I’m still working out the best way to contribute to the #AltDev community, I’m possibly one the youngest/most inexperienced of all of the authors but I absolutely love what I do and the opportunities I’ve had so far. I’ve just finished a short stint working on Kinect Sports 2 and in that time the animation team taught me an incredible amount, I hadn’t realised how much my own approach had changed until pondering what to write about for this post. This time out I figured I’d try writing a post about problems ive encountered and the solutions I find on the off chance that there’s another me reading this also looking for the best way to muddle through things. When I wasn’t working on in game content at work I’d be working on short shots to practice various animation methods and really want to improve as an animator, working on my own stuff at work meant I could get invaluable advice and hints from the team and get pointed in the right direction if needed. Some of the suggestions seem so obvious now and I wish I was shown these things at uni!


Starting with the obvious


First things first, the ‘un-welcome screen’ the first time you open Maya it’s scary, there’s no getting round that. In my intro to CG lesson there was a collective gasp as we were greeted with this:


However if you break it down into 3 maybe 4 job roles there’s a lot as an animator you don’t need to worry about initially – if ever. Animators and artists all work within maya so there’s tools for everyone –modellers, riggers, animators, texture artists, rendering magicians etc. So I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t panic, keep it simple.


W – Move tool

E –Rotate

R- Scale

S – Set key


At its most basic level they are the keys required to animate, this doesn’t cover constraints/prop interactions but its more information than the ‘download a rig and play with it – oh and the graph editor is your friend’ instructions I received. Opening Maya for the first time and being told that put a lot of people off, which is a shame because after getting past the fact it had about 3 tools that all do the same thing with slightly different names and the less than friendly interface, it’s a really awesome program.


Motion curves


Probably one of the most useful things I was shown at my last job. Timing and Spacing are the fundamentals I struggled the most with and being able to have visual feedback on the position of my keys on the arc/curve of the motion blew my mind. It’s such a simple idea, when learning to animate traditionally we were taught to sketch things out and roughly mark on the spacing – a la bouncing ball

I’ve always wanted to be able to do this in maya and was shown where it was hidden away in the menus:

Select the desired object/control and then with the animation drop down selected go to animate>create motion curve



This creates a piece of geometry/locators showing the arcs/motion trail and will update as you adjust your keys, this has helped me so much – I genuinely do not know how I finished my film without this.




Another thing I now don’t work without is referencing, if you work directly with master files that’s asking for trouble. Fortunately if you’re in a studio you’ll have the wonders of version control and a pipeline to work from *however* if you’re working on things on the side it’s a really good habit to get into.

In order for this to work for each shot I will create a new blank scene file and reference each object in:

-          The character

-          The environment/set

-          Any props



Why? Well when I have my main character, the sets and all of the props in their own maya files, this means I can edit away and change textures/tweak models as much as I please knowing that the changes will be implemented across all scenes.

For example when working on my grad film a change to the main characters hair colour was requested, using this method meant I only had to change the master file rather than 28 individual scene files, leaving me more time to devote to other tasks.

Another thing worth pointing out is that referenced files are un-editable which can be really useful as it’ll prevent continuity errors (even if it does seem like a pain in the ass at the time)


Clean Rigs


I love knowing how things work, wherever I’ve gone I seem to ask endless questions in an attempt to know how stuff works, I get curious. With my film I had a good idea about what I wanted character performance wise but initially got pushed down the auto rigging route. I would not suggest this. It was a frustrating and poor use of two months. Needless to say I scrapped that version and set out to create my own rig, I wanted both fk and ik and didn’t want controls all over the place so I added an expression to show/hide the fk/ik controllers depending on the mode I was in; it’s probably the simplest expression going but it kept things clean.


if (rightArmManip.ikFkBlend > 0.5)
master.ikManip = 1;
master.fkManip = 0;
} else {
master.ikManip = 0;
master.fkManip = 1;


Not exactly maya ‘basics’ but once I got stuck into the slightly more technical side of things I kept wanting to test myself and see what I could create.

I think thats the most recent set of useful little things ive learnt, a mixture of technical and essential, I’ll try repeat the idea in a future post as I learn various ways of making cool stuff