We've teamed up with 3D World to give you guys the chance to improve your Maya Skills. Seth Gollub, senior animator at Framestore New York shares some of his Maya animation tips, letting us in on a few secrets along the way.
Create solid poses
Great poses are the foundation of any good piece of animation, and should be one of the first things to consider when tackling a shot. A good pose needs to be balanced, have weight and show a clear line of action that flows through the body. I find life drawing to be helpful for learning how to create strong poses: it forces you to observe and understand the curves and dynamics of the human body. When animating, try to keep lights out of your scene so you can press  for a quick silhouette test.
Think quick to add tension
Tension can be difficult to achieve in animation. For example, it can be hard to emphasise a character tightly clenching his fists or pushing really hard against something heavy. I find quick, jerky poses to be helpful in selling this. Try adding some snappy Rotation and Translation keys to the wrists, and experiment with using linear curves in these areas to avoid things feeling too smooth. Think of it as adding a hint of vibration. Remember to propagate this motion across the body appropriately; if your character’s wrists are snappy and tense, for example, add a hint of that into the shoulders as well.
Master the Graph Editor
It’s important to know how to get the most out of the Graph Editor. Ensure that the Scale Tool is set to Manipulator Type, not Gestural in the Scale Key Settings. This enables you to interactively scale and edit curves in both time and value. It’s a wonderful way to adjust a curve without affecting its overall shape – for example, if you want to adjust the height of a bouncing ball or the degree to which a character opens his jaw while speaking.
You can also edit curves with the Lattice Deform Keys Tool, which is great for refined adjustments. Look for it under Edit > Transformation Tools.
Key your extremes
It’s important to define any extreme in your animation with a keyframe. While Maya offers many tools for precise editing of your curves, it can be easy to overshoot your extreme points. This can be dangerous, as further editing or manipulation of curves can then change that value. Ensure that any extreme, such as the high point of the hips or the height of a bouncing ball, is defined by an actual key, so that the value remains fixed while you continue to polish your curves.
Establish your eyeline
While facial animation is typically tackled last in a shot, I block out the eyeline in my key poses. Your character’s energy is directed at whatever he’s looking at: establish where that point is. I prefer to animate with eye controls independent of the head, making it easier to keep a focused eyeline. Having the eyes follow every motion of the head makes it hard for the character to stay focused. You may find yourself having to counter-animate the eyes, losing time and precision in the process.
For ten more tips, check out issue 130 of 3D World. Escape Studios are running a unique offer with 3D World which means you can save up to 50% on a 12 month subscription to the mag. If you want to check out this offer, click here.