Overall I do think my animation turned out well. I learned a lot through this process and I am aware that there are still many things I need to work on, namely fluidity of motion and expressiveness. I enjoyed animating the character and am looking forward to doing more character animation in the future.
I struggled with constraints during this project. They are not particularly easy to retime since the keyed channels for them do not show up in the timeline. A lot of my animation was dependent on constraints, so making adjustments to the timing of the animation was time-consuming. I had many constraints: one to hold the initial position of the axe, one for each hand to grip the axe, as well as constraints to multiple locators at different positions to help me move both hands and the axe as one unit. Each of these constraints had two attributes, the Blend Parent attribute and the Weight attribute and each attribute had to be set depending on what constraint had control or if the object was being animated independent of the constraints.
Through my research on Lynda.com I discovered that having an additional control in the hierarchy underneath the constrained control allows greater ability to adjust a constrained object. This is necessary because Maya does not play well with animating a constrained object. This method was confirmed in one of the exercises with Bugsy getting mail out of the mailbox.
I felt most engaged at two points during this project: when I was conceptualizing and acting out the animation, and when I was keyframing the character to give him a life of his own. I looked through the available environments, and chose the cabin because it was more finished than most of the environments and had a great mood that I wanted to use in the animation. I looked around at the available props in the scene and decided that I would like to show my character chopping a log with an axe. After determining where the character would start from and end up, I mocked up the scene in my basement and took reference video of myself carrying out the actions.
After marking up the movie clips and bringing them into Maya, I was able to start animating! The character has different body proportions from me, so I had to use some creative license and deviate from my reference at times. My animation steadily improved as I went through the project in passes to adjust his actions and include more principles of animation such as Overlap and Follow-Through.
Dealing with constraints I felt was a necessary evil. It was not something I particularly enjoyed, though I do like the end result. In my opinion, it seems like constraining an object and adjusting the timing should not have to be as difficult as Maya makes it. I do think that next time I will know how to approach it better and it will take me far less time because I understand constraints a lot better. During this process, however, creating and adjusting various constraints often became an obstacle.
I would not entirely scrap this piece because I think it turned out well. One thing I would do differently would be to create a control that is only for keying the various constraints. In the primary stages of this project, I set up a NURBS shape to control both of the hands and the axe together. I would keyframe the position and rotation of this control and the hands would follow. I also created a bunch of custom attributes on this control that used set driven keys to try to make operation of the constraints easier.
I made it through the walk cycle to the chopping motion, then realized that it would best serve me to make another similar NURBS shape to control the hands during the chopping motion. (Reusing the original control in a new position with the hands in different places proved to be more difficult than adding another control.) When I was keying the constraint for this, I had to refer back to the Blend Parent custom attributes I had made on the first control, which made it less intuitive because I was keyframing attributes on one control to work with the constraints on a second control. Having one NURBS shape with all of the custom attributes for all of the shapes in one location would make more sense for next time.
Something I had to learn for this project was how to be able to animate and constrain an object within the same animation. This proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be. I scoured the internet with the search terms I could come up with to understand why Maya was ignoring my keyframes on an object even though its constraint was keyed to have no weight. In my understanding at the time, if the constraint weight was set to 0, the constraint was not controlling the object so I should be able to keyframe it. When I looked online in the Maya help docs and the search terms I could think of I was not able to find anything helpful. Maya made things more difficult by throwing me off the trail with a message about a cycleCheck problem which turned out to not be an issue.
When my research failed me I decided I would do whatever it took to figure it out for myself. With hours of messing around in Maya, using different constraints and trying other methods, I eventually discovered the Blend Parent attribute that the parent constraint created. I would have found it much sooner if it were located near the Weight attribute created by the same constraint, but for some reason these attributes are put in two different places. It took some time for me to understand what had to be done, but I learned a lot through this process. Through my newfound understanding of constraints, if I were doing this project again it would take me much less time and I would be able to polish and refine it more.