The 11 best Maya plugins

If you're new to Maya, or working on a Maya-based project and need a little help, there's plenty of plugins out there that may be able to assist. Some are free, others come at a cost, but all are guaranteed to make life easier. Here, we've found 11 top Maya plugins to help you out, covering everything from animation and rigging to crowd simulations and camera views.

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01. Krakatoa MY 2.3

Maya plugin: KMY

  • Platform: Windows, Linux
  • Price: 15-day trial

The latest issue of high-volume particle rendering plugin Krakatoa, MY 2.3, comes with full Magma support, higher particle counts, and PRT surfacing over and above the previous verions. Creator Thinkbox Software has also fine-tuned existing features so that all platforms are now feature equivalent and more than fully capable of handling anything artists throw at them.

02. The Andy Rig

  • Price: Free

Character rigging can be a tiresome, not to mention tricky, task. Aware of this, artist John Doublestein created the Andy (short of androgynous) Rig to save the students at the Savannah College of Art and Design the trouble. This brilliant customisable character rig is probably one of the most used, flexible and stable rigs around. Updated based on student feedback, this tool plays both male and female roles and has multiple hairstyles and textures readily available. The latest release includes features such as including IK/FK matching on arms and legs, squash and stretch and bendy arms and animatable pivots on feet, root and head to make the task of rigging as simple and as quick as possible.

03. MGTools

  • Price: Version 1: Free, Version 2: $50 for one user lifetime license

Designed by an animator, for animators, Miguel Winfield’s plug-in MG Tools has a number of features that aims to make the life of an animator that much easier. By downloading this plug-in, you'll benefit from a floating channelBox, specialised for animation, a selection of constraint tools to speed up the process, a MG to MA converter, motion path animation calculator and much more. Dubbed the animator’s utility belt, MG Tools can seriously save time and create a more efficient workflow. Winfield generously offers the first version of this tool as a free download, with the latest iteration of the software coming in at a $50 for a lifetime license.

04. BHGhost

  • Price: Free

Onion skinning is a technique used by animators to see multiple frames at once. By using this technique, artists can easily see how to alter or adjust an image based on the previous image in the sequence. This free script by animator and rigger Brian Horgan provides a different but helpful approach to onion skinning in 3D. Maya's in-built ghosting tool shows semi-transparent animated objects in a scene to give an overview of the animation created. But BHGhost takes it one step further, creating an onion skin that creates actual 3D outlines of your animation in the Maya viewport, making it easier to see the relation between poses and refine your animation even further.

05. Maya Bonus Tools 2014

  • Price: Free

Who better to get some free Maya tools from than the makers of the software themselves? The helpful bunch at Autodesk not only provide a huge amount of supportive information on their online community site Area, they've also uploaded this brilliant free collection of useful Maya scripts and plugins. Installation creates an additional pull-down menu, which provides easy access to a variety of every day tools and utilities. And so not to confuse you, tools have been organised to mimic the layout of the standard Maya menu sets, with each sub-menu containing a number of relating tools, which can be torn off and floated just like standard Maya menus.

06. Miarmy

  • Price: Free (express edition)

If you want to create your own battle or crowd scene but have no idea where to begin, crowd simulation software Miarmy may be just the solution. This complex Maya plugin offers a range of features, including the ability to enable agents to be affected by forces or Maya Fluids systems, for a believable performance. The professional version will set you back almost back almost $1000. But, if you're starting small, take advantage of the Express version, which, although limited to 100 agents, is free to download forever.

07. tweenMachine

  • Price: Free

Every animator out there will know how time-consuming keyframe animation can be. Created by 3D character animator Justin Barrett, the purpose of Maya plug-in TweenMachine is to greatly simplify the process of creating breakdown poses between key poses. TweenMachine significantly reduces the amount of steps it takes to create poses for your character with stepped keys. Barrett doesn’t claim tweenMachine creates perfect breakdown poses, but says it "helps you get closer to your goal a lot faster than other methods". This super-useful tool is free of charge but donations to the author for further development are, as always, gratefully received.

08. ShotView

  • Price: Free

Shotview is a free and simple but very effective Maya plugin, which provides a constant and clean representation of your camera view in a floating window. This tool is incredibly useful, especially for artists with a two monitor set-up, as it allows you to view both the default Maya perspective and camera view simultaneously, saving the hassle of switching between the two and helping to develop the perfect cinematic shot. Shotview also allows you to set automatic filtering options that will turn off any controllers that you don't want to see when running a playblast, that will restore after it has been created.

09. Advanced Skeleton

  • Price: Free

Since working on various feature animated films such as Happy Feet and The Legend of the Guardians, technical director Oyvind Nostdal developed Advanced Skeleton to make character creation a much more efficient process. A collection of Maya tools for doing character setup, this useful plugin creates a complex motion system from a simple joint chain. A brilliant, timesaving tool, Advanced Skeleton will have your characters up and running in no time.

10. Anim Tools

  • Price: Subcriptions to site start from $11pm

This is a brilliant selection of tools for Maya users. A subscription is required to access the site, but if you do sign up, you'll gain access to tools for selection, posing, scene management, scene setup and more. Aware that every artist works differently, the team behind these plugins have included multiple tools that can be used to achieve the same task. The team also works hard to make sure each tool is customizable for individual artists. Well worth a look.

11. Blue Pencil

  • Price: $49

If you're a 2D artist making the move into 3D, you should check out this sketchpad for Maya, Blue Pencil, which provides 2D drawing to Maya's 3D viewport. The useful plugin features a grease pencil tool that allows artists to plan, annotate and illustrate shots. Like most painting tools, Blue Pencil benefits from drawing tools that include the pencil, brush, eraser and eye dropper. It also has built-in pressure-sensitive controls of line thickness and opacity. But don't expect the quality of other 2D imaging software such as Photoshop, Blue Pencil is simply a multi-purpose tool designed for roughing out ideas.

Words: Kerrie Hughes

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