Our Top 5 Rigging Tips
Rigging is a vital aspect of preparing a 3D character model for animation, with larger studios having entire departments dedicated to this task alone.
Whether you’re rigging your own creations to then animate yourself or if you’re looking to improve your rigging to streamline your studio’s pipeline, read on for 5 tips on how to make the best rig possible.
Before we roll up our sleeves and get into the nitty gritty, what is rigging anyway? If you already know the basics, we won’t blame you for just skipping straight to step one.
What is rigging?
Think of the rig as the skeleton for your character (or mesh). It’s the riggers job to fit the model with the bones and joints that it needs in order to be manipulated and animated. It’s about providing a control structure for animators to use, placing the keys or handles for them to grab onto and manipulate to pose and keyframe the character.
Another way of looking at it is with puppets. If the felt is the mesh, then the rig is the wood, wire and strings that let the puppeteer move their puppet.
Depending on the scale of your studio, rigging can be a specialised role, otherwise, regular animators or texture artists may muck in and rig the character models themselves. Without rigging, your characters will never even make it to animation, they simply won’t have the control structure in place.
- Plan the action demanded by animation
Before you even place your first bone, you have to find out what the purpose of your rig is. Which actions are expected of it during the animation stage? This isn’t just a rigging tip, it’s a productivity and collaboration guideline that will save you time and stress.
First, you want to cover a broad range of motion – make your rig flexible. The more joints you provide, the greater the potential for poses and complex motion your rig can perform will be. Beyond this, if you’re passing a rig onto an animator, find out exactly what their plan is for your completed work. This way you can cover rigging for the actions required without wasting your time on something like complex facial rigging for a character with no use for it.
A good rule of thumb is: create your rig to be able to perform most of the actions that a human can. This will cover you for most scenarios as well as provide you with a decent template to work from on further occasions.
Once you get confident with creating basic rigs, it’s always a good idea to add special controls to really make them stand out. It can be a good idea to stick in some squash and stretch controls for the body and head just to allow for a bit more cartoony flair. These are great for the legs too, allowing your animators to easily create a more stylish walk or run cycle.
If you get stuck for ideas, just ask the nearest animator, they’ll jump at the chance to provide you with suggestions, anything to save them from a bit of work later…
- Place your joints anatomically
This tip may seem like common sense, given the whole ‘skeleton’ theme, but if your character is human make sure that the joints of your rig line up with the real anatomical placement of the human skeleton.
Having a rig with its joint placement closely aligned to realistic anatomy will make the animation more convincing and with less dreaded deformations.
Be aware that there are a couple of exceptions to watch out for. Elbow and knee joints are better placed a little closer to the surface of the skin instead of slap bang in the centre of the limb. This helps create the compelling rolling deformation of the skin on the opposite side when the joint is manipulated. You’ll want to lay the spine closer to the skin to allow for more natural torso movement.
Modelling a non-human mesh? Good luck, looks like you’ll be studying some animal skeletons or theorising how your monster/alien/thing will move for a while.
- Use deformers for facial rigging
You can’t use a traditional joint and bone rig for cheeks or eyebrows, can you? You’ll need a stretchier, more organic option. That’s where deformers come in. A deformer is essentially a set of algorithms that can move large sections of a model to simulate organic shapes and movement options with a staggering level of detail and flexibility.
For an eyebrow, you can run a wire deformer along the brow for precise manipulation to convey emotion. Try placing a jiggle deformer to give that pot belly a bit of unflattering motion, or a lattice deformer to create the effect of rippling muscles for your more hunky characters. These names may differ depending on your animation software of choice, sometimes called spacers or warpers etc.
These can also be combined with a cluster deformer, like when you cluster a wire deformer to create a series of wrinkles. Clusters will also allow you to manipulate a large section of vertices by using just a single control, an act of simplicity on your part which I guarantee the animator who uses the rigged up model will thank you for.
- Use a low quality model to speed up skinning your rig
Here’s another tip geared towards speeding up your animation pipeline. Just so that we’re on the same page: skinning is the process of taking the joints or bones of the rig and binding them to the actual 3D mesh. Without skinning, the joints won’t move the actual 3D model, no matter how much you try.
So why use a low quality model? Basically unless you’re using a beefcake of a workstation, a high polygon density model will not provide an instant update in your software viewport, these small delays may not seem like much but they can hinder your work and your enthusiasm for a project.
On top of this, animators using a low-poly version of the character will be able to smooth their animation process without these viewport update delays caused by detail on the final model which is not necessary for their work on this stage of the project. The complex deformers, hair physics and the rest of the fully-detailed model can be wrapped onto this low-quality version later.
- Use all the perspectives available to you
When constructing a rig, use multiple ‘camera’ views to ensure that it fits the character model appropriately in all three dimensions. Animation software has handy display grids for you to use as a guide when judging the size and shape of the skeleton within your mesh.
Use a front view, bird’s eye, profile and perspective/isometric view, even when the final project never calls for your model to be viewed at these angles. Making full use of these perspectives allows you to spot any anomalies in your rig, preventing them from becoming a problem later when you (or the animator you pass the rig to) begins experiencing deformation issues or lack of flexibility.
You’re rigging a 3D model for animation in 3D, after all, so you’d do well to make use of every ‘D’ available to you!
If you want more in-depth guides, most of the big animation software developers have their own sections on rigging on their tutorial sites for your perusal. If all else fails, dig around on YouTube, the animation community love to share their tips and there are wagon loads of decent video tutorials if you need a more visual learning experience.
Thanks for the read and do shoot us a message on Facebook.com/fudgeanimation and @fudgeanimation on Twitter if you fancy a chat!