Your Animation workflow :)


hey guys i was jus wondering what your animation workflow was and if you dont mind sharing.

i watched the jason dvd from alias and he said to.

  1. black out main action to get basic timing down (stepped keys)

  2. refine the timeing/add more poses where needed (stepped keys) (aniticipation poses/reaction poses)

  3. change your keys to clamped. work from the inside out, get the body right, then the arms fingers, breathing and so on …

i’m new to computer animation so i was just wondering if there is anything anyone can add to this or clear up.



How do I approach my animation…great question.

I used to be a strict pose-to-pose guy. I’d block out all my poses w/ stepped keys, shift them to linear, add more poses, etc…and continue.

The problem is, alot of times this apporach will suck the life and spontaneity out of your animation. Everyone wants that “cartoony pose-to-pose snap” in thier animations, but what alot of people misunderstand is that this is not appropriate for every shot/scene you are working on. Sometimes zippy pose-to-pose is great, sometimes fluidity is needed, but you should always be prepared to incorporate both into your shot. For a great example of this, look at the scene in Bug’s Life where Flik discovers that the warriors are circus performers. When he’s trying to think of an excuse to get away from the princess ( a hilarious scene…“trapeze…TRAP them with ease…”) , look at the shot when he says “no…HAHA…strictly BYOB…” He starts off hitting these amazing poses, and then as he walks backwards, things start to loosen up quite a bit. Terrific example of poses and fluidity working together.

So…that being said, here is how I approach my animation.

  1. Reference (assuming you are using Maya) your rig into a blank scene. Block out all the poses that you would like to hit with stepped keyframes. Refine the timing of these poses to your liking.

  2. Import the referenced rig, and BAKE the skeleton or BAKE the mesh and destroy the rig. If your geo is too high, bake the skel and make sure you have some low-res geometry parented to the joints. The idea here is that you are taking the poses you’ve created, and you are making a non-editable reference, a sort of 3-d animatic that will exist in your scene, but that you won’t touch again.

  3. RE-REFERENCE the rig, and with no keyframes on it, begin to animate in a straight-ahead/layered approach. Using the BAKED character for reference, try to hit the poses you’ve created with soft or hard accents. Start from the root (hips) and work your way out, hitting the spine and feet next. Pay attention to the fluidity and movements most at this point. Try to hit the poses you’ve created, but don’t obsess about them…some poses you’ll want to hit hard, others you’ll want to have some action in.

What you will find by working in this manner is that many of the poses you initially created work much better as actions that keep moving. In addition, this method still allows you to hit strong poses and hold them, without being limited by pre-existing stepped keyframes. It may seem like an extra step, but having a stepped pose-to-pose character in the scene as a reference will allow you to work with the motions of the character more, and will keep you from thinking of movements just as ways to get from one pose to another. My animations have gotten alot more life in them using this method…things keep moving, poses are hit and held, and everything has a decent amount of fluidity.

That being said…I still use the old Keith Lango method now and then ( He has some truly excellent tutorials on animation that every aspiring animator should definitely read.

Hope that helps, I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on this as well!!




I mostly animate straight ahead, but I sure would like to have a go at Greg’s approach, very interesting indeed.
Although there are a couple of things that , as I’m pretty new to Maya, didnt quite understand: 1st, how do you Reference the rig and 2nd how do you Bake the Rig/Mesh.

Cheers guys,



Originally posted by Gru
[B]I mostly animate straight ahead, but I sure would like to have a go at Greg’s approach, very interesting indeed.
Although there are a couple of things that , as I’m pretty new to Maya, didnt quite understand: 1st, how do you Reference the rig and 2nd how do you Bake the Rig/Mesh.

Cheers guys,

Grury [/B]

i second that too … sounds like a great technique must have a try at it.


Hey Gru,

Referencing in Maya rocks. To quote the help manual…

"When you import a scene by reference, Maya makes a link from the current scene to the source scene. This link points to the latest saved version of the scene. You cannot rename, delete, or ungroup objects from a referenced file. "

This is a great way to work for a number of reasons…

  1. It seperates the animation workflow into 2 files, a rig file and an animation file. The animation file is dependent on the rig file. Because the only nodes that actually exist in your animation file are the animCurve nodes, saving your file takes no time at all. Also, your anim file sizes will almost always be less than 1000k.

  2. Changes can be made to the rig while you are working on an animation. If you have multiple animators working on different shots from the same rig, this is essential. Let’s say this is true, the animators are working on thier shots, and the rigger decides to add a new control to the character. Without referencing, the animators would have to import the new rig into each scene, copy all the animation from the old rig to the new one, and delete the old rig from the scene. However, if the animators have referenced the rig, all they have to do is get the latest version of it, and assuming the name of the rig file and the nodes within have remained the same, when they open thier animation files, the new rig will be there, with none of the animation affected.

So, referencing rocks.

In terms of baking, remember, what we are trying to do here is create a “dummy” character that you will hit the poses you thought of, and play in real time as you animate “on top” of it. There are many scripts on highend 3d that will bake out a mesh’s deformations for you. A better, faster way would be to parent some low-res geometry to the bones of your character (so it looks like a sliced-up version of your character), select the root of the character, and go to edit>keys>bake simulation OPTION BOX. Make sure that below is checked under the heirarchy option box, click bake, and your skeleton will be baked. You can now delete your IK, etc…and your skel will move the same. Now you can use this as a background character, a 3d animatic of sorts that you can look at while you animate.

Hope this helps…




Thanks a lot for your time Greg, very interesting the Reference stuff, it sounds something like Max’s X Ref function, but obviously more powerful, I’m certenly gonna have a go at your process in the future.
Thanks for sharing it with us.



Hi All,

I mostly animate straight ahead too.
Although depending on what the animation is I’ll act it out (and sometimes film myself) to get a timing for it.

I then move the rig or a standin (I’ve used just a box before now) as a timing guide in my scene. This stops my animation from taking to long to get to where it’s got to go…a common problem for straight ahead animating. I then work ‘from the inside out’.

I do sketchwork too and spend time getting a visual in my head of what I want to happen.

Thats it really…

Just thought I’d give my bit. :wink:




Good point blowtorch…

Doing some sketchwork before hitting the mouse can save alot of time…and alot of headaches. In some ways, this is the most important part of the process.




I second that.

sketching poses beforehand saves so much time later on.


Hi Greg,
Sorry to be pestering you (and sorry Herbal_Ice for ijacking your thread) but I was really keen on using your animation method with the referenced rig on the back, but so far havent quite managed to figure how do you actually reference stuff in Maya, I have tried the help files and also did a search on CGTalk but nothing seems to come up that can point me on the rite direction, it would be great if you could enlight us on this one, basiclly I’ve tried to “create reference” then using the reference editor try to open the file but nothing happens at all.

Thanks for your time,



hey Gru dont even worry about it man … we all here to learn … i actually appreciate the fact that your testing it out … i havent gotten a chance to do it myself … i got a shyt load of school work. :slight_smile:

i guess whatever problems you run into will help me out later on …when i give it a shot …

so i should be thanking you :slight_smile:


Hey Gru…

go to file> create reference

select the file you want to reference.

The contents of that file should now appear in your scene.




Oh!!! How simple was that…I was imagining something rather complex with loads of setting up…once again Maya just surprised me, I’m starting to like it.

Cheers Greg




Interesting idea of baking the mesh, greg. However, it sounds like it is an extra step unless those poses are just sitting there and not meant to be hit… why not just keep those keyframes you made and just break it up from there?

Planning is everything, for sure. Having good poses with strong lines, clear silhouettes, and definite attitude are essential. Finding such poses are probably easiest by thumbnailing; however, I know a lot of people who don’t thumbnail and get along just fine.

Anyway, to get to my point: just because you’ve blocked your poses out before you start animating doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve automatically lost all spontaneity in your animation. Spontaneity should come from your choices of poses and breakdown transitions rather than your method of animating (however, animating hierarchically can definitely help you FIND those spontaneous poses and breakdowns). And that’s how I animate – hierarchically.


How many of you use character sets?

I am really surprised that most of the animators i know dont even know what they are and dismiss them as “rigging”

It saves so much time when making timing adjustments in the dopesheet.


Originally posted by Sheep Factory
[B]How many of you use character sets?

I am really surprised that most of the animators i know dont even know what they are and dismiss them as “rigging”

It saves so much time when making timing adjustments in the dopesheet. [/B]

Yap, Characters Set or Groups are time savers, once i had to animate some rabbit years, what i did was animate both exactly the same, then went to the dope sheet select only the group of one of the ears and slided it foward a couple of frames, instant no Mirror animation :bounce:


I use them sometimes, but it’s usually when it’s more of a technical thing I have to do, like copying anims from one rig to another. I very rarely use them when actually animating though. I guess they can help when setting up poses etc, but I don’t like to rely on them as they are usually set up by another team and you can’t always trust other people to include everything you need in there that should be there - like a missing foot or something, then they’re useless :frowning:


Character sets are godly. They make life much easier.



Character sets are godly. They make life much easier.

I couldn’t disagree more. Quick select sets are much better (for my tastes). Character sets “preclude” or are considered inputs on the channels from which they are comprised. As far as making scripts for yourself to do more/have more options, they’re just another obstacle. At the end of the day, if you are even the slightest bit technically inclined, ChSets are like salt on a wound. A wounded slug. Dead. Die. Blech.

(Just my own thoughts :slight_smile: )