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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DMA's Maya Certification Program – An Accelerated, Immersive Experience

DMA’s Maya Certification program centers on its series of 3d modeling and animation courses. These courses are broad and deep and tackle some of the most complex problems and powerful tools in Maya, Autodesk’s industry standard software for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and visual effects. From a beginning of how to create basic shapes in Maya I, to a finalized piece with finished facial animations, body rigging, and narrative based story  – the Digital Media Academy series of courses provides an intense submersion into the Maya toolkit and workflow.

Paul Randall and Karen Laszkiewicz – who attended DMA at Stanford University as part of a partnership with NOVA this past summer – in collaboration with other students at animation summer camp created the sample project displayed below.  Both Paul and Karen were among the Digital Media Academy attendees who tackled all four courses back to back.  The amount of technical information was huge.  The requirements to process and apply the information were quick.  And the necessity to work as a team came as an extra spice to the mix.  Paul and Karen were integral parts of a diverse team that included participants of varying ages, abilities, gender, and nationality.  They both kept learning, kept producing and working with the team through the deadline to create the final piece seen here.

This project is based on a story from a children’s book and due to time constraints does not have voice over or final render.  That said, in this format you can see the scripted words (for voice over) and the skeleton (rigged, model) and other directional tools.  The important thing to remember is that Paul and Karen started with no experience in 3d or Maya and after 20 days of class were able to produce this.  Digital Media Academy will get you started on your new career path!  The skills they departed with will enable them to pursue the field of 3d art, modeling and animation as a viable career path.  What are you interested in learning with Maya?  Is it time to learn new skills to be competitive in today’s employment marketplace?  Why not learn new skills and have fun too at Digital Media Academy’s Maya summer camp?  Please join the conversation, and leave a comment below! 


Looking for more information on Maya Certification?  Please click here:  Maya Certification   Which Digital Media Academy location will work best for you?  Take a look!  Please click here:  Digital Media Academy Adult Training Locations.


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