Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm rarely using the graph editor.

Crazy, right?

I used to love to go in there and tweak the curves until it was beautiful spaghetti heaven. But now, I almost forget about it. As I'm working on my own clips (I'll post some more this week-end and next week) I've been paying attention to what I'm doing, especially ever since I get asked by students and workshop attendees what my workflow is. And I realized that I don't use it as much anymore. In fact, for the current clip I'm working on I check my curves for moving holds and in case there are some hiccups that just won't go away due to some funky spline curve bumps, but that's it.

I love to work through the viewport with hotkeys for making my character CONs visible, I go frame by frame, draw and plot arcs using my dry erase pen or intense staring :), and check every now and then in my perspective view that my character works in 3D space. When I need to copy/paste keys, insert breakdowns, space out keys, convert from linear to spline (I block everything out using linear curves), etc. I use the Maya timeline for it.

The only time I go back and tweak my curves is when my character rig is light, so I can play the animation in real-time and adjust the curves as I'm watching it in order to get the right feel and timing that I want. But since I can't really remember the last time I used a light rig, it's an exception. Although Norman is very light and it would work with that rig.
Although yesterday I had to tweak a foot roll so that my leg would not over-extend during a hold and that required super small value changes, which I only got through the graph editor. So I guess for detail work like that I go back to it.

But by now I'm just so used to working by setting additional keys instead of tweaking curves, that I don't miss the graph editor. I don't have thousands of keys though, I'm still pretty organized and clean most of the time. I can't say that I'm a slow animator either (I think), so I don't think there would be a workflow speed improvement. It's still shocking though to me. Managing curves and splines or whatever you want to call it is always regarded as a holy grail, some people even have barely any keys and do everything through curves. I guess everybody has their own way.

What do you guys use? What's your method? Anybody else out there who almost abandoned the graph editor?


avneriginal said...

I am with you on that one JD. You are not alone! :-)

Delanimo said...

You know, it kind of hurt when I read the title of this post, at first. I thought to myself, "How could he say such a thing...and live?!" lol. But, on a serious note, I totally understand where you're coming from. It's funny, but in many cases it seems the old-school way of doing things works out to be the BEST way. That's one of life's lessons that likes to kick me in the face. lol. As any experienced animator knows, you can't allow the software to regulate your animation, and so one MUST go back to the traditional, frame-by-frame form of animation if they are to achieve the DESIRED result.

Great post, and I thank you for it. Thanks for all of your posts. They're very helpful. Please keep them coming.

Michael Mahy said...

I use the graph editor a lot for slow in, outs, moving holds. But I think I use it alot for moving different channels. For example moving a hand up, and letting it rotate a bit at the end (overlap). How would you do this without touching the graph editor (or dopesheet). If you would like to put your rotation keys a bit after the translate ones?

Just curious.

avneriginal said...

Hey Michael, while the graph editor gives you a very good amount of control on off-setting some channels, you can still achieve the same effect by doing it in the view port. You just need to plan your breakdowns and build the offsets into them.
I am sure there are plenty more ways to go about it though. Just my two cents.

Joey said...

I like to work with viewport.
I just creat keys. Eventually,
I get keys almost every frame. To polish animation , I need to delete some keys and open the graph editor to tweak curves..that's my workflow.
I like to work frame by frame like 2D animation.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Michael, for overlap I just pose it with the drag, overlap, etc. And if I need to add more or tweak it I tweak the pose on that key. I try to keep everything pretty organized key wise, so that I can go in there an tweak it.

David Bernal said...

I Love to hear about your workflow :) cant wait to check out those test!!

Nico said...

I'm with you here sir. I used to be a huuuuuge fan of the graph editor. But, more recently I guess, I've been making a more concerned effort to try and "draw" each frame.

I sort of use the graph editor now for "hacks." For instance, if I want a character's arm to twitch or spasm a whole bunch of times (say he's dying or having a convulsion... oh, games animator by the way ;) I will set the key poses, and in the graph editor, just dump a bunch of keys on the curve right in a row and adjust every other one up or down and kinda tweak. I could just as well do this in the viewport but setting and adjusting such minor movements takes ages. The GE is also great for fixes and tweaks in moving holds etc.

Kinda nice to see I'm not alone. It's funny, before I used to think I was doing something wrong if I wasn't using everything in Maya's repertoire... dope sheet, graph editor, ghosting. But your audience doesn't really give a hoot how you got there no do they?

I love when people post about their workflow. I'm always interested in hearing tricks/tips and the like on the technical side of things.

PS - I really never use the word "hoot." I just thought "crap" wasn't very friendly... but, well, there you are.

Ratul Sarna said...

Hey JD! Thanks for the post.
I was wondering if you're using this kind of workflow in all sorts of shots? Or is it in the ones which have more actions in them?

shiva said...

I think it really depends on whether it's a realistic shot or a cartoony one. Since most of your shots are realistic, not cleaning the graph adds the invisible dirt, like you call it, which makes it more believable.

for more cartoony ones, i think it becomes essential to devote part of your workflow to the graph editor.

Wat said...


That's impossible! << it jump from my mouth when I read it.

I continue thought that you done animation in mel script instead. haha.

Bernie Warman said...

In your last workshop we had the chance to see your newest clip and discuss it. I have to say that I am very impress with "new" technique. You are using the time slide as the graph editor. It's almost stop motion :) Anyway, amazing and absolutely fast and full of details.

frank said...

This is interesting. I'm trying to teach 3D animation to first year animators using 2D animation planning and the whole thing based in animation principles.

The style is heavily based in drawn planning and then matching the 3D character rig to the planning. We call it the 'Jason Ryan Technique' after the animator who brought it to our attention as a method. I know Avner learned the method :)

But that style doesn't suit all my students. And I have found when I move around the studio trying to unravel some of the interesting motion that my students discover, I'm in the GE and solving things all the time. So the GE is a great tool for me. I find I can read it.

I think it stems from attending the Kyle Balda masterclass while at the Gobelins summer school this year. Kyle animated a lot using the GE and it made sense to me as a "middle brain" creative. That colourful spaghetti holds the magic of maths, and with access to my left brain, it works for me.

I'm talking in this post about solving animation movement created by an animator that is not me. I wonder how my own workflow is now? Teaching eats into animation time and animation takes time.

Interesting topic. Thanks.

Daniel Huertas said...

well, personally i found the perfect workflow that works for me... Pose the important keys on my shot right away in spline (copied pairs technique) and after that I apply Layering all the way... the translations on "Parent" and the rotations on "Gimbal" so i only have one axis at a time to tweak and polish ;)

I tried everything before, even stepped mode in 2's and it was just too much for my brain hehehe... this is the fastest workflow and most effective for me :)

thanks for sharing your thoughts and workflow technique JD!... c-ya around.

Brecht Debaene said...

I think the reason has to do with how you block things. because you block in linear you pretty much know all the slow ins and outs are going to work as you want them to.

Its different if you block in stepped because you are never quite sure if the eases are exactly right. then if you turn it to linear or spline from stepped, it is easier to fix those things in the graph editor imo.

I personally block in stepped because its the way I learned it, but I would like to experiment blocking in linear. I think I would have to have my KEY poses in stepped though, to have a target to aim for when breakdowning in linear

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Ratul: it's the same workflow for every type of shot

Shiva: that's the thing though, I'm doing a cartoony piece at home and it's the same, no GE, except for holds

Hammy said...

One of the best post ever that has triggered so many awesome discussion here. Thanks JD!!!

As for my own workflow.. I guess with GE or not, I just work with whatever works best, sometimes I don't use the GE obsessively, sometimes I do when I have to adjust a cycle, or break up a repetitive action. If I can't seem to get the arc right, I also look into the GE.. so I suppose I am still quite dependent on it.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

That's a good point, for cycles I'd check the GE for the loop hookup as well.

Vvek said...

as long as it looks right.

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Haha, exactly.

Alex said...

Hey JD! I have a question. I'm from a 2D background, so I've been using a workflow very much like your own. I draw out all my arcs, and plot my timing and spacing visually (using SketchIt from

I should still get in there an learn everything about the graph editor right? Do you think its necessary to know if you want to be efficient and fast? Even if its a tool you only pull out once and a while?


Jean-Denis Haas said...

Yeah, I think the graph editor can be such a powerful tool and it's so essential, that you should know it well enough.

But that's just me. I don't know the dope sheet nor the trax editor too well. I've worked with both (trax more than dope) and it's good to know in case a project comes up where you need to work with it.

The GE is much more of a core tool. So, yes. :)

Thanks for the sketchit link! I used another program but I think I'm going to switch to this one, love the hot keys! Thanks!!

Alex said...

Thanks for the advice! One quick note about that Sketch It program. I find if I leave it running for an extended period of time (say 3 or 4 hours) sometimes I get a performance slowdown. But all I do is close it and restart the program and it runs great.

Oh, also, Will Vandergrift, the guy behind the program is great, and open to feedback. So if there is a feature you'd like (say a toggle for transparency) send it his way.

Olivier Ladeuix said...

I work in games and mostly at 30 fps so keying on ones sometimes can be overwhelming but the following shot I did during Animation Mentor was completly keyframed with no Graph editor. Yes it is really cartoony which might explain

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Hahaha, nice Olivier! Did you prefer to work without the GE?

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Oh, and Alex, thanks for the tip!

Olivier Ladeuix said...

for subtle motion I have to use the graph editor and set a key every 4 to 6 frames (24 fps) but for very fast motion and especially for cartoony stuff, I don't think there anything better than having a really good understanding of spacing and keyframing one ones.

I guess that's how they worked on Horton Hears a Who (Great animation)

Ratul Sarna said...

Thanks for answering the question :)

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Of course, no problem!

Olivier Ladeuix said...

I didn't really answer your question did I ;-)

I love working solely in the camera viewport but just like you it depends on the shot.

Working without the GE when possible, forces one to get better at understanding spacing so I think it is a great exercise everybody should try. I am still not at the level a friend Stop motion animator is, but I am getting better.

Gabriele Ranfagni said...

I believe to be alone :-D
I use only graph editor for timing slow n slow out and moving holds..but i breakdown every 2-4 i've the full control of my animation..also you came from 2d animation??

Jean-Denis Haas said...

Nope, didn't start as a 2D guy, it's just a workflow that I'm using right now.