Monday, 25 March 2019

Twelve Top Tips for Animating in Maya

Part of the secret of having a successful career as an animator is learning how to be good and fast at the same time.

Directors want quality, Producers want speed. To survive in the industry for long, you must please both.  Animation producers like animators who do the job well, finish on time, and are nice to work with. If you have all three of these qualities then you will have a long and successful career in the industry.

Below are our Twelve Top Tips for animating in Maya, to help you be both good, fast and reliable. Most of the principles below are things that I learned from the lead animators on "Robots"; the film where I first learned 3D animation in Maya.

1 – Establish your screen layout and save it  
The standard animator’s layout is a three panel view split at the top. The Graph Editor goes at the bottom. Top right is your camera view (which should be locked off, so you don't kick the camera over by mistake), and on the left is your perspective view, where you can dolly and zoom. To find this in Maya, go to Panels/3 Panel view, split at top. Customise the view, then save the layout so you can retrieve it each time you open Maya. To save this setup, go yo the Panel Layout icon (bottom left hand corner of your screen) and right click on the icen. Click on "Save Current Layout" and name it “Animation View”. Retrieving this setup will be the first thing you do when you open Maya.

2 – Create a camera and lock it off.
Camera in Maya
As an animator, you should always animate to the camera view (unless you're working on a games project). You want to set up your camera straight away, else you will waste time animating stuff that the audience will not see.

To create a camera, go to Create/cameras/camera. Name it “shotCamera”. Go to Panels/look through selected, and move your camera into the right position. Once you are happy with it, select your camera, right click on it, and lock it off in the Channel Box.

Relax the "T Pose"
3 - Start off by relaxing your rig
Almost all animation rigs are designed in the “T pose”, which is stiff and formal. So, you need to relax it. At frame 0 in your timeline, relax your character, and make it less stiff. Bend the knees, bend the arms, give the face an expression.  Offset the feet a little. Save this pose on frame 0 - outside your timeline, so you can come back to it later when you need to create new poses.

Expressions will sell your shot
4 – Block out everything, including facial expressions, from the start.
You should add eyebrows, eyes, fingers and facial expressions on all your poses from the start - make a positive statement. Offset the symmetry, make each key pose expressive. Facial expressions will help to sell your shot to the director. Don’t think “Oh, I’ll do the facial expressions later”. Do them now. Facial expressions help to tell the story, to make the shot clear.

5 - Don't animate on the world mover
The world mover is for moving your rig into position at the start of the shot, and for nothing else. Except in rare circumstances, don’t animate on the world control. Set a key on the World mover once, when you move the character into position, Then, never touch the world mover again.

6 – Decide which controls you want to use and stick to them
If a character has multiple body controls, decide which ones you want to use. Be consistent – else you will forget where you set keys. For example, don’t use multiple rotations on the spine controls. You will forget which ones you used, and this will make it very hard to make adjustments to your animation later on.

Are the characters looking at one another?
7 – Pick an overall attitude for the shot and stick to it
Don’t over-complicate things. You don’t need multiple expressions. Pick one main expression for your shot and stick with it. A common mistake made by junior animators is to have too many expressions in a shot.

8 – Make sure your character's eye direction is consistent
Bad eye direction will let down your work. Is the character looking where they are supposed to? Eye direction movers are often inaccurate. You will likely have to fine tune the eye direction, sometimes frame by frame.

9 – Show your work in high resolution
Hi Rez - get approvals faster
Show your work to the director, or whoever is approving your shot, in the highest possible resolution to get it approved faster.

Low resolution shots look grainy and unimpressive, even if they are well animated. Make your work look nice – and get faster approvals.

10 – Imagine you are the director – does your shot make sense?
Does your shot make sense to anyone other than you? It you showed to your seven year old niece would she like it? Your work must be clear to others as well as you. If you have to explain what is going on, it probably needs work.

11 – Download the TweenMachine
The Tween Machine is a free Maya plugin which makes the work of adding breakdowns to your shot super easy.  Download it, install it, and never look back.

12 - Do thumbnail sketches. 
Making thumbnail sketches in advance of starting your shot helps you think and plan your work. Time spent thinking and planning, and solving problems, is never wasted.

For more on the experience of studying at Bucks New University, come and visit us at one of our Open Days, take a virtual tour of one of our animation studios, check out what our students think of our course, and see why we're ranked in the top 12 creative universities in the UK.

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