How to Cheat in Maya 2012: Tools and Techniques for Character Animation

How to Cheat in Maya 2012: Tools and Techniques for Character Animation

by Eric Luhta

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The Maya guide for animators, How to Cheat in Maya 2012 presents everything you need to know about character animation in Maya. Fully updated for the latest revision of Maya, this book provides you with complete, step-by-step walkthroughs of essential animation techniques to increase your efficiency and speed. This is an animator's workflow in book form, written by professional animators-not a software book with a few animation pointers thrown in.

In addition to all the gold-mine coverage and interviews with expert animators from the previous edition, How to Cheat in Maya 2012 also features a new in-depth chapter on the principles of animation, updated information on camera settings and animation using Maya's new Camera Sequencer tool, the ins and outs of the brand new Editable Motion Trails tool, new techniques for working with characters in multi-shot animation tests and short films, a new cycles chapter covering actions like flying and walks, time-saving scripts, and advanced tricks with the new Graph Editor. The proven "How to Cheat" series gets you up to speed quickly, and in a way that's fun.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781136127496
Publisher: CRC Press
Publication date: 03/20/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 311
File size: 107 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Eric Luhta is a professional animator whose recent credits include "Bioshock 2", "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs", "Horton Hears A Who!", and numerous television commercials. Eric has extensive experience with Autodesk's Maya, including teaching it, as an instructor for the Maya Training Program at He currently lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife and 3 computers.

Read an Excerpt

HOW TO cheat IN Maya 2012

Tools and Techniques for Character Animation
By Eric Luhta Kenny Roy

Focal Press

Copyright © 2012 ELSEVIER INC.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-81699-9

Chapter One

Animation Principles

THE PRINCIPLES OF ANIMATION, identified and perfected by the original Disney animators, guide us when we make technique and performance choices in our work. They are not rules, but rather guidelines for creating appealing animation that is engaging and fun to watch.

These seemingly simple concepts combine together to inform the most complex animation and performances on screen. Though some translation of these principles must occur for animators to utilize these concepts in Maya, this chapter offers a clear explanation of them and shows you how you can begin applying them in your own work.

Squash and Stretch

Lauded as the most important principle, squash and stretch gives characters and objects a sense of flexibility and life. Also, this principle dictates that as characters and objects move and deform, their volume generally stays the same.

Some of squash and stretch can be dictated by the object actually smooshing into something, as in our example. The ball we are going to animate the squash and stretch on needs this principle added not only to give the sense of the material the ball is made from (soft rubber), but to give it a little bit of life.

With characters, squash and stretch can mean many different things. It can be combined with anticipation to make a character "wind-up" for an action in a visually interesting way. One example would be as a character prepares to move, he may squash his spine, making his figure bulge out. Then as he springs into motion, his form elongates and stretches thin to retain the same volume. Whenever possible, use squash and stretch on your characters to give a sense of strain (a character reaching for something high overhead), or to give a sense of fear (a character squashes into a little ball in a corner to avoid being seen by a predator).

Start looking for squash and stretch in professional animation and in life and you'll see quickly how much this simple principle adds to the illusion of life we give objects and characters.

1 Open We have an animated bouncing ball with the squash control keyed at 0 on f01 and f16. Hit play on the timeline and see how the ball seems neither alive, nor like it's made from rubber. This lifeless plastic ball is in need of some squash and stretch!

2 Go to frame 8, and check out this dead ball! When it hits the ground, we expect a ball made from rubber to react! It needs to squash, so select the middle squash_anim control and translate it down in Y to the base. The location of this control determines where the ball squashes from.

3 Adjust the Squash Stretch amount in the channel box and key the entire control. The ball contacts for 2 frames, so this frame will be the start of it squashing, about -0.2 or so. Also notice that as the ball squashes down in Y, it bulges out in X and Z, retaining its volume.

4 At f09, the momentum continues downward through the ball, making it squash even more into the ground. Set the squash to -0.4 and key the control.

5 Go back to frame 7. As the ball falls, it would stretch out from the air resistance and the anticipation of hitting the ground. Translate the control back to the middle of the ball (Y is 0) so it stretches from its center, adjust the stretch control, and set a key.

6 At f11, center the squash control in Y, stretch the ball slightly and key it. Since the first and last frames are set to 0, the ball returns to its shape at the top of the bounce. Play back the animation with the controls turned off and watch this principle shine.


Squash and stretch isn't only about physically squashing and stretching in a cartoony manner. Also think about squash and stretch in the broader sense of being the contrast between compressed/ contained and outstretched/ extended.


Anticipation is the practice of moving a character in a certain way to prepare the character and the audience for the action. Most often, anticipation means moving the character a small amount in the opposite direction of the main action. Since a lot of animation is very physical, many times anticipation is a necessary part of getting the correct physical performance out of the character. For instance, a character jumping must bend his knees first. A pitcher must bring his arm back before he throws the ball. This natural motion that occurs in everyday life is what makes anticipation as an animation principle so effective. We are very accustomed as humans to tracking fast-moving objects by taking a cue from its anticipation, and then looking ahead of the object in the opposite direction. So as animators we must take advantage of this hard-wired trait of humans and use it to our advantage. We can make it so that the audience is always looking at the part of the screen that we want them to, by activating the visual cue of anticipation.

Anticipation also serves a purpose in fine-tuning your performance choices. Disney animator and animation legend Eric Goldberg is known for relating anticipation directly with thought itself. This makes perfect sense; if we see a character really "wind-up" for an action, it is clear to us that the character has planned the action well in advance, and is thinking about how to move. On the other hand, if a character moves instantaneously and without warning the motion comes across as unplanned. Think of the difference between the apparent thought process of Popeye swinging his arm back to punch an unsuspecting Brutus, and Brutus's head when the fist hits him on the back of the head. Popeye was planning to wallop the big bully, but Brutus was not thinking at all of the fist about to hit him! So as you are working, pay close attention to how much anticipation you are using in your animation. It may just mean the difference between a thinking, planning, and intelligent character, and a character simply reacting to the world around him.

1 Open In this scene, a bouncing ball looks at a wall, and then deftly hops over. Play it a few times and see if you can spot the anticipation before the jump.

2 If you select the squash_Bend_anim control on the ball, you will see there is a keyframe on the Squash Stretch control at f50 with an unlocked tangent. This is the frame of anticipation. We are going to play with this anticipation and see what looks best.

3 Select the squash_Bend_anim control, and open the Graph Editor. See that key frame with the unlocked tangent handles? Try moving that key up and down and finding a good size of squash for this anticipation. Watch the animation over and over again to see what looks best. Remember, it's up to you!

4 Now play with the handle itself! Drag it way out towards the left and playback the animation. See what a different impression you get as to the thought behind the jump? Subtle changes in anticipation can have incredible results.

5 Or does this look better? Remember, if you keep the number of keyframes you use to a minimum, you can spend more time making adjustments and less time wrestling with technical trouble. What new impression does this anticipation give you? What is the ball thinking?

6 At f03 is another little anticipation that I sneaked in. Play with the size and timing of this one as well, and start training your eye to hone in on the most powerful and engaging performance.


Play your animation at speed! We know that timing is vitally important in animation. You get so much more information playing your animation at speed than you do if you just scroll through the timeline.


Staging is a fundamental that encompasses a mass of artistic sensibilities. Staging involves framing the camera in a way to best capture the action. It involves making sure your animation has been planned to best communicate the motion, the character arc, the story. Simply put, staging is how you create the scene.

Ideally staging starts with your planning phase. Thumbnailing your poses is the best way to make strong pose choices at the start of a shot. If you are not a strong drawer, then perhaps you rely more on photo or video reference to give you cues to begin your work. At this very early phase, staging means you are thinking about how your posing and the layout of the scene is going to clearly show the motion.

As you begin your scene, staging becomes more complex. How are you going to maintain the high level of communication throughout the life of the shot? Will you be able to hit all of the poses that you'd like, or are the poses going to have to be changed to work when the character is in motion? Staging means that you are thinking about the entire action at this point. Adjusting the camera, making tweaks to the layout, and finding just the right balance in the composition all improve your staging of the scene. When you are finished blocking, generally the major staging decisions are decided. This does not mean that staging is over!

As you finish the animation, there are still staging considerations you must be aware of. Where is the audience's eye going to be looking at every moment of the shot? If you've animated the scene correctly, you have a very good idea of what the audience should be paying attention to at every second. As your shot is finished and moves through the rest of the pipeline, other decisions that hone in audience's focus are going to come into play: lighting, effects, and editing.

As animators, our staging choices have far-reaching impact on the success of a shot in communicating an idea. We'll practice these staging concepts by repositioning a bouncing ball animation, the camera, and some lights to find the greatest impact.

1 Open, and set one of your panels to look through "renderCam". Yikes. This scene has a lot of staging problems. The camera is in a position where it cannot see any of the action, the ball has been positioned very oddly, and the light is casting a shadow on the entire main action. Let's make some adjustments.

2 Rotate, pan and zoom the camera around until you've found an angle that shows off the animation nicely when you scrub through the timeline. This is a nice angle for me.

3 Let's adjust the position of the animated ball to make the action read clearer, shall we? Grab the "all" group in the Outliner, and scrub through the animation. See how the ball is pushed far towards the edge of the set, and hits the wall on frame 65? Let's reposition it to be a little more centered, and to not hit the set on its path.

4 Much better. I moved the group back to the world origin, and the animation is working much better to camera.

5 Hit the render button to see how the lights are positioned. Uh oh, the main action is happening in deep shadow!

In a perspective panel, press the 7 key to enable the lighting, and make sure Show > Lights is enabled in the viewport menu. Select the light and transform and rotate it until it gives a nice 3/4 lighting angle. The action should be lit so that we get a fully lit view of the scene, but also so that the shadows are angled so they show the detail and depth of the set.


It's easy to forget that staging is more than just the camera angle. If you're working on a production, you may not have any control over the camera angle chosen for a shot. If this is the case, you must design your staging within the camera you've been given. This might entail "cheating" poses so they look their best in a particular camera.

If you select a spotlight, and then go to the "Panels" menu in any panel and choose "Look Through Selected", it will create a temporary camera view that matches the view as seen from that spotlight. Many Maya users find using Maya's in-panel camera moving tools to position lights is a fast and easy way to stage the scene. Maya even gives you an in-panel preview of the light's Cone Angle!

Straight Ahead/Pose to Pose

This fundamental describes the two basic approaches to block in a piece of animation. Straight ahead means that an animator creates the base animation by posing the animation in a frame, then moving forward one or more frames and posing again. This approach is akin to stop-motion animation, in which you have to pose every one or two frames because the camera needs to capture that frame on film before moving forward. Pose to pose means that you create the key poses, and then essentially time the rest of the animation by inserting blank or "hold-poses" in between your key poses. This is akin to a nonlinear approach in which you can test different timings of a shot by simply sliding poses around on the time slider. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages.


Excerpted from HOW TO cheat IN Maya 2012 by Eric Luhta Kenny Roy Copyright © 2012 by ELSEVIER INC.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

How to Cheat in Maya 2012 -

Chapter 1 - Animation Principles in Maya


Overlap and Follow Through

Squash and Stretch

Staging (Cameras)



Ease In/Ease Out

Chapter 2 - Splines
All cheats revised for new interface

Chapter 3 - Graph Editor

All cheats revised for new interface

Chapter 4 - Techniques

smear frames

bendy arms

Possible material for tools added in Maya 20XX

Chapter 5 - Constraints

All cheats revised for new interface

Chapter 6 - Gimbal Lock

All cheats revised for new interface

Chapter 7 - Cameras and Layout

In-depth cheats on cameras and staging, applicable to multi-shot dialog tests and short films

cheats for new Camera Sequence tool

Chapter 8 - Blocking

New project for the chapter, so all cheats will be revised

Chapter 9 - Cycles

Shorter examples of walk and run cycles with new character

Older walk cycle material will be put on the website

Tips for personality walks

Chapter 10 - Polishing

New chapter project, all cheats revised

Chapter 11 - Facial Animation

New chapter project, all cheats revised

Mouth shapes

Eye shapes

Chapter 12 - Animation Layers

New chapter project, all cheats revised

Chapter 12 from the first book is retired to the website

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