DMA Central


Learn Maya Animation, The Bouncing Ball: Part 1

The bouncing ball has been a staple of animation classes for a very long time. While bouncing balls don’t become the stars of the latest animated blockbuster, their simple animation can easily add life to project, no matter what you’re making.

The bouncing ball combines so many animation elements, not to mention, how gravity affects an object.

Getting the Ball Rolling
I’m going to take you through the process of animating a bouncing ball in Maya. This basic lesson can help anyone learning to animate in Maya.

This tutorial will be in three parts.  The first part addresses the basics of setting the keyframes on the ball so that it moves through space. The second part will then take those initial keyframes and make a pretty decent generic-looking bouncing ball out of them.  Finally, the third part will take that generic-looking ball and adjust it so that it looks like something more specific, like a beach ball or a baseball.

First, let’s take a look at some examples of bouncing balls in animated short films:

Pixar’s Luxo Jr. gets playful with two types of balls on Sesame Street.

Purple and Brown, a short that ran on Nickelodeon showcases how a simple ball can make for funny animations.

The Ball Bouncing
First things first. Before we can animate a believable bouncing ball, we need to know how an actual bouncing ball reacts when it bounces. Go find a nice rubbery ball – and drop it on the floor. Watch how it reacts to gravity. You could also videotape the ball in action and play the video back frame by frame. I always encourage students to investigate real world objects they’re trying to animate – in this case, experiment with different types of balls, a tennis ball, a golf ball, etc. You might not see it now, but this will come in very handy for the second part of this tutorial when we’ll be making a ball move like it’s actually made of something besides pixels.

Wikipedia Bouncing Ball Strobe
A real bouncing ball can be a great resource for an animator.  

Now you’re ready to get started animating in Maya (I’m assuming you already know some of Maya’s interface – if not, then review the Autodesk Maya documentation and introductory tutorials). First, make sure you have the viewport and timeline showing. Now give yourself enough time for a decent animation, say, 60 frames. Don’t worry, if you need more, you can add it later.  Also, it will be easier if you have auto-key mode set to “on.”  The only other element you need is a ball. That’s pretty simple, just create either a polygonal or NURBS sphere. The size and placement won’t matter for this lesson.

Initial Keyframes

Step 1

Start on frame 1.  Set the viewport to the front view.  Move your sphere somewhere up (+Y) and to the left (-X), place the object “up in the air,” so to speak. Now press “S” to set a keyframe for all the attributes.

Step 2

Now, move ahead in the timeline to frame 9 (just an arbitrary choice – we’ll adjust timing later).  Move the ball down (-Y) and to the right (+X) so that it looks like it’s hitting the “ground.”  The auto-key setting should automatically set a keyframe on the changed values.

Step 3

Move ahead to frame 17 and once again move the ball upward (+Y) and to the right (+X) so that it looks like it’s in the air again.

Step 4

Move forward to frame 25 and move the ball down (-Y) and to the right (+X) so that it is on the ground again.

Step 5

Repeat the last couple steps, putting the ball in the air at frame 33 and on the ground again at frame 41.

Pause and Evaluate
Now play back the animation you’ve created. Hmmmm…it’s moving through space at the correct points, but it doesn’t look like a bouncing ball – it’s more like a floating ball.

To polish our animation, let’s use one of Maya’s tools: In our “Animation” menu set, under the “Animation” menu, there is something an option called “Create Motion Trail.” Click on the option and set it to ”line” and “show frame numbers” like below.

With the ball selected (important!), click on “Create Motion Trail” and you should see a line describing the movement of the ball through space.  You can see it makes a wavy shape, like below.

We’ve come a good way to making our bouncing ball look believable, but we need something that better resembles a bouncing shape, like a series of arches. To do that, we’ll have to open and work with animation curves in the graph editor.  That’s Part 2 of this tutorial…

Continuing the Lesson
Learning Maya isn’t as hard as you think, Digital Media Academy offers courses in Character Creation and Animation using Maya, in fact I teach some of those very courses, but you have to do your homework to create realistic animation. So what do you say, ready to move onto Part 2?

Part 2:  Learn Maya Animation

Part 3:  Learn Maya Animation

Learning Maya Animation One Step at a Time


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