. It’s slow, sure, but it’s the most efficient way of completing a scene. 

Maya is a black hole of animation and VFX features, so it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices. By breaking down your task into small steps, you can focus more on getting the job done instead of trying too many things at once and confusing yourself in the process. 

Where can you learn Maya?

One of the BEST ways to learn Maya fast is with an online course. 

For example, at the Academy of Animated Art, we have a course that introduces you to Maya. You learn all you need to know about Maya to get a great understanding of the software, rom common 3D terminology to mastering Maya’s UI and creating Polygon primitives to building entire characters.

The course is conducted by one of us, Mike, a former Lighting Technical Director at Blue Skies Studios. It offers a wealth of industry experiences and insights, so you’ll learn all the essential elements of the software program itself to create memorable, impactful images.

How long does it take to learn Maya?

If you want to learn Maya the right way, start with a technical course that lays out all the important features and commands that you need to animate a scene quickly. Watching a bunch of how-to videos for a week won’t land you a job at Pixar right away. The time it takes to learn Maya will depend on how quickly you understand its geometry. 

For example, our student Anuar Figueora tells his story about how he got started in the industry, mastered his craft, and worked on animated and VFX films including Batman vs. Superman, Fast and Furious 7, and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.

What should you focus on when learning Maya?

As said, Maya is a somewhat complicated tool. You’ll want to focus on different areas before you dig deeper. Here are some focus areas we recommend for you:  

1. Set up your shelves

Maya is filled with menus of tools and features, so it’s essential to stay organized to learn the software quickly. We suggest setting up your shelves first to remain efficient. The shelves are similar to toolbars that you can customize depending on the commands that you use frequently. By defining all of your most-used settings, toolbars, and toolsets, you’ll work faster and spend less time combing the menus for specific tools or commands. 

2. Avoid unnecessary resolution

It’s common for Maya beginners to lay the subdivision thickly before understanding how these work. The result? The models end up looking unnatural and lumpy. 

To avoid this, you have to perfect the model’s foundation and go easy on the subdivisions. This way, the result will have natural-looking silhouettes and fluid movements. Avoid adding unnecessary resolution; keep things simple until you’ve learned the software enough to go rogue on the subdivisions. 


3. Iron out ideas with image planes

To animate a scene, you have to create a design through illustration, thumbnail, and polishing the said design before it is translated into the digital world. The process remains the same when you’re using Maya; you have to illustrate your design then scan them as image planes on Maya. This helps give the model a sound structure before adding the polygon. 

Stick to this process before experimenting with your design. This way, you’ll learn the program in the proper sequence and establish a more structured workflow. 

4. Boost load times

Maya is packed with many tools and features, so it’s not surprising that it’s a heavyweight software. The more features and tools an application has, the longer it takes for the computer to boot. The slow loading times might slow down your progress. Because every second counts when you’re beating the deadline, try unloading the plugins to speed things up. 

Go to Windows > Settings & Preferences > Plug-in Manager, then start selecting the plugins that you should unload. By unloading all the plugins that you don’t need, the app will work much faster. You can focus on making the most out of the FX-heavy plugins you need to complete your project while enjoying decent loading times.

5. Try the backface culling

Lagging is quite normal if you’re working with heavyweight apps like Maya. Although recent releases help speed the entire process up, you’ll still experience lags now and then. However, you can speed things up by making the most out of the Backface Culling option. Go to Shading and enable Backface Culling. This feature stops the viewport from drawing faces that are not facing the scene camera, thus improving the viewport speed. 

6. Keep your files organised

Apart from customizing the UI, we highly suggest organizing your files to know exactly where a specific project file is stored. This will help improve the efficiency of your workflow and, in turn, speed up your learning. You can organize your files by going to File > Open Scene. In the Open Scene window, choose “Set Project.” This will lead you to the Set Project window. Choose the project directory and hit the “Set” button. Open the scene file from the open window once the Set project has closed.

7. Set keyframes with hotkeys

Maya uses keyframes to animate characters and objects. Keyframes are markers that specify the object’s attributes and position at a given time. To make keyframing faster and easier, try using hotkeys. 

Set a keyframe on an object by pressing the S button of the keyword. This will set the keyframe indicated on the timeline. To select the keys on specific attributes, choose the channels to key, then right-click on any selected labels in the Channel box. Choose the “Key Selected” option from the menu. 

Over to You! 

Maya is one of the best 3D animation software tools in the industry, and it’s used by top studios worldwide. Mastering it is an essential part of building a successful career in animation and VFX.

Now, we’d love to hear from you:

Why do you want to learn Maya?

Let us know in the comments below. 

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

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