Hello. I was also very pleasantly surprised by Blender coming from Maya, but my appreciation has just grown as I’ve stumbled across more and more useful features and details. Your post gave me the idea to write down some animation-related stuff that I would have found useful to know from the start.
This will be a chunky but pretty much off-topic post, since I don’t actually have any answers to your questions about GUI picker or pickwalking. I think I have seen some special script solutions, but it’s not been built into any of the rigs I’ve come across.
But on to the off-topic. If nothing else, it’s a bump.
Maybe you’ve already customised the heck out of the defaults or have a swell “everything at once” multimonitor setup. Otherwise, for starters, I recommend that you create a Dope Sheet panel above the timeline in your main layout.
The timeline has very limited features compared to Maya, which was a stumbling block for me in the beginning… but the functionality of the Dope Sheet is fantastic.
I’ll just mention two things about it - the arrow-icon to only include keys of your selected object, and T and V changes keyframe type and interpolation of your selected frames.
Keyframe input defaults can be changed under User Preferences->Editing.
When you do almost anything in Blender, you can look furthest down in the T-Panel or hit F6 for some operation options. Let’s call it Tool Options. It’s basically like History in Maya, except it’s cleared as soon as you do anything else. Keeping an eye on the options, you may come up with some additional tricks for the different tools.
A good way to explore features in general is to browse the menues of the different panels, which I overlooked for a long time as I tried to become as hardcore keyboard-only as possible.
I think enabling the Dynamic Spacebar addon may be a pretty good early step, as it makes menu access much more convenient.
Mouseover+ctrl C/V to copy/paste numerical values between input fields, and you can enter calculation formulas to calculate directly in the fields.
I don’t think it’s possible to change several numerical fields at once, Maya channelbox-style.
If you select multiple… objects, bones, things in general… you can often right-click and select “copy to selected” to propagate the value of your current selection to the other objects. But such changes are not auto-keyframed.
Finally - shift R to Repeat whatever-you-just-did, the Maya-G of Blender. If you use the Tool Options to tweak whatever-you-just-did, that’s also what gets repeated.
If you hold down the click-button when selecting something, you’ll proceed to translate it or rotate it (depending on locked channels) without hitting any extra buttons. By default you have to click-confirm the action, but under User Preferences-Z Editing you can enable “Release Confirms” for pure drag-editing.
Under User Preferences->Input you can enable Continous Grab to extend drag-actions beyond the screen edges.
If there’s overlapping objects, you can alt+RMB to select from a list. I thought this applied to armature bones as well, but apparently not. Too bad.
You can press C to enable Paint-selection for armature bones, just like in any mode.
To rotate several joints at once (like curling a finger), enable the Individual Origins pivot mode (ctrl + .)
It’s a good idea to learn the pivot mode shortcuts (different combinations of shift/alt/ctrl and comma/period), so you can switch on the fly.
When you mouseover 3dview, you can copy the pose of your selected bones with ctrl+C, or paste a copied pose with ctrl+V.
In a character rig with symmetrical joints and proper .L/.R naming, you can paste mirrored poses with ctrl+shift+V.
This works between different characters, if the bone names are consistent.
If you only want to paste part of the pose, there’s a “On selected Only”-option in the Tool Options (again - furthest down in the T-panel, or F6).
There’s a Pose Library feature that can be pretty useful. You create and manage Libraries in the Properties - Object Data tab (the human body icon). Adding a pose (shift+L) stores the whole pose, but you only paste (ctrl+L, browse with pg up/dn or scroll wheel) to your currently selected bones.
Pose Libraries are “datablocks”, that can be linked to various characters, imported from other scenes, etc. Getting to grips with the datablock-structure may be considered “advanced use” (in the non-programmer ballpark, at least), but I think it can be good for an animator to understand it as early as possible.
Another example is that the animation-data itself is a datablock. Within reasonable limits, you can link and unlink and mix and match the animation-blocks between different objects, as well.
I’m still pretty clumsy with the F-curve editor, so I can’t say much about that. shift/ctrl/alt for some different selection behaviour, L (linked) to select partially selected curves completely, ctrl-click to add keyframes. If it works in other Blender-modes, it probably works there. The usual G/R/S X/Y transformations, ctrl +/- to expand/retract selections, B to box-select. The playhead works as an arbitrary pivot point in both X and Y, if you enable 2d Cursor-mode.
Oh. Menu->view->show sliders enables numerical input in the channel list. Cool.
I’ll skip Actions, non-linear animation editing and keying sets because… I haven’t quite grasped the use of those myself yet.
I guess I’ll throw in some general transformation stuff as well, since that’s quite relevant to the animation process.
Well, there’s the basics - GRS to Grab Rotate Scale, XYZ to constraint to axis, shift+XYZ to “negatively constrain” axis.
Slightly less basic is the double taps.
For the transformation modes, I think the only special case is R. Double-tap it to enable free trackball-style rotation.
If you doubletap X/Y/Z during a transformation you switch from World axis to your chosen Orientation. You can see or change your current Orientation Mode to the left of the Layer-buttons in Object/Pose mode. The most useful alternative when animating is probably Local, but when modeling it’s great to have easy access to transformation based on the averaged normals of the selection.
With ctrl+alt+spacebar you can create Custom Orientations based on the alignment of your current selection (object rotation, edit-mode selection normals etc). Custom Orientations turn up in the dropdown with the other Orientations. So if your character runs down a weirdly angled roof, you can easily adjust your transformation axis to that situation.
If you hold down shift when transforming something or drag-tweaking value field, you slow down the rate. If you hold down ctrl when drag-tweaking fields you snap to decimal-free numbers. If you hold down ctrl when transforming you enable Snap based on your current Snap options (those would be a huge post of their own - but the options are at the magnet to the right of the Layer Buttons)
If you press the arrow keys when performing any transformation, you tweak the mouse-cursor in one-pixel increments.
Using multiple scenes in the same .blend is slightly “advanced use”, but I recommend that you create a new scene to create movie files in the Video Sequence Editor view. The Scene options are at the top of the screen - hit the plus-icon and Use Current Settings.
That way you have one set of render options to render out your images, and one set of render options that turns the sequences into movies.
Furthest to the right of the Render Layers buttons are the OpenGL render buttons. This renders out an image sequence using the viewport renderer, using your current render settings for range/resolution/etc. Under N-panel->Display you have the Only Render option, which temporarily hides all non-geometry clutter in the viewport. Grease Pencil strokes - if you get hooked on using that - get OpenGL-rendered even if they seem to disappear in Only Render mode.
In the Object-Properties tab you can change the viewport rendering mode of objects on an individual basis. Note that the Wire-checkbox enables a wire-overlay, but Wire in the dropdown menu enables wholesale wireframe.
If you want to change these settings for several objects, the mentioned RMB “copy to selected” method works fine.
To visualise all wireframe-wires even on flat surfaces, you have to check “all edges” in the N-panel. Which is object-specific but can’t be mass-copied, o cruel life.
A final note about an obvious decision when coming from Maya
Just speaking for myself, I’m pretty sure I would be less efficient with Blender if I’d tried to Maya-fy the UI when I started out. And I especially think the viewport navigation setup of Maya would be a bad fit for Blender. I want to be able to rotate the view all the time, but I also want my fingers all over the keyboard all the time - needing Alt for any kind of viewport movement is a big spanner in the works.
I even miss scratching my head while surveying my work with the Alt-setup:P
User Preferences -> Emulate 3 Button Mouse is an easy way to just throw alt+LMB-view rotation into Blender, but it’s maybe just a confusing tenth-way measure.
And that’s quite enough for now, I think. If some points seem idiots-and-children-proof, it’s because I managed to miss some pretty obvious things for a long time myself.