Monday, 17 September 2012


RIGBENITO2 from adamconwayjuniorjesman on Vimeo.
It’s been a while since my last post so I am going to make this a Monster!-ish one to make up for it. The topic of this Post is Rigging. To any non Animator/3d Artists, this is the process of building a skeleton that determines how your character moves.  It’s simply making a computer generated skeleton underneath your 3D model.In stop motion animation its making an armature that allows animators to “give life to” the Object. Below are some examples from Studio Laikas latest project, Paranorman.

ParaNorman - Faces of ParaNorman from Grow Film Company on Vimeo.

Now, the thing I like more than anything is creating and writing stories, followed by animation……. Rigging, texturing, lighting, are my least favourite pastimes.  A good Rig should make an animators Job simpler. It should enable and empower an animator to put the character in all sorts of poses and situations without limitation. When we began making the Rig for Benito.... Adam gave me the following Link as something we could aspire to terms of flexibility......

I said man! THIS RIG IS BEASTLY!!!!.....unless we 1. Pay or 2. kidnap Mario or 3. Spend months figuring out how to Rig like this! I propose a different approach…….FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION.  Let’s Rig the character according to what we intend to do with him, rather than make a Rig for all seasons!
Ever since University, I have been rigging things according to this principal, some Artists (Apacapa Faridzuan) will probably disagree but I will try and argue my reasons why:

1.  Some automated features on Rigs make my Job less fun as I lose control and get Lazy!
Unless it’s a tedious repetition: it’s more satisfying to hand key and find solutions rather than just hit a button that does it or me.
2.  Why add something to a Rig control setup if it’s not going to be used?
One of the things we were thinking about was stretchy eyes. There might be a case where we could use them, but it’s going to be very rare. Therefore, rather than Rig FFDS that do this; why not create a bespoke Morph that can be pushed to the limit for a specific purpose when the time comes? 

A colleague in fact mentioned that that’s what Genndy Tartakovsky allowed and encouraged the animators to do on the “revamping” and redoing of Hotel Transylvania. 

If you are a Rigger, you get a high off this stuff! figuring out ways to control mesh and models and automate systems......but.....if you are not that keen on that like me, there's no point in making your Job harder, so why not make the rig simple and push the animation instead? After all, any bone can be scaled to distort your 3d shape.  Don't get me wrong, I have mad props for guys that make awesome rigs like those used on feature films like Transformers, Avengers, Ice age etc but for a low budget short or series, the rig needn’t be so complicated, especially if our main aim is just to tell the story!

My easy Rigging method is Cheat Cheat Cheat and then Cheat all the way… I can rig using bones, from the ground up and I understand IK and FK systems, Parameters, Floaters and Reaction Manager etc Please be aware that if you are leaning to rig, this isn’t what you should do, study the fundamentals first….. but I learned this from a Video Tutorial titled “how to rig using 3ds max biped in ten minutes” from an artist called Daniel Martinez Lara .

I start with my Character in T pose and I use the Biped to design what I need in figure mode. Then I Pose the biped according to how my character looks.  When I am satisfied, I turn this biped into a mesh>> tools-snapshot-mesh.  And from this mesh (which will have all the limbs appropriately named and have correct hierarchy) I link the limbs up using IK and FK. I create shape controllers for the Hands, Spine, and legs and make sure everything works. For this Rig we used IK/FK blending: this site is really useful for adding extra features to the Rig such as this or having a container for poses.

I added extra bones for Benitos’ spikes and fins and used reaction manager to be able to control his tail "curling" manually as well as using an automated controller. After I am done this is what it looks like: 

I wish I could go into it in more detail but this is a quick summary of my process.

Skinning is the process of linking the mesh to the bones so that when the animator moves the bones of the character, the characters limbs follow. This another thing I am not so keen on doing, it’s tedious and boring! But what I can say about it is make sure you push the character to their limits when skinning and it’s important to understand how real human and animal bodies work…. Study anatomy whether the character is cartoony or not. You should know how muscles deform and how bones rotate and link together. This was something I learned from a fellow animator Rafael, when he was working on an automated rig creator and understood much better how these things work. 

Morphs or Morph targets are different expressions and poses we can use to allow the character to express themselves phonetically, emotionally or just add some more uniqueness to their being  The following is a list of important phonemes to have when designing a char (source is

·         A and I: For the A and I vowel sounds, the lips are generally pulled a bit wider, teeth open, tongue visible and flat against the floor of the mouth.
·         E: The E phoneme is similar to the A and I, but the lips are stretched a bit wider, the corners uplifted more, and the mouth and teeth closed a bit more.
·         U: For the U sound, the lips are pursed outwards, drawn into a pucker but still somewhat open; the teeth open, and the tongue somewhat lifted.
·         O: Again the mouth is drawn to a pucker, but the lips don't purse outwards, and the mouth is rounder, the tongue flat against the floor of the mouth.
·         C, D, G, K, N, R, S, Th, Y, and Z: Long list, wasn't it? This configuration pretty much covers all the major hard consonants: lips mostly closed, stretched wide, teeth closed or nearly closed.
·         F and V: Mouth at about standard width, but teeth pressed down into the lower lip. At times there can be variations closer to the D/Th configuration.
·         L: The mouth is open and stretched apart much like the A/I configuration, but
·         M, B, and P: These sounds are made with the lips pressed together; it's the duration that matters. "M" is a long hold, "mmm"; "B" is a shorter hold then part, almost a "buh" sound; P is a quick hold, puff of air.
·         W and Q: These two sounds purse the mouth the most, almost closing it over the teeth, with just the bottoms of the upper teeth visible, sometimes not even that. Think of a "rosebud mouth".
·         Rest Position: Think of this as the "slack" position, when the mouth is at rest--only with the thread of drool distinctly absent

Adam really went to town on the Morphs on this character!!!! and we have around 80 Morphs, some are to do with his Torso, such as squashing or stretching…some to do with his eyes, eyebrows, and facial expressions like Anger, Smile, Pout, Shock…the following are examples from Tom and Jerry.

We also refereed to some documentation and designs from Russell from Pixars’ Up film…


It important to learn new things in order to boost your value so I learned a few things in Max script to help us animate without clicking on objects in the window. I created a floater with full controls, including being able to key in this window. Here’s what it looks like.

Till next Time Amigos!  



  1. Looking good son ! Can't wait till the next update

    Haha I used to think like that back in uni about the rigs, you're right on that note...not so much though ever since I started working and I'm beginning to understand what you mean when you explained your methods to me back in the day

    very much looking till the next blog post !

    1. Thanks Mayne! I just think better to get things moving rather than spend time accounting for anything that may arise! Hope works cool? We should post something about boards and textures soon, keep you posted! 1