Friday, 7 May 2021

How to Animate with Blend Shapes


We've uploaded a new four-part tutorial to our expanding list of free tutorials at our YouTube Channel.  This latest tutorial demonstrates how to animate Blend Shapes (also known as Morph Targets) in Maya.  The idea is to take a simple object (a cube) and turn it into a shape-shifting UFO - as in the example above.  Blend Shapes, which are used extensively in facial rigging, are a simple animation technique that can yield impressive results. 

Morph Targets
Blend Shapes

Blend Shapes are a technique used to morph objects in Maya from one shape to another.  In the tutorial at Vimeo, you will learn how to use Blend Shapes to create an imaginative scene. 

What you will learn
By the end of this exercise you should be able to create Blend Shapes in Maya, Morph objects from one shape to another, and use the Blend Shapes to create shape change animation - in this case a UFO travelling down a city street. 

This exercise involves no pre-existing animation rigs; you will create your own simple shapes (a cube) and then use Blend Shapes to change the shape of the cube into a shape-shifting UFO.

Morph Targets - facial blend shapes

There are many free sets at and other Maya websites. Imagine where your action might be taking place. Try importing a city street, and then imagine your UFO travelling down the street. 

Work Method

Part 1 – Create a base shape and a blend shape
1. Thumbnail out your ideas on paper so you have a plan. Create some interesting shapes.
2. In Maya, create a project, and set to it.
3. Under create/polygon primitives, make sure that interactive creation is turned OFF
4. Create/polygon primitives/cube. Click on the options box
5. Set width, height and depth divisions to 3, press Create and name the cube baseShape.
6. Now cntrl D to duplicate the cube. Move the 2nd cube upwards in Y out of the way.
7. R click on the new target shape you have just created and select vertex mode. Now adjust the vertices to create a new shape, such as a pyramid. Try to keep the volume of the object roughly the same as the base.
8. You can also use the scale tool, but make sure you are in vertex mode first.
9. Name the new shape: targetShape1.
10. Go back to object mode, and select targetShape1. Shift select the base shape.
11. In the animation menu (top left), choose create deformers/blend shape. You will see blendShape1 appear in the inputs in the channel box.
12. To see the slider, go to Window/Animation editors/Shape Editor

Part 2 – Add more target shapes
1. Return to your original base shape and Cntrl D to create a new duplicate of the base shape. Name the shape targetShape2
2. Adjust the vertices so you create a new shape.
3. Select the new target shape, shift select the base shape, and go to edit deformers/blend shape, and select add (Do NOT select create deformers/blend shape)
4. To see the slider, go to window/Animation Editors/ Shape Editor. You should now have two blend shapes.
5. Now create a few more target shapes so you have 5 or 6 of them.

Part 3 – Animate your Blend Shapes
1. To animate the blend shapes, go to window/animation editors/blendshapebutton labeled Key to set a key frame. Key frame your blend shape at frame 1, then set a different value at, say frame 13.
3. In the timeline, scrub between the two positions. You should have some animation.

Part 4 – Adjust your Blend Shapes in the Graph Editor
1. To find your keyframes, first go to the Channel Box.
2. In the Channel Box, scroll down to the target shape channel (they are purple in colour) so that you can adjust the key frames in the graph editor.
3. If you still can’t see the curves in the Graph Editor, try clicking on the little plus sign next to the top node in the Graph Editor.

The process can goes wrong. If it does, delete everything and start over. Don’t be discouraged. Maya is a little fussy about Blend Shapes and it is easy to make mistakes. It will work in the end!

UFO Animation by Escapee Will Smith

Free Blend Shapes Tutorial

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