Scripts: My Top 5 Maya Scripts & Tools for Animators!
Custom scripts & plugins. They make our animating lives so much easier. Whether it’s just offsetting keys quickly or creating custom dynamics at the click of a button, chances are you’ve used some sort of awesome tool to help you get by. I was thinking about what custom scripts I have in my toolbox that I couldn’t live without and thought I would share my personal favorites; maybe these will be helpful to you too! I should mention, some of these are free and others are not. While I know it’s sometimes painful to purchase tools and scripts, these are really robust and well crafted and their creators definitely deserve some recognition and compensation for creating such helpful utilities.
So on with it then! In no specific order, these scripts and toolsets are my top 5 favorites that get just about any job done.
This toolset is chock full of all types of tools for animators. It’s been described as “The ultimate free utility belt for Maya animators.” It was created by an amazingly talented animator named Alan Camilo and is completely FREE.
There are too many tools to describe in a single post, so take a gander and watch these videos to see what is included. This set has actually become a standardized part of the tools available at Sony and I use them daily both at work and at home.
At the time of this post there is a v2.0 of aTools currently being worked on.
You can download aTools here
This set, like aTools, has too many utilities included to name them all in a single post. While not free, it’s a fairly cheap purchase about $70 USD presently. It was developed a few years before aTools became so popular by a guy named Miguel Winfield. My favorite tool is the MGAnimRecorder. Edit - Unfortunately the licensing scheme has changed since the previous iterations and it is no longer a free lifetime license. For the $70 you get a single machine, node locked license and would need to purchase a new license in the event you upgrade your machine or purchase a new one.
Here is a video demonstrating the tool in action. It allows you to block out a scene without worrying about the master node keys, then when you are ready, blow the keys away and bake it into world space. This is a handy tool to re-align off axis animation as well as high density keyframe data like mocap. The purchase is worth this tool alone in my opinion.
MGTools 3 can currently be purchased here.
3) QPAS Path System
Have a walk cycle that you want to put into world space? Well this tool will allow you to put your cycle on a path, retime it if necessary, then bake it down into world space. This tool from AnimationATeam.com makes it pain free to do and saves a ton of time for complex quadraped action scenes.
The script can be found here and works in any version of Maya. It costs around $65 USD. It also comes with a nice video tutorial about using the tool.
Secondary overlap - it adds a ton to your shot but can be very tedious sometimes depending on what it being animated. This tool helps with that! With a few button clicks, you can add dynamic overlap baked right onto your controllers for almost any type of action! At Sony, we have a tool called “JFlex” which really helps get secondary motion quickly, and this is the closest thing I could find online that works in a similar fashion. You never really realize how much you use a tool until you don’t have access to it. Right? In fact, BroDynamics actually goes a step further and allows for different types of dynamics to be simulated. Springs, Tails, even Rigid Body ragdolls.
The tool can be found here and works in Maya version 2015 and beyond. It costs $30 USD and the creator, Michael Davydov, is very active with it’s support and troubleshooting.
5) Keyframe Pro
A good video player is key to review your work and Keyframe Pro by Chris Zurbrigg has become my go-to solution. It’s a very robust and all encompassing video player that is also integrated directly into Maya - you can sync up your timeline with the player without ever having to leave Maya!
You can purchase it here for $79 USD. There is also a slimmer version available for $35 called Keyframe MP. It has similar functionality although much less robust in terms of professional workflow. Just want a player to frame by frame stuff and scrub audio? Then this is worth your attention. Both versions also have a trial version allowing you to take a gander at the program.
Bonus - Worthwhile Mentions!
Every year Autodesk releases a new version of Maya with new tools, user interfaces, and plug ins and each year something breaks or gets “fixed.” Ok so maybe it’s not that bad but often the updates between versions are hit and miss; there’s usually some fantastic tools that really speed up your workflow annnnd then some that alter it arbitrarily or sometimes even hinder it. It can be hard to keep up in all honesty.
One thing some of you might not realize is that there is also another toolset that gets updated every year - the Maya Bonus Tools kit. Again, sometimes it’s hit or miss but perhaps there’s something for you this year? Best of all is the toolkit is FREE!
The two bonus features I found this year that were most useful for myself are the Make Joints Dynamic and Auto Unwrap UV’s Tool
The Make Joints Dynamic tool is a free alternative to the BroDynamics listed above. It does the same thing more or less but is a bit less intuitive and requires a few more additional steps to make it animator friendly.
I won’t go into all of the details of everything else that is included, that’s Autodesk’s job and frankly, ther are others whom are better at it. I do suggest you check out some of tool demonstrations on YouTube channels like this one though!
Brian Horgan’s custom take on onion skinning that works within Maya’s viewport.
While I personally don’t utilize too many of his tools, I can’t help but list them here for there ingenuity and power. Brian is a fantastic scripter/td and animator and makes some of the best custom scripts out there for animation. He keeps a blog and updates his repertoire of tools often. Definitely check his site out!
These tools were brought to my attention shortly after posting this entry. I haven’t checked them out myself just yet but they looks like pretty powerful tools that if you don’t want to spend as much money on some of the above toolsets, they are great a la carte options. Specifically the World Space Tools and Retime Tools look to be the most useful and animator friendly to boot!
Have any other scripts or tools you can’t live without that I didn’t mention? Leave a comment below and I’ll check them out!