Maya – Hierarchies and Squid Rig

We started looking at creating our own simplistic rigs in class today, going into a number of subjects and new tools we could use in Maya to create something we’re going to turn into an animation next week. Some of the information was a bit difficult to understand since Maya wasn’t cooperating during Matt’s examples, but I think after reading through his slideshow and starting to put together my own model, I’m beginning to understand the subject a bit better.

The first and primary thing we learned about were hierarchies: a way of creating and maintaining parent/child relationships between two or more objects. We use hierarchies all over the place, in Maya and in other programs (such as in Unity, where there are also parent/child relationships to help manage objects in groups or individually). I think the important thing to remember is that, if you move a parent all the children move with it, but a child can still move independently from the parent. There are a few things you need to do before putting your objects into a hierarchy:

  1. Make sure the pivot points of the objects are in the correct position. Your objects will move around the pivot point, so it’s important to think about where the objects attach, how real world mechanics would influence its movement, etc.
  2. You’ll need to freeze the transforms of the object, so that if a mistake is made while animating you can always return the object to its frozen transform position.
  3. Finally, it’s always good to start with a clean slate, and this can be done by deleting the type history. I do this when I finish up a project for a day and export my .fbx copy, since I’ve had issues with Maya in the past and have found this extra step helps keep things in order.

First I wanted to decide what sort of prop I wanted to animate. I thought about simple gestures and motions, did a bit of Google searching, and stumbled on an idea that I loved:


I’m one of those people who think squids are adorable, especially the purple “googly eye” squid above. Matt had mentioned adding eyes to rigs and having them focus on an Aim Constraint, so you can control their movement more easily. After seeing this little guy, I knew I wanted to animate a squid like this. I went to look for more stylised versions, mostly in the form of stuffed animals, and somewhat decided on the look I was going to model.


I had a feeling it wasn’t a good idea to include all of his arms, so I went with modelling four of various lengths, as well as the two tentacles. It also meant that I would really only have seven movable parts of the model (the six limbs and the body, which will be squashable/stretchable).


I took half a sphere and extruded edges from it until I had the shape of the body, then extruded faces from the side of the head to make the fins. Finally, using cylinders and some tapering-off at the ends (or flattening out in the case of the tentacles), I managed to create the limbs. I didn’t quite have enough time to add on eyes before thinking it was a good idea to move to the hierarchy task of the lesson.


After checking the pivot points, locking the transforms that aren’t needed, and clearing out the history of the model, I could do the easy task of sorting my hierarchy: this would merely be adding the legs to the parent body.



hierarchy1The above was how my hierarchy looked before I did some maintenance – I’d nearly forgotten to name all my parts, but luckily (since I had so few objects) I could do any naming through the hierarchy. However, as our rigs become more complicated, I need to remember naming will be essential when organising a hierarchy.

To the left was how my hierarchy looked after attaching the children limbs to the parent body. As I added the bends and then made them children of their respective arms, I had some difficultly find the “sweet spot” where the angle and curvature worked with the squid’s shape. The two arms almost wanted to form doughnuts with the curvature at maximum, so I had to change where along the X/Y axis the bend handle lived. I found at the very top of the tentacle worked best, so it would almost look like the squid was waving instead.

Deformers are as the name suggest: there are a variety of them in Maya, but the ones I’ll likely be using on this rig will be bend (for the tentacles) and squash (for the body as he moves through the scene). Having tried adding a squash to the body, I noticed that the entire parent/child tree was selected and thus squashed/stretched. This wasn’t what I wanted, but I didn’t figure out a way to change that – I’ll need to look into it a bit more or ask in class next week, since no matter what I did to the deformer it always affected the nearby tentacles (not what I want).

squidwsomebendsFor now, though, I’m please with my little squid. There could be some improvements made to the deformers, but I find them very difficult to work with. I know what I want to do in my head and how the squid should move, but I just can’t seem to find the right set up to do that with the tools at hand.

Unfortunately, we were also introduced to constraints in Maya and I’m afraid I don’t really understand them that well.

By definition, constraint means “a limitation or restriction” and I suppose in layman’s terms it means that you’re restricting the way your rig works. There are a number of constraints we touched on in class, however I’ve yet to apply any of them to my rig. This will likely be done on a clean save so as not to mess up any work I currently have.



The four constraints that I somewhat understand are:

  1. Parent – rather than physically moving a child to a parent object, you can create a constraint and place that object as a child of it.
  2. Point – this is restricted to an object’s translation.
  3. Orient – whereas this one is restricted to an object’s rotation.
  4. Aim – this is where the object rotates around and points to another object; the example given was if you had a character with eyes, you could create an aim constraint that allowed you to make the eyes follow the object they’re aimed at

Overall, I’ll always want to improve my models, however I’m actually happy with the way my squid looks. I’m not as happy with the way he’ll potentially move, but I suppose applying deformers and constraints correctly comes with practice and more tuition. Outside of adding some eyes to my squid, I don’t think I’ll change the base model before we come to animating in our next class.


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