The next film I will be working on I will be using Maya. I haven't touched Maya in well over four years, so I'm going to have to re-learn how to use it. So software is weighing heavily on my mind right now.
Warning bad analogy alert:
To me animating with software is like learning to play the guitar. With the guitar you practice the same chords, scales and finger positions over and over again so that they become second nature. It's not until you can forget about the finger positions and focus on the music, feel the music, it's not until then that you will you be able to play the guitar. Before that your just practicing.
Animating with software is like that to me. I have to allow the software to become second nature so I can focus on the animation. If I'm hunting and pecking for buttons or tools and not thinking of the animation then I'm not really animating. I want to focus on the poses, the timing and the spacing. I want to feel what the character is felling.
As I've said in the past I've used a lot of different software packages, sometimes I've had to learn them quickly so that I can be thrown into production quickly. I've come up with a method that lets me do this quickly:
First I try and figure out how the software is similar to the software I've used in the past. What are the new names have they given the same tools that other software uses. What tools are missing?
Second I learn how to pose the character and set keys in time. Once you have posing and spacing down your half way there.
How do I see my animation in real time.
This is when I look to see what curve types are available to me. What curve type works best for this software package. (Not all software packages interpret curves the same way, so if you have a favorite, don't expect it to be there when you change software.)
Last I don't try and learn the whole software at once. That would be too much all at once. I take a few tools that allow me to get the job done and I focus on those few tools. Once those tools become second nature, I'll add a few more tools. As I start to feel comfortable with those tools I'll add in a few more and so on over and over again until I learn the whole software. This is a never ending process.