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Managing Files

In any project, keeping everything organized and secure is of primary importance. Haphazard organization can waste tremendous amounts of time and can put your entire project in jeopardy. On the other hand, having a well-organized system helps the process flow smoothly and minimizes unpleasant surprises.

For the Parking Spot project, we'll be collecting the work of three different Maya users and assembling it into a series of shots. Getting data from one set of hands into the next will need to happen dependably and consistently.


The first decision is how our animation project will be organized within Maya's project structure.

Because the animation will involve several fairly complex models, we'll want to build each model in its own project. We'll name each project after the model itself, such as ParkingMeter, FireHydrant, Spot, and so on. In each of these projects, we can work out the modeling, shading, and articulation details for the given object.

We'll then do our layout, animation, lighting, and rendering work in a master project: ParkingSpot. All our final shots will live there, as will the intermediate steps along the way and the final images we produce.

File Naming

One advantage of working this way is the capability to systematically assign filenames. Instead of resorting to arbitrary filenames that try to distinguish incremental saves from checkpoints from important versions, we'll adopt a system designed to make it easy to distinguish each type with predictable names. By utilizing a common naming scheme across our Maya projects, we can minimize the effort of staying on top of it all.

It's hard to understate the importance of saving your work as you go. Although Maya is a powerful program, we all know that, as with any complex computer program, it just might quit working without notice. In addition, we might find that we've gone down a dead-end path and need to back up to a previous turning point. Our system makes such potentialities easy to handle in stride.

The following file-naming system has served me well over the years and should serve this project equally well:

  • Each model is created in its own project (for example, FireHydrant).

  • Regular checkpoint files have an abbreviated name and a sequence number (as in FH.3).

  • Incremental saves (temporary files) are named tmp1 through tmp9, and then the filenames are reused.

  • Special saves are given descriptive names (as in BeforeDeforming).

  • Final versions are given the project name (as in FireHydrant).

  • Revisions cause the file being edited to be renamed to receive a version number (such as FireHydrant.1), and the newly edited version is given the final version name (such as FireHydrant).

We'll apply these naming conventions to each of the models and to the shots in the Parking Spot project. When we're done with any model (and with the whole animation), we know that we can safely delete the tmp files and can choose to cull the checkpoint files, and the finished result is clearly identified.

In the case of shots (or any models in which we create some parts separately), we'll need to distinguish temporary files from different shots, so we'll sort them out with names such as s1tmp1, s1tmp2, and s3tmp1. Also consistent with model names, shot checkpoints will be named s1.1, s1.2, and so on; the final shots will be shot1, shot2, and so on.

In addition, we'll save our files as Maya ASCII files, not as binary files. Binary files might save some disk space, but they are not editable. The enormous advantage of ASCII files is that if something goes wrong, a corrupted file can potentially be fixed in any text editor (a fact that has saved me on many occasions).


Save your files as Maya ASCII files, not Maya binary files! ASCII files can be repaired if they are somehow corrupted—binary files can't. Don't put your hard work at risk by saving in Maya binary format.

By having a plan for our projects and files, we'll be able to work confidently with the knowledge that we have a place for everything and that everything will be in its place. A sudden urge to save a file won't give rise to a filename that no one understands a month later. It will be clear what files are important, what to name the next file, and what files to consider for the CD for this book.

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