It’s probably that time again: Time for a top ten list of Maya animation tools. I can’t live without 80% of these tools on a daily basis. These are great tools for any animator looking to make life a bit easier as your projects evolve. Let’s get started with number one on the list:
1. STUDIO LIBRARY: Pose/animation library management (Free)
Studio Library is a free tool for Maya that organizes saved poses and animations. I have been using this tool for a year now. It’s pretty amazing and very simple to use. The best part is its real-time pose blending system. This added feature makes me fall in love with animation all over again. It’s a rock solid tool and the author is always making updates, listening to his customers and improving it with each update. It has dockable features which make it easier to use on a single screen. I highly recommend this tool.
2. ANIMSCHOOLPICKER: Synoptic control picker (Free)
This is a free synoptic provided by AnimSchool. It’s not only just a control picker but it’s an organic approach to the UI. It allows you to be more creative with your UI and personalizes it. Definitely recommended. There is a bit of setup time to make the UI but once you’re finished you’ll be selecting controls like a champ.
3. AWECONTROLPICKER: SimpleQuick control picker (Free)
Unlike the synoptic AnimSchoolPicker, this is a bit more simply designed. If you don’t have time to build out a synoptic GUI this is the next best thing. You can get up and running in a matter of minutes and have all your control selections organized and set up quickly. For speed purposes, I use this more than any other control picker. It also has docking features into Maya as well. This is a great little tool!
4. ADVANCED TWEEN MACHINE: (Free)
This tool is a must-have, especially for animators that like to block out their scenes in stepped keys. If you come from more of a 2D background and venturing into 3D, you need this in your arsenal.
5. KEYFRAMEMP: (Not Free)
This is a video player geared toward animators. It has tons of options but the one that I use often is the scrubbing feature. You can synch up your Maya timeline scrubbing to the video player. There’s no more need to import reference video into Maya. It saves you time and doesn’t bog down Maya trying to calculate sequenced images or video. This is a great player to have for playblasts.
6. BLUE PENCIL: Sketching tool (Not Free)
This is a great integrated sketching tool with tons of uses such as annotations, animation, and painting over your shots. You can essentially block in and animate a shot in 2D as reference for all your timing and spacing.
7. SHOTVIEW: (Not Free)
This is a simple tool that allows you to zoom in from the camera view without changing the camera position – useful for when you need to zoom in and work closely on the face. I believe Maya 2014 has this feature as a legacy option with the keyboard short cut “\”.
8. SHOTMASK: (Not Free)
If you like to add on unique information to your videos like time codes and titles to the video while playblasting, Shotmask is the tool for you. I recommend this tool for bigger projects.
9. RIGGING TOOL BOX: Rig toolset (Not Free)
A light little tool for small rigging jobs. Very useful.
10. MGTOOLS: Tool set for animators (Not Free)
MgTools is a nice set of tools for any animator. Keep in mind this tool set has a lot of overhead. If you’re only looking for one simple tool to do the job, you may not need this vast set of tools. However, don’t let me dissuade you from diving head first into this amazing toolset.
6 Bonus Scripts Worth Mentioning
ZVGUI: (Not Free)
I haven’t tried this interesting synoptic GUI, but from the tutorial videos it looks like it has tons of potential. If anyone has time to play with this, let us know what you think of it.
ZVPARENTMASTER: Constraint manager (Free)
Handy little constraint manager tool. Simple UI and makes it easy to track multiple constraints. This tool does create parent nodes on the fly, so keep that in mind if you do a lot of referencing.
This is a tool I can’t live without. It effectively records animation, allowing you to make changes to parent controls. Then you can re-apply the original animation back to the original controls as if nothing happened. MGtools also has a version like this. The WorldBake script is about halfway down on his site. He also has a mountain of scripts on his site. Take a good look around – you may find something.
ORIGINAL TWEENMACHINE: Justin Barrett’s older version of tween machine (Free)
I think this version still deserves mentioning. It’s been around for awhile and many people still use it.
NPCURVEOFFSET: Global curve off set tool (Free)
Lets you select any range of keys and curves in the graph editor, then move that control in the viewport to apply a global adjustment to the range of keys. If you’re familiar with animation layers, it’s similar but applies the changes right away to the base layer.
ID_SNAPOBJS: Simple snapping tool (Free)
Great for snapping one or multiple controls to any object without dealing with constraints. This is an older tool but it’s nice and light.