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The viola is a slightly larger instrument than the violin. Similar to the violin, it'ssound is produced by either drawing the bow across one of the four strings or by plucking the string with a finger. All orchestra string instruments produce sound in the same manner. The main differences are the sizes of the instruments and how high or low each instrument can sound.

Is this an easy, intermediate or advanced instrument?
The viola is a little larger than the violin but there are, like the violin, fractional sizes to accommodate the size of the player until you're ready for a full size instrument. Theviola is very similar to learning the is held in exactly the same way and you have to learn to use the bow to create your first notes on open strings (meaning you don't press any of the strings down to the fingerboard with your left hand fingers). This part is pretty easy. Once the bowing motion becomes natural you will learn how and where to place your left hand fingers on the strings to change notes. Then it's just a matter of practice to get really good at it. The more you practice, the better you'll be, just like anything else.

Famous Players
Lionel Tertis - not really any famous viola soloists, because it is not a solo instrument... but Lionel championed it thru-out his life living until he was 99 years old and called it "the love and tyrant of my life."
Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Hindemith - famous composers who also played viola