Fish Animation Tool - Quick Start Guide

1. Position the fish mesh

Position the fish mesh along the workspace x-axis, so that the fish is facing towards the positive X direction, and the front of the fish's head is positioned at the grid origin. As shown in the image below:

Fish Position Image

2. Name the fish

Fish Instruction Image

3. Select the fish mesh

Select the fish mesh, then click the "Select Mesh" button.
Select Mesh

4. Click on the "Create Rig' button

This creates a joint chain and IK Spline Rig used to animate the fish mesh.
(The selected mesh will automatically be renamed to match the fish name).


By default, the skeleton is set to match the length of the mesh.
If you would like to change default settings you can look in the Rig Settings which gives you the option to change the number of joints and also the rig length. If you only change the number of joints, the skeleton will still be created to match the length of the mesh. If you click on Rig Length and type in your own value, then the overall length of the skeleton will be equal to the entered Rig Length.

If at any point you would like to change these options, you will need to make the changes before clicking on the Create Rig button.

Create Skeleton Image

5. Click on the "Attach Rig" button

This automatically binds the joints to the fish mesh, creates animation controls to animate the IK Spline Rig, and automatically adjusts the skin weights.

If you would like to change the default settings, you can go in to the "Rig Settings" and adjust the Number of Controls, which sets how many controls are used to animate the fish.

Attach Skeleton Image

6. Select the fish path

Create a path for the fish to follow using Maya’s CV Curve Tool or EP Curve Tool.

Select the path and then click on the “Select Path” button.
(The selected path will automatically be renamed to match the fish name).

Select Path Image

7. Click on the "Attach Fish To Path" button

Click on the Attach Fish To Path button.

Attach Path Image

This attaches the fish's IK Spline Rig to the selected path (using Maya’s Attach To Motion Path constraint function).

The fish mesh will now move along the path but without any side to side movement.

Note:

if you would like to detach the fish from the path, click on the 'D' button next to the 'Attach Fish To Path' button.

8. Click on the "Create Animation" button

Create Animation Image

This automatically creates keyframes for the fish’s side to side movement using default settings. These settings can be modified and keyframed in the “Animation Settings” which is outlined later in this manual.

If you would like to delete the side to side movement keyframes, you can click on the 'D' button next to the Create Animation button.

Delete Animation Image

Animation Settings

Create Animation Image

For more control over the fish animation, the following attributes can be adjusted:

Animation Start Frame

This sets the start frame for the fish's movement along the selected path. Changes to this value automatically alter the 'Average Speed' value.

End Frame

This sets the end frame for the fish's movement along the selected path.

Changes to this value automatically alter the 'Average Speed' value.

Average Speed (cm/s)

This sets the speed of the fish's movement along the path.

Changes to this value automatically alter the 'End Frame' value.

Wave Length

This sets the number of waves in the fish's body as it moves along the path.

(This value is keyable)

Wave Amplitude

This sets the size of the wave movements in the fish's body as it moves along the path.

(This value is keyable)

Wave Rate

This value sets how fast the fish's wave like movement occurs relative to it's movement along the path.

(This value is keyable)

Tail Amplitude

This value controls the amount of side to side movement in the tail relative to the rest of the body.

Tail Flex

The tail flex setting is a companion to the Tail Amplitude setting, in that it controls how much of the fish is affected by the tail amplitude setting. So, for example if tail flex is 0.5 then the tail half of the fish is affected by the Tail Amplitude. If Tail Flex is 0.2 then the Tail Amplitude setting affects most of the body from the tail up to the head. And if the Tail Flex setting is 0.8 or 0.9 then the tail amplitude setting only affects the tip of the tail.

Effort

The effort setting only comes in to effect when the fish accelerates or decelerates. If effort is set to zero, when the fish accelerates the tail speeds up proportionately to how fast the fish is moving, but if the effort set to 1.0 or higher then the amount of tail movement increases as the fish accelerates.

Path U Value

This attribute can be used to keyframe the fish's position along the path.

A value of 0.0 sets the fish position to the start of the path.
A value of 1.0 sets the fish position to the end of the path.
A value of 0.5 sets the fish position to half way along the path.

Add Keyframes Settings

Add Keyframes Image

When you run through the script using default settings, a limited number of keyframes are created for the fish’s side to side movement. For some animations you will need to add extra keyframes to maintain a realistic fish movement.

Add Keyframes (button)

Click on this button to create additional keyframes in the selected time range.

Precision

Controls how many extra keyframes will be created. A lower precision value will create more keyframes then a higher precision value.

Apply From Frame

This is the first frame in the time range where extra keyframes will be added.

To Frame

This is the last frame in the time range where extra keyframes will be added.

Always Active (check box)

If selected, when you click on the “Create Animation” button, the mzFishTool automatically creates keyframes as before, but also adds additional keyframes to the fish animation (based on the precision setting).
The script takes longer to run when this is selected as it creates additional keyframes.

If not selected, then the script will create a limited number of keyframes. Additional keyframes can then be added using the “Add Keyframes” button (to the time range as set in the Precision Settings).

Rig Settings

Create Animation Image

For more control over the fish rig set up, the following attributes can be adjusted:

Number of Joints

Sets the number of joints along the fish's spine.
(More joints means smoother animation)

Number of Controls

Sets the number of controls used to animate the fish’s joints.
(By animating the fish's IK Spline curve)

Rig Length

This attribute can be enabled or disabled by clicking on the “Rig Length” button.
If disabled, the length of the fish skeleton is automatically calculated so the given number of joints extends along the entire length of the fish mesh.
If enabled, a custom value can be entered which will affect the overall length of the skeleton.

Progress Bar

Create Animation Image

The progress bar at the bottom of the UI window notifies you on progress through each part of the rigging and animating process.