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Animators & CG & Geek Stuff & Learning

My Favorite Tools

My favorite tools for Maya

As a freelancer, I have to keep up with the latest tools that help me do my job faster and better. Some studios I work for have a team of people writing CG tools for the artists…and all is great in the world. Other studios do not. Some studios I have worked for do not have the basic tools I need every day.These are the tools I take with me on every job.

#1 Graph Editor Filter
Jeremy Cantor wrote this one and he is my hero. In a nutshell. Let’s say you have a creature with 8 tentacles and you are hand animating these tentacles to make pretty “S” curves back and forth. Now, let’s say there are about 20 bones in each tentacle. That is 160 controls with 3 rots each to keep up with!!! 480 curves!!! What’s a gurl to do? Breathe….now, download this .mel script for Maya…source it, and run it.

Or, put it on a shelf like I do and now you can get all the of your X rots on the tentacles with one click…and can manage them cleanly! Genius!!!

#2 Shot View
Most of the larger studios have some kind of play blast tool that enables you to quickly create an overlay in Maya with the correct aspect ratio – 16:9, 4:3 or whatever with your camera viewport. But, most of the smaller studios and 2D comp houses entering CG do not or they want you to make a comp to crop your shot effectively. What??? I don’t have time to make a comp to just show you some animation, right?

This is an awesome tool that quickly enables you to crop any camera and play blast effectively with the right aspect and your camera view. It also has a zoom tool to zoom into a camera view without loosing the settings. You can save shotView settings to your file too, so you don’t have to recreate it every time you open Maya.

#3 Zoo Tool Box
Finally, this tool creates a HUD that will overly the shotView tool with the name of the artist, lens info, frame count, and so on. This is so helpful when showing a director multiple playblasts. You can see right away what lens you are using, or what artists is working on the file, what frame number you are on…it’s a keeper!

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  1. himanshu

    grease pencil?

  2. Adam Dresher

    Hello Angie and Jamie!!
    Jason Schleifer has an excellent Maya script which does exactly what you want.

    Btw, your blog is stellar!!!

  3. Artemisio

    you know, at first i read “my favourite things”. Now i’m imagining a 3d animator singing his own rendition of the song with “my favourite tools” XD

  4. Davipalooza

    Grease pencil, although it is not very good. It creates nurbs curves when you draw and then those clutter your scene. The latest release of Blender has a fantastic tool just like pixars, but that would mean you would have to learn blender.

    What I sometimes do at work is I open up Pencil (http://www.les-stooges.org/pascal/pencil/), a free 2d software. In the settings you can set the softwares window to be transparent so you can see your maya scene behind it. I do this to thumbnail over top my 3d blocking. You can even work out timing in Pencil before going back to maya.

  5. Forni

    The tool you seek already exists is called Grease Pencil. Was wrote by the animator/Td Jason Schleifer.

    Here is the link:


  6. James w

    i use to use this but i found it quite cumbersome. i still prefer to draw on my screen.


  7. Brian "My Fault" Nicolucci

    Jason Schleifer’s greasePencil tool is the first one that comes to mind

    Hamish has one in his zooTools as well.

  8. Bill Robinson

    Jason Schliefer’s “Grease Pencil” allows you to draw in Maya using curves. It’s pretty handy! He has it on his site.

  9. Joe Daniels

    There’s always the old Grease Pencil script for sketching over your camera. It works pretty well from what I remember.


  10. Los Angeles Defense Attorneys

    Well put it this way.. Photoshop CS4 most definitely is the way to go for Computer Graphics
    There is not one thing that Photoshop cant do, and if anything, the program is soo genius that it might even surprise the programmers them selves !


  11. Paul

    I love the blog, guys. Thanks for the tool tips.

  12. Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff

    uhh photoshop is great for 2d stuff of course, but I was talking about animation tools specific to animating character in CG…thanks though 🙂

  13. jason

    yeah! my grease pencil tool will do it!

    but I’ve been asking for a native tool in Maya for a looooong time to do it correctly. in fact, I spec’ed out a tool when i used to work at Alias|Wavefront (before they were just Alias, and before they were Autodesk).. back in like ’97 that did just that. Never got the traction I (and many others) thought it deserved.

  14. Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff

    awesome stuff Jason! I tried to get that tool into Houdini v9 when I worked for them too, but there were more important things on the menu at the time – ah well 🙂

    Keep up the great work!

  15. Jude

    well i have grease pencil link ,however i did not get the script

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