How to Split / Combine Skinned Meshes in Maya
I’ve been using Maya quite a lot those previous 18 months and I must admit that I really appreciate it. Once you master its main philosophy & concepts, working with it can be pretty fast forward: I learnt on-the-job how to handle particles, shaders, animation… and always found my way out when needed to achieve more complex stuff.
Although, there is still a part of Maya that I can’t handle: modeling. Is it only me or modeling in Maya in just a pain?
My last jigsaw: split a character mesh into several pieces and export the result to FBX. Sure I noticed the “Separate” tool in the Mesh Menu, but… well, this mesh is skinned and the Separate Tool messes up my geometry with some Non-deformer history stuff, which pisses off the FBX export: "The plug-in has detected mesh nodes with unsupported operators that affect the vertex and/or face count. To correct this, delete the Non-deformer history before exporting". And what if I delete that Non-deformer history? It just makes me lose the skinning... Dead-end here.
Anyway, after a few wrong tracks, some volleys of abuse, Morgan, a TD from VFX Studio Mikros Image pointed me out the valid way (actually he pointed me ONE valid way… as we’re actually talking about Maya, there should be a billion of solutions…)
In the example below, I’ll split a skinned character mesh (Woman),provided by our partners RocketBox, into 2 pieces: one for the head/torso (Woman_head), the other for the body (Woman_body).
1) Duplicate (Ctrl+D) you character geometry twice. By using the regular Duplicate Tool, the skinning is lost on the copied geometry. Rename your geometries to Woman_head and Woman_body.
2) Hide Woman & Woman_Head. Go in Face Select Mode (F11), select Woman_Body and remove all the faces which belong to the head and torso. Process the same way with Woman_Head
3) Now, we've got two complem entary meshes. Let’s apply the skinning.
4) First, we need to specify that the two meshes ( Woman_Hea d & Woman_Body) are skin cluster. First select your skeleton hierarchy root joint , then select Woman _Body and go to the Animation Menu ⇒ Skin ⇒ Bind Skin ⇒ Smooth Bind. When selecting the skeleton root, your mesh now appears in pink. Pro ceed the same way with Woman_Head.
5) Last step but not least, apply the exact skinning weight we had on our original geometry. First select the hidden mesh Woman, then select Woman_Body and go to the Animation Menu ⇒ Skin ⇒ Edit Smooth Skin ⇒ Copy Skin Weights Advanced Menu ⇒ Chose the following options. Proceed the same way with with Woman_Head.
6) Here you go! Just check that your new meshes behave the same way than the original one (joint orientation, scale…), and you’re done!
As always, any question, improvement suggestion, or other valid process are welcome.