Melee Attack (MA)

Looking for reference of genuine fear? You'll know it when you see it.


Refer to FOL for assignment weight and due date.

Melee Attack (MA)
    Using any humanoid rig (choose wisely - it should have IK/FK matching) and a simple prop (a primitive cylinder will do.) animate a powerful melee attack against an unseen victim. The primary goal is to create a fluid pantomime performance with a strong sense of mass and force. This task will also introduce basic constraints in Maya. Movement style must be broad and exaggerated, appropriate for a 3rd person view action/adventure type game.

    Like many games animations, the start (x1) and end pose (x72) will be the same pose, though the end pose should be forward of the starting pose position. Forward movement is helpful because it allows you to increase the distance and speed of the strike.

    Staging will be a locked off 3/4 camera view that shows the entire action (no camera animation allowed) though the weapon can break the edge of frame a bit.

    There should be a clear anticipation, strike and follow through. The attack will be exactly 3 seconds long (72 frames @24fps) Featured principles: Anticipation, Overlap/Follow Through, Arcs, Timing, and Exaggeration.

WARNING: There are a number of common missteps on this assignment.
Read the pro tips below and follow them for best results.

PRO TIP #1 - Avoid 2 handed attacks. They are complex and significantly increase the challenge of this assignment. If you really want to create a two hand attack, do a one-hand strike animation first and then see if you still want to try something more difficult later.

PRO TIP #2 - Do a single strike only. This will allow for a strong anticipation, lots of overlap, and a clear recovery. While attacks with multiple strikes can be fun to animate, they are more complex than this assignment schedule permits.

PRO TIP #3 - Remember the match pose. This assignment requires that you start/end in the same pose. Pose2Shelf or Studio Library can help with this.

PRO TIP #4 - Include forward movement so your animation ends ahead of the starting position. This will allow for a bigger and faster strike. (More distance = faster.)

PRO TIP #5 - Shoot or gather reference and EXAGGERATE it. Ideally you'll start with something that has a legitimately powerful strike. Draw over the reference and "push" the poses, create stronger lines of action and go for broader arcs in the movement. Use this page as a guide: Planning and Reference

Alternative workflow: MoCap
Adventurous and technically confident students may want to use the Motion Capture facility to create this animation. While motion capture is permitted for this assignment the following requirements must be observed:
  • It must be originally authored MoCap by you, no clips from MIXAMO or other sources
  • No raw data: it must be revised for exaggeration, clarity and quality
  • All other assignment parameters apply: must start and end in the exact same pose

Hand in will be as follows:
 - 1920 x 1080 (HD1080) resolution
- QuickTime .mov or .mp4 with H.264 compression. NO AVI files.
- no resolution gate, grid or animation controls visible
- HUD showing with 'current frame' turned on

Items should be named: <Lastname>_<Firstname>_<MA>.mov

What I'll be grading on this assignment:

- Have you met all of the required assignment parameters? (length, naming, hand-in)
- Does the character have a realistic sense of weight and balance?
- Is there a strong anticipation to the attack?
- Does the strike feel powerful?
- Does your character overlap after the strike?
- At the end of the animation does the character return to their starting pose?
- Have you shared your work in progress for feedback during class time?


Here's a brief tutorial for the Melee Attack (MA) assignment. I decided to go with a one-handed overhead sword strike. I want to make sure my attack starts and ends with the same pose.


Gather Reference. After some searching online and looking at different sources for sword fighting. I found a video of some fellows showing iron age sword fighting techniques.

I picked out a single strike action (around 32:01). For demonstration purposes I made a gif of the action with the keys and the breakdowns from my reference video (below).

note: You don't need to make a gif for your work. Just trim the refence video down, mark your keys and breakdowns and do any needed 'draw overs' for exaggeration

To make this gif I first examined my reference and picked out the keys and breakdowns. Here's how I define them:
KeysWhat the 'story' of the action is. If you show those single poses in sequence, would someone get a sense of what happens in the animation?
Breakdowns: How the 'story' unfolds. Less about narrative, these poses are to help clarify the mechanics of the action. Breakdowns define things like Anticipation, Ease In/Out, Offset/Overlap, Extremes, Overshoot, Moving Holds and Arcs

Breakdowns explained: 
Angry Animator by Dermot O'Connor
Animator Island  by Ferdinand Engländer
Animator Checklist by Gabriel Garcia Poignet

Once I've determined which poses are keys and which ones are breakdowns I 'draw over' them to clarify and refine elements of strong posing: clear silhouette, dynamic line of action, exaggeration in the extreme positions, balance and weight shift.

In real world combat an attacker tries to hide their intent from their opponent. Conversely with animation I want the character to telegraph what they're doing and make the action clearer for my audience so that they know what will happen next. Animation is not about replicating reality but about making a broader, clearer version of reality.

It's important to remember that in this reference, the swordsman is not trying to actually harm his adversary. This means I need to increase the force of the attack. as well so that it looks deadly.

In the revised gif. you'll notice I made a mark where I want the root of the character to be so that I can more quickly create these poses. With my initial planning done I can move into Maya


Start with keys (10 min per pose) and see if stepping through them effectively tells the 'story' of the action. Showing them to someone else is always a good way to see if you're reaching your objective. Remember to consider the emotional state you're trying to convey with your posing. (Valence and Arousal).

Once you're happy with your first pass key poses, create your first pass of breakdown poses. (10 min per pose)

FOR NEXT CLASS: Time the keys and breakdowns out and then submit for first pass feedback.

Useful article about the concepts of separation and compensation by Evgeny Dyabin:

For alternative rigs check out the website
Animation Buffet (JD Haas)

Watch the videos on constraints here:
Constraints: the Basics and Constraints: Prop to Hand

Consider the following:
How to Animate your Character when he's Holding a Prop (Shawn Kelly)
Constraints: Hand to Prop

Here are some common trouble-shooting notes for the Melee attack. This is the workflow I'll follow for the feedback session of the Melee Attack (MA)

- Individual review of (MA)
- Open and fix Maya file of (MA)
- Review of Constraint: Prop to Hand (
- NEW Constraint: Hand to Prop (

You may have one or more of these issues in your own work. These are the first things I check when grading.

Pay close attention to the image above. I expect these sorts of errors to be addressed after feedback.

Fun in 2d: