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. You must please both. Animation producers like animators who do the job well, on time, and are nice to work with. If you have all three of these qualities - a long and successful career in the industry will be yours. Below are our top tips for animating in Maya - how to be both good and fast. We don't say that this is an exhaustive list, but it's a great place to start.
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), 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. Go to window/save current layout. 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.
As an animator, you should always animate to the camera view (unless you're working on a cycle for 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 trough 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.
|The T Pose. As still on your model as it is in real life|
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. 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.
7 – Pick an 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 is to have too many expressions in a shot.
|Are the characters looking at one another?|
8 – Make sure your 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.
|Show it is Hi Rez and get approvals faster. Photo: Wikipedia|
9 – Show your work in high resolution
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. http://www.creativecrash.com/maya/script/tweenmachine
To see how to use the TweenMachine in detail, see this post. For more information on finding work in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we are helping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films. Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how awn.com can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business.