Thursday, February 11, 2010

Graph Editor Tangent Types Explained

Some of us have become overwhelmed with all the tangent types that exist when we first meet the graph editor in Maya. Knowing when to use what type of tangent and which tangent type is preferred is often baffling. However, I feel that if you understand the differences between the tangents themselves, their purpose will all become clear. The following few paragraphs describe tangent types in simple terms. I hope this is useful for those that are quietly wrestling with your anim curves.

Spline, linear, and stepped tangents are the 3 basic tangent types. One uses zero interpolation between keys: Stepped Tangents are good for blocking. Another tangent type interpolates evenly (linearly) from one key to the next: Linear Tangents. And finally, the other basic tangent smooths all the paths between keys. These are the Spline Tangents.

The Flat Tangent is good for peaks and valleys of your curves... if you want to prevent a spline value from not overshooting, you can set it to flat. This will ensure that the highest or lowest value is the highest or lowest value between affected keys.

The Clamped Tangent is a mixture of flat and spline tangents. The clamped curve is all spliney, however, there is one exception. When two consecutive keys share the same value, they will automatically "clamp" by flattening out. This is usually used for holds... like when you have a footstep that needs to stick. The foot shouldn't move from its position until it comes off the ground.

Finally, my favorite one is the Plateau Tangent type because it is like a clamped tangent on steroids. Unlike clamped tangents, it will flatten out the first and last keys. Any keys in between a peak or valley will be treated like a spline. I like to set this type as my default.

I hope this clarifies a few things for those that were struggling with tangent types. Please leave a comment if you want to discuss the graph editor further.


  1. Thanx for sharing it brother,
    But tell me one thing , while starting an animation which you prefer most for keyposing- Stepped or spline tangent , because there are talent artists at both sides. About me i get confused by start keyposing in spline tangent that's why I prefer stepped tangent but ultimatly you have to come up with your output in spline. But many says working on spline with day one saves time during the polishing phase................what you think about it

  2. Hey Haripal, I usually keep it to stepped keys. I can work in both though but it depends on the animation. If I'm layering some overlapping action, I try to keep it on the Plateau setting. When the graph editor feels second nature to you, I think you'll develop a workflow based on the project at hand. I hope this answers your question.

  3. Again thanx for your comment. But I have one more question that, Are you talking about the inbetweens here to make it suitable by changing the mode of tangents????________In other words, do you think in any kind of a particular animation, an animator have to switch to the different-different mode of tangents before make it final polish as per required by type of animation?????plz elaborate it.

  4. Hey Haripal, when it comes to polishing shots, you really have to micromanage the curves and be aware of how all the keys an tangents are flowing in each other... at that stage, it's not about what the default tangent type is but more about what's actually happening in the curve. In other words, one curve could have several type tangent types including the ones that were adjusted by the user. Hope that helps.


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