I've been asked a few times to share my workflow, so I thought I'd post it here for simplicity (and flat-out laziness on my part ;)
Every animator's workflow is different. What is intuitive to me may be completely counter-intuitive to you; my method is certainly not the i ching of animation processes, but it works well for me.
I have three personalized hotkeys that come in extremely handy:
alt+x = toggle playback
alt+c = step back one key
alt+v = step forward one key.
[note, these are already hotkeys somewhere, I believe it's < and >, but since alt is also used for camera movement, these settings make the process faster]
I plan like a madman. A lot of people believe in getting one good reference shot; I don't. I shoot reference for an hour. Then I look over the reference, decide what i like, and shoot again, trying to emulate those acting choices. Then I cut together a "master reference" from all of these shots. The shots dont always line up, but I'm not taking it frame-by-frame anyway so I don't really care.
Next I draw thumbnails, but only of the key poses. I find it's easier for me to figure out the breakdowns and what not once I'm in Maya. I mostly just try and find good lines of action.
Once in blocking, I keep it in stepped mode, and I key EVERYTHING. My feeling has always been that CG should be approached the same as traditional animation. It'll eventually be rendered out, and when it is, it's no longer a navigatable scene, but a flat image, so the graphic quality of the shot will rely on your thinking about the shot FROM THE SET CAMERA, and that each pose should be thought of as a drawing. I block out my key poses, and use this time to "finalize" the camera (spline and all) so that I can animate to the camera.
Blocking is when the aforementioned hotkeys really come in handy. I can zoom up and down the timeline this way, doing essentially the same thing traditional animators did w/ their drawings, just flipping thru the poses to see if its working. I'll hit play or playblast to make sure the timing is where I want it, and shift around keys as needed to make it work.
Following Jeff Gabor's example, I believe in blocking until it practically looks splined. I try to put in all the overlap, follow through, etc. as much as possible, because it makes a world of difference once I get to spline.
I try to define all of my arcs during this process as well. I also try to get in the details, such as eyes and fingers. Again, this'll make splining so much easier.
I tend to spline one segment at a time. Lets say I'm animating a 300frame shot, I'll find an area at the beginning that is a nice chunk, anywhere from 10-100 frames, and spline it out bit by bit. If possible, I turn off limbs. I start from the hips, and typically start from y translation, trying to get that to feel as smooth as possible.
Another hotkey that comes in handy in the graph editor is i+middle-mouse-button. If you select a curve and then use this hotkey, it'll allow you to drop keys onto the curve. Super helpful.
The truth is, there is no method I've found that makes the splining process easy. Even w/ all the planning in the world, the initial pass will still look horrific (see the attached video). And then it's just a matter of going into the graph editor and breaking it down bit by bit. It's a painful but extremely rewarding process.
Well, that's basically it -- my process in a nutshell. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have, or be more specific about any of this.
Thanks for reading :)
This is the initial splined version of my shot, just hitting spline and not touching the graph editor.... yiiiich!