Animation Tips & Tricks: Rigging

Forums Resources Animation Animation Tips & Tricks: Rigging

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    The joint tool is used to create the skeleton framework that permits animation movement.  Control handle curves are constrained to the joints, allowing the joints to be moved and rotated.

    A typical character rig has a root joint at the hip. The Mirror Joint tool can be used to duplicate joints across the root axis for faster workflow.


    Inverse Kinematics and Forward Kinematics are two different setups for rigging controls that sound a lot more complicated than they really are. In a 3 point joint system, an FK setup would have a control handle constrained to every joint, so that each section can be moved separately. This allows precise control, but can be tedious for the animator to adjust for every set key. FK is generally used for arms, and can be setup to switch with IK when needed.

    For a three segment joint chain, IK handles are applied to the base and opposite end joint. When the end joint control is moved, the center joint will bend automatically in a certain direction. The center joint position doesn’t always end up where you want it to be, so it can be adjusted with a pole vector constraint. IK is generally used for legs.

    Murphy Randle: The difference between FK and IK

    Jason Baskin: Creating an FK/IK arm setup in Maya

    Vinny Argentina: Setting up Human IK in Maya 2012 pt3 Joint Orients

    Mery Rig

    Mannequin rig joints aren’t working

    Rigged skeletons can sometimes misbehave.  If controls are having no effect on the model, then the rig may have become detached and broken, and you may need to revert back to a previous save.

    First check that there are not any set keys on the master control.  Make sure none of the joints have been rotated over 360 degrees. Also be sure the ik handles for the knees and elbows are placed far away from the joints.

    Jason Baskin: Rigging an IK Spline Back

    Morpheus Rig by Josh Burton

    I downloaded a character rig from the internet, and it isn’t working out very well

    Every rig is different and has weird quirks. It often takes some experimenting to get the hang of things.

    Rigs downloaded from an internet store can potentially have inherent bugs that the developer has not been able to fix.  These mistakes can end up severely hindering the animator’s work.  Don’t try out an untested rig the day before a final project.  If the rig turns out to be unreliable, you’re kind of screwed.

    Rigging and Binding Skin

    If your rigged character model starts doing freaky stuff, it is probably due to a problem with the joint rotation, constraints, or the bound skin. Unbind the skin and try using a different binding method. If a soft body model is deforming in weird areas, the skin probably needs weight painting.

    James Taylor: Maya 2016 Character Rigging Tutorial: Joints & Skinning

    Duylinh Nguyen: How to create a very basic character rig in Maya Part 1

    DevDennis: Painting Weights

    Set Driven Keys

    Set Driven keys are presets for animation, allowing for faster workflow and precise positioning of rigged components.

    UnityChat: Using Set Driven Keys to Animate Fingers

    Facial Expressions

    Blend shapes allow the animator to quickly transition between preset positions, as opposed to trying to animate each control point independently. This is particularly useful for facial animation.

    The eyes and eyebrows can be the most expressive parts of the face if animated properly. Drawing sketches or expression model sheets may be helpful in getting your character to react more believably.

    The Technology Behind How to Train Your Dragon 2

    AnimSchool Animation Student Showcase Fall 2013

    Jason Baskin: Blend Shape Overview in Maya

    Jennifer Conly: Blendshape Heads

    Jane Facial Rig by Eyad Hussein


    Dialogue has to be carefully matched to certain mouth shapes used to pronounce syllables. Exposure sheets are used in the industry to break down when every syllable happens.  Phoneme mouth charts or recordings of an actor speaking can be used for reference.

    It is always recommended to ensure the dialogue or soundtrack is completely set before animating.  Having to go back and redo lip syncing to match new lines is very costly in the industry.


    Hair and Fur

    Toy Story and A Bug’s Life used plastic toys and insects as protagonists because the bodies consisted of mostly hard solid forms, which would be easier to model and animate than fleshy humans. Monsters, Inc. was the first Pixar movie to attempt realistic hair. Sulley had 2,320,413 individual strands, requiring development of a custom simulation program.  Even with the expensive software, most of the hair follicles seen in the final cut of the movie had to be adjusted manually by animators.

    In Monsters Universtity, the number of hairs on Sulley alone doubled to 5,475,458, with a new simulation program built from scratch. In The Incredibles, the most technically challenging aspect of the entire production was Violet’s hair. The character model was bald throughout most of the production because the technology to create long hair didn’t exist at the time, though the physics were believed theoretically possible. The advancements in hair simulation for Brave and Disney’s Zootopia are just as insane.

    The moral of the story is that beginner animators probably want to avoid realistic fur and hair in their projects. Unless you really want to become a rendering artist/software engineer, it would probably take several months just to understand the theory of how hair physics work, let alone start building a working hair simulation program.

    Tarkan Sarim: Maya Tutorial-creating curves for hair using Maya curve modeling techniques

    DevDennis: Maya Hair – How to Easy Make Hair in Maya 3/3

    3dmotive: Maya Tutorial – Creating Dynamic Hair Driven Joint Chains

    Venture Beat: Creating a creature with 5.5M pieces of animated hair in Pixar’s Monsters University

    Cartoon Brew: Who Does What On A CGI Character: The Many Makers of Elliot in ‘Pete’s Dragon’

    CNET: Bravely going where Pixar animation tech has never gone

    Slashfilm: A Look at Pixar and LucasFilm’s Renderfarms


    Like hair, cloth is an advanced technique that will cause you a world of hurt if you attempt to mess with it. As an example, one animator for Rocksteady’s Arkham game series ended up spending two whole years just animating Batman’s cape movements.  Whatever Rocksteady paid him, it probably wasn’t enough.

    Fabric simulation programs like nCloth will imitate basic drapery physics for a number of different materials, but animators still have to go back in and make small adjustments by hand to get believable movement.

    Mike Smith: Maya 2016 – nCloth Basics Part 1


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