Animating your Model inside Maya – For Dummies

So I’m not a 3D artist. I’m a Flash Developer by trade who is very interested in 3D because it is just cool. What’s so great about Spore allowing you to use your creature’s COLLADA models is that they are doing ALL the hard work for you- really, animating a model is the easy and fun part. Here’s how to do it.

First, some quick shortcuts for moving around inside Maya:

Scroll up/down: Zoom in/out
Option + Left Mouse Button + Drag: Rotate the Scene
Option + Middle Mouse Button + Drag: Pan the scene
Space bar: Toggle between views

  1. In the top Menu Bar, find the Display Menu. Click Display > Show > All. Believe it or not, you want to make sure you are seeing all those blue squigglies. At least in the beginning.
  2. Right above the Scene there is a menu bar (with some icons right below it). Click Shading > Smooth Shade All. Now you should be able to see your critter a bit better.
  3. In the top Menu Bar, Click Window > Hypergraph Hierarchy. This will bring up a panel on your right hand side.
  4. Inside the Hypergraph Hierarchy panel, there is a menu bar. Click Show > Objects > Joints. Then, click View > Frame All. What you are seeing here is a nice organizational representation of your creature’s Skeleton, which Spore was nice enough to provide. FYI, the shortcuts above work inside this panel as well, try them out.
  5. Click on some of the tabs, and you will see on your creature that some of the blue squiggles become highlighted. (If you don’t see anything immediately, keep clicking) Once you have found something, click its ‘child’ (The tab right underneath it). Now you are starting to see how this works– The ankle joint is a child of the knee joint, which is a child of the hip joint. Find your critter’s hip joint and click on it.
  6. Alright, on the left-hand side of the scene you will see a toolbar. The blue sphere is the rotate tool. Right above it is the translate tool. You’ll be using the rotate tool most of all in animation. Click on the rotate tool. You will see yellow, blue and green circles appear on top of the selected joint. Click on one of the circles and drag it around. Your joint moves with it!
  7. Now, basically, all you have to do to animate is move your character into different positions using steps 5 & 6 above on different keyframes. The way to make keyframes inside Maya is to use the Time Slider, which looks like this:
  8. Click on one of the numbered slots. This is where your first keyframe will be. Rotate one of your critter’s joints to a new position, and press Shift + E. This will save the rotation of that joint, and only that joint to the keyframe. Now move to another keyframe, rotate the joint again, and press Shift + E again. Click and drag on the Time Slider to scrub the animation over the keyframes, and tada! you have animated your creature!

Some Animation Shortcuts:

Shift + E: Saves rotation of a joint to the keyframe
Shift + W: Saves translation of a joint to the keyframe
Shift + Drag on the Time Slider: Selects several keyframes

Some Common Animation Procedures:

To play your animation, make sure the Range Slider is positioned so the first frame of your animation is the first frame in the Time Slider. Mouse over the field to the right of the Range Slider, put the last frame of your animation there. Click play to view your animation in a loop.

To copy a frame, make sure you have the joint selected whose properties you would like to copy. Then select the frame, right-click on it, and select Copy from the popup menu.

To paste, click the destination frame, right-click and select Paste.

To copy several frames, Shift + Drag on the TimeSlider to select the frames, right-click on them and select Copy. As before, make sure you have the joints selected whose properties you would like to copy.

Very useful is Top Menubar > Edit > Select All by Type > Joints. This allows you to basically copy the entire state of your object to another frame.

By no means am I an expert in Maya animation, but this is meant to be a quick start guide for non-3D people. If you have any tips and tricks, make sure to dumb them down and leave ‘em in the Comments!

For Part 3, we’ll be bringing the animated creature inside of Unity3D and making him the hero of our awesome game.