Hey JM - Check out a book called Digital Lighting (or something like that) by Jeremy Birn. It's excellent.
I've been doing 3D modeling and animation from wayyyy back, mainly polys....... When I first started we used the Wavefront Advanced Visualizer and you had to type in code to do a composite, like blahh blahh blahh a over b around c..... You wouldn't know for hours and hours if it worked.
Then, SGI bought both Wavefront and Alias and that's where Maya came from. After that Autodesk bought it. We use Maya now, and do compositing in Adobe After Effects.
Here is a link to our Gallery page where you can see samples of my work: