If you have any future goals to learn about Previsualization as an artist, animation will be part of your toolset to use to explain your great ideas. I can’t see any reason you wouldn’t have a need to learn animation as part of your generalist studies in Maya.
Here are some basic tips and guidelines to get you up to speed on where to start in basic animation principles for Maya.
The 12 Principles of Animation:
1. Squash and Stretch
The illusion of maintaining volume for an object as it changes shape. This gives the sense of weight and flexibility during movements.
Giving the audience time to focus their attention, and telling them what you are about to do, by showing preparation action.
Clarifying the scene; using what is shown, what is absent, and how it is being presented to the audience.
4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
Two different, but equal, methods of animating a fluid scene. One use is to animate from beginning to end, frame by frame. While the other use is to animate using key poses, filling in the missing in-betweens afterwards.
5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
Two techniques to simulate physics of a character. Follow through communicates continued movement after an object has come to rest. Overlapping action shows the audience different parts of an object moving at different speeds; an arm will move differently than the head.
The natural timing for objects to speed up and to slow down from/to a resting state.
Besides mechanical movement, most organic objects move in natural arcs.
8. Secondary Action
Action which emphasizes and supports a scene without taking away attention from the main action. This is a good way to give your scene context.
Adjusting the speed of an object for reactions relating to emotion, weight or environment.
An extreme form of caricature movement is used to distance itself from imitating reality too closely and appearing dull.
11. Solid Drawing
The understanding of how to present three-dimensional space with shape, weight, and volume. You want your animation to “read” clearly to an audience, which includes being aware of preventing a mirroring of the left and right sides.
Creating a character that connects with the audience through the design of their features or how they express their emotions.
During schooling, some of these principles were indirectly spoken of, but never given clear definitions. I think it would have helped if I knew these principles from the beginning.
I suggest a way to learn these for yourself by animating a bouncing ball test to begin with. I found a good explanation of the bouncing ball test at the 11 second club website forums.
I think that if you go through the lessons and information there, it will mirror the lessons I learned above with three very important principles; Squash and stretch, Arcs, (Weight) and Timing. I guarantee that once these principles are second nature to you, your animations will start to “feel” right instinctively, and help you along with your projects.
The 11 second club is owned by animation mentor which is a really well known online school for professional animators. It’s a school I see myself going to in the future, if only to get a better grasp in that area. Check it out if you want to become a rock-star animator.
Some of the beginning books they recommend, that were very helpful for me, were two good ones:
“The Illusion of Life” by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
This is an animation book by two of the “9 old men” Animator’s at Walt Disney Studio, back in the day when Walt was still alive and running the show. It gives you a glimpse of how these 12 Principles of Animation were figured out and used. It also has a lot of great animation artwork from those films.
“Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams
This is a book from the Director of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, who learned directly from the old animators about the craft. He put a lifetime of learning about those animation skills into this book, and there’s nothing more complete than all the animation information he put in. This book is worth getting, a bible of sorts, if you really must know the craft. He also sells a video workshop of everything he teaches here. The workshop videos are useful, but not really needed.
Here’s another good book that’s not recommended by a school, but I’ve found useful to me along the way:
“How to cheat in Maya 2013” by Kenny Roy
If you already have a good grasp on using Maya, another resource I would suggest is “How to Cheat in Maya 2013” by Kenny Roy. It’s a good book resource, with in depth explanations and tips located in one place, giving you rigs and ways to think about creating your animations. It’s also good for understanding 3D animation specifically, and the control screens and tools to use for Maya.
So there you have it. These are some ways to give you a good grasp of animation whether you want to be a professional animator or get your start in previsualization. Let me know if it helps you, or of anything else you think I should add to this list. Happy animating!