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Ups and Downs

(Animated Film)

The Goal

Create a short 3d animation film using Maya AutoDesk that employs animation principles, facial animation, texturing, and a variety of surface materials and shaders.

Type: School project
Duration: 8 weeks, in a team of 4 (Summer 2019)
Team: Zoe Yuan, Polina Chzhan, Grigory Gogin, Julia Evteeva

My Role: Storyboarding, character modeling and rigging, color and UV texturing, lighting, animating, rendering, sound
Tools: Maya Autodesk 2018, Arnold (rendering), Adobe Photoshop (texturing), Adobe Premiere Pro (editing and compiling)


In this school project, this was the team’s first experience using Maya, animating, and 3D modelling. Teams had open choice with what story they wanted to go with, and we chose a low-poly, comical idea as it was of most interest to each of us. Learning Maya was a program we had never used before, but over the course of the project and production pipeline I found myself growing much more comfortable and wanting to learn many more aspects of 3D animation and similar software.

Ideating and Storyboarding

The direction of the story and setting was decided in order to be accessible to the team’s new education in 3D modeling and animation. Final character look and direction was decided to emphasize the facial expression, as the paper plane was tiny and is struggling to fly. We drew inspiration from a few places, including Pixar, Disney, and Animal Crossing. 

Creating a detailed storyboard allowed us to consider what was plausible with the time we had and what had to be cut out to not drag the overall narrative. Doing so also considerably helped final decisions in shot choice/shot movement for cameras in Maya Autodesk. The final story was discussed as the group but the storyboard and drawings were completed by myself.

Lesson Learned

This project made my love and respect for animated films deepen and also made me realize I would love to see more of my own ideas come to fruition in the near future. It made me realize that I would like to pursue being a multimedia artist. I was able to exercise my project management skills, especially towards the end where we needed to adapt quickly to problems.

Learning how to use Maya and how to properly and efficiently rig, animate, and texture models will be a continuous learning experience for me, but this project gave me a taste of my goals for the future.


Final screenshot from Ups and Downs


Storyboard for part of the story


Paper plane sketches


Final video

Challenges and Solutions


  • We encountered a few compatibility issues between Maya 2016 and 2018, which caused a drag in the final days of production (skin weights, rigging, disappearing skins, and strange animation issues) which then had to be touched upon my personal version of Maya at school before proceeding with the final rendering.

  • More rendering time would have been optimal - everything was completed for the deadline but more time could have been allotted to allow reconsideration of scenes and editing.

Character Modeling and Rigging

As I was responsible for the modeling of our main characters and rigging, I kept in mind the playful mood and direction of our short film as well as our inspirations. I began with polygon primitives and extruded faces in our characters, but also combined meshes of these primitives to keep their designs simple-looking.

To prepare for the team’s next step in animation, I rigged the character in Maya and painted the skin weights. Admittedly, painting the weights was one of the more complicated processes as parts of the weights kept having issues. However, I was able to produce a final, clean rigged character for the team to use in the later animations.



The team separated the film into four parts so we could all learn how to animate and use camera movement. My assigned section is from 1:02-1:25, but due to some issues in Maya version capability, I unfortunately had to end up re-animating parts of my teammates scenes, such as 1:25 to the ending because I was doing the final rendering at my own home (please view final video below).

Aside from animating the characters, I also keyframed facial animation to the eyes and eyebrows of our characters as a way to add more enthusiasm and interest to the film. This proved successful in the end as one can clearly tell what our character is feeling in the short film based on the eyebrow movements alone.

Final Production (Editing, Sound, Rendering)

Rendering was completed with Arnold Renderer in Maya on serval lab desktops and took around 30 hours to complete all the frames. After, I compiled the frames in Adobe After Effects and then imported them to Adobe Premiere. From there, the sound was then added by Julia and myself towards the final version of the animated film. Due to our film being a playful 3D cartoon, we used royalty-free music to assist us in getting our mood across with music and sound effects.

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