Animation Layers for Maya
Software: Autodesk Maya
Author: Marc-Andre Guindon
Marc-Andre Guindon has been in the industry since the inception of Autodesk Maya in 1997. Marc-Andre is the founder of NeoReel Inc. and his talent sees him involved in a variety of projects, including games, film, and the creation of tools and solutions to speed the workflow pipeline.
Whether you are an animator or a technical director, you may have encountered situations where you needed to modify an already existing animation. Modifying existing animations can save time, but it might require tweaking lots of keyframes. We think it can be much simpler with Animation Layers.
For no apparent reason, most animation software except Maya features some sort of animation layers. Of course, Maya has Trax, which features some non-linear and layered animation, but you might find it hard to use just like me!
The solution to this issue is to be able to isolate keyframes in their own layer, which can be easily turned On or Off. Once the desired animation is reached, you can merge the layers together and come back to an ordinary animation in Maya.
Perhaps the best application of animation layer is when dealing with motion capture or complex animation. Mocap usually has several keys per frame for every node in the character. This clutters the Time Slider and Graph Editor and it is virtually impossible to apply an overall modification without screwing up the animation or adding animation overrides. If this example sounds somewhat familiar, then this tutorial is for you!
The Animation Layers for Maya feature is freely accessible through a web based software named NeoReel Online MEL Script Library. As the name implies, this MEL script library connects on the web to get you the latest version of desired scripts.
The following shows how to install the Animation Layers for Maya.
The online library makes use of a Maya plug-in (~42k), which gives you access to the library. So in order to get going, you must first download the plug-in.
Please click on the appropriate link below:
Maya 6.0 - Windows XP
Maya 6.5 - Windows XP
Maya 7.0 - Windows XP
Maya 8.0 - Windows XP
Maya 8.5 - Windows XP
Note: The plug-in is available only for Windows platform at this time.
# Place it in your Maya install "bin/plug-ins/" directory
# What this plug-in does, is connect to the library, manages the loading/unloading of scripts and save offline copies of the scripts in case you don't have web connectivity.
Next, you must load the plug-in.
# First, you need to install the Help ¡ú Maya Browser Assistant.
The Maya Browser Setup Assistant
# Follow the instructions to properly setup the web browser feature.
# Then, load the neoreelLibrary.mll plug-in in the Windows ¡ú Settings/Preferences ¡ú Plug-in Manager.
Load the neoreelLibrary plug-in
Loading the script
When loading for the first time, a configuration window will be displayed. Simply expand a category and check any checkboxes to load the wanted scripts or click the Specifications to learn about what it does.
[Click for larger image]
Load the neoreelLibrary plug-in
Note: You will require internet access to load any scripts for the first time or to gain access to newer versions.
# Expand the Animation section.
# Turn On the checkbox for the nrLayers script.
# When Maya notifies you that a MEL command is to be executed, click the Allow or Allow All button.
Congratulations! You now have access to the Animation Layers for Maya through the Layers Editor.
The Anim option in the Layer Editor
Note: If you need to configure the plug-in again, you can either type ¡°neoreelLibrary ¨Cconfig¡° in the Script Editor, or load the nrToolbox script found in the Utilities section which creates a menu in the main menu bar.
Using the animation layers
OK, so you got all the way here to use this great tool that's gonna blow your mind. Well, you will now experiment the various features accessible in the tool.
Animate an object
# Create a sphere.
# Set two keyframes at frame 1 and 24 so the sphere moves from side to side in the view.
Add objects the anim layers
# With the sphere still selected, select Layers ¡ú Add Objects or click the Add Object(s) button.
# Doing so will add the selection to the animation layers engine. Notice that the BaseAnimLayer contains the keyframes you have just set.
Add a layer
# Select Layers ¡ú Create Empty Anim Layer or click the New Layer button.
# A new layer is created. You can add as many layers as you want.
Anim layers in the Layer Editor
Keyframe new animation
Before setting keyframes, you must understand how the final animation will be computed. Basically, the engine adds up the value of all the animation layers to the base layer. If you set a value on a layer, then the effect is computed for the entire animation. In order to localize your modifications, you must set what are call zero keyframes. Those keyframes usually surrounds the area to be modified.
# Scrub in the time slider at frame 6.
# With the sphere selected, select Keys ¡ú Set Zero Key or click the Zero Key button.
# Notice a green tick in the Time Slider.
# Go to frame 12 and move the sphere at a new location.
# Playback the scene to see the results.
# Go to frame 24 and click the Zero Key button.
# Playback the scene to see the results.
Voila! Layered animation!
# You can enable or disable the modification in a single click, by turning On or Off the visibility of the new anim layer.
# Open the Graph Editor to see the animation curves on the layer.
Change current layer
# Simply highlight an animation layer to change the active keyframes in the Time Slider and in the Graph Editor.
Baking the animation
# Select the sphere.
# Select Keys ¡ú Bake Anim Layer(s) ¡ú o.
# Set the appropriate bake option, then click the Bake button.
The animation is now collapsed and baked directly on the object.
Delete an animation layer
# Highlight the AnimLayer1, then select Layers ¡ú Delete Selected Layer(s).
Note: Animation layers are global in the scene and not linked to the selected object. If you delete an animation layer, it will delete the animation for that layer on all objects.
Following are some features/issues reported with the animation layers.
If your scene contains character sets, the anim layer engine was built to support them. Simply select your current character set just as you would normally do, then keyframes like you would normally do.
If you need to open a scene file with animation layers on a machine without the animation layer script, you will be able to playback the animation just fine, but you will not be able to modify the layers individually. Bake the object's animation to fix this. But know that the animation will be the same on a machine with or without the animation layer script.
Set Driven Keys display
Because of the implementation of the animation layers, set driven keys will not be displayed normally in the Graph Editor. To fix this, temporarily unload the nrLayer script.
Anim Layer names
The names you set on animation layer nodes in the Layer Editor will not be saved with the scene file at this time.
On rare occasions, users have experienced a refresh problem in the Time Slider when creating a new anim layer. To fix this, simply highlight the animation layer again.
Please, make sure to post comments, requests or problems on the NeoReel Online MEL Library forum at the following link:
If you have Maya MEL scripts which you would like to broadcast via our online library, you can contribute to the Online MEL Script Library. To do so, follow the directions at the following address:
We hope you will join many other users and use this feature to speed up your pipeline. If so, please let us know! We would love to learn about the various usage and extent of the tool.