page 1 2 3 4 5 - wing animation - MAYA TUTORAL 1 
This tutorial is derived from a recent work project which involved the animation of the dinosaur-bird Archaeopteryx and its distant cousin Caudipteryx. Two shots required a half decent (in the distance) flight animation for the wings with maybe two or three flaps. Other shots involved close up wing shots showing fanning movement. I will demonstrate exactly how I first achieved the basic animation, setting up a controllable 'puppet' to achieve these two effects without compromising on complexity. Two quicktime movies are downloadable on page 5.  
If you have to make a wing yourself there are of course far simpler ways - the methods shown here were required specifically for the project in question.  
It must be stressed from the outset that it is often near impossible to create a single 'Master'  creature who performs all things for all shots. Much work on this project involved painstakinkly tailoring the structure of the bird for different shots. For the purposes of a tutorial however, it will be better to just cover this pre-vis/preparatory work which in the main, served as a template for later articulation and deformation structures within differing shots. 
Firstly the feathers of the wing were modelled from simple nurbs planes. The possible particle approach involving sprites was initially discarded as fine localised control was required at the single feather level both in terms of  texturing and animation. It was decided that for shots where the bird is small in frame, a proxy wing would be used - i.e. a simple flattened nurbs sphere in the shape of a wing and top projected with a matching texture of the feather arrangement.  
The 3 pictures above indicate how the planes were built up in layers starting from the outer edge of feathers, the middle section, the front leading edge and finally the innermost layer (wing unattached) which would eventually blend the wing onto the body. The planes were carefully positioned one on top of each other by a fraction to avoid intersection. Also this would enable the opening and closing, or fanning of the wing during animation.  
The textures were created in photoshop from actual scanned feathers and edited scans of  library pictures and photographs of a pheasant (which we got from some farmer) for the project and kept 'fresh' in a refrigerator. Transparency maps were carefully made to provide fine detail at the ends of the feathers and areas of  'apparent nothingness' where the strands are separate and fine enough to give only a hint of actually being there at all. Scanned images were invariably warped in Elastic Reality to straighten and centre spines and also to uncurl photographs of the live pheasant. 
The above render is an early test of the textured wing . You will notice that a duplicate (with upstream graph) was executed to create a second layer of feathers for each of the three divisions (outer, mid, front). These lower sets were also angled down a little, rotated in the x axis with the pivot at the leading edge to create a more filled out form as opposed to a thin wafer look when viewed side on.  
Note also that the leading edge is starting to take on a very bunched, nebulous look that has become less well defined. This was done so that the front edge could eventually merge with an extrusion for an arm - effectively creating a 'bone' of feather as opposed to an obvious line of discreet units.
click here for page 2 of the tutorial