Giving Nick some Backbone!

I’ve used and created a few rigs now for my different animated shorts and test animations and I’ve had my share of frustrations with the process. First off, it can be quite tedious to create even a mediocre one. Second, it’s hard to create a good one; forget about how hard it is to create an excellent one! All of my rigging experience post “Penguin Flight” have come from a tutorial I read from the Blender Summer of Documentation. Even then, I didn’t do it from the rigging tutorial (which is incomplete in the most interesting of places) ; rather I did it based off of the Character Animation tutorial (which is quite, quite good and got me started after “Penguin Flight”. In fact, you may recognize it as the source of Raul Domingo).

This time, however, for the sake of creating a good quality animation and saving myself some insanity while animating, I decided to use my recently purchased “The Essential Blender” to read their chapter on rigging. I only read the intro tutorial, but it was enough to already change the way I think about rigging from now on. Although I have yet to put the rig I created through its paces, it already seems to be working much better than any I have yet built.

The first two new things I did were to add knee controls to keep the legs from bending in strange ways and creating layers of bones. Here you can see my full rig.

Nick in his armature (bones)

You can see the knees if you look in front of the yellow bones, they are tiny little bones in front. Another thing I did, which you can see there, is to have an Inverse Kinematics (IK) chain up the legs and arms. (That’s why those bones are colored instead of having a simple grey color) I’ve done the IK thing before, but I never really saw the power, and now I’m starting to understand it a lot more, although I still don’t fully understand the benefits/reasons behind it. I do see some of the benefits such as being able to pose the legs and arms from the extremeties rather than from the inner joints of the body. I believe this is also more in line with the way we move so, as I gain more skills over time, I expect this will yield more realistic movements. While I’m on the subject, something I had never done before is to create a body IK chain. I made these, according to the book’s instructions, in order to create reaching motions and times when the entire body has to lean into the hand/arm. That’s pretty exciting too.

So, as I mentioned above, I created layers of bones. This is because, for the first time, I created, and understood the purpose behind, control bones. Before I had been doing animation in a very amateurish way and now I have controls that control the legs and arms along an IK chain. So, here’s how things look with only the necessary bones showing on the visible layer:

Nick's armature with only the control and key bones showing

Finally, I discovered something VERY, VERY important in “The Essential Blender” that may just save my sanity when creating rigs. All this time I had been doing a very tedious weight painting of each bone on its own. I just finished doing this for another project and it is SO, SO painful! Little did I know that there was a command that would automatically weight paint the bones according to the envelope with which it was casting on the mesh! From there it is only a little bit of tweaking to get things working the correct way. I’m now in that phase, so there won’t be any pictures of Nick posing just yet.

Finally, the book mentioned something I had read here and there, but never really had it click. Rigs can be designed to be used on all of one’s characters. I have to figure out how this works and if it can save me a lot of the tediousness. I have created, what seems to me, to be a pretty capable rig and the idea of having to recreate it for every bipedal humanoid is almost enough to turn me off to this whole business of animation.

So, back to Blender, my wife, and work. I also have a few more modifications to make here such as that necessary to move the eyes and some other things.


3 responses to “Giving Nick some Backbone!”

  1. Nifty model! It looks very scientific. I keep dropping hints to my relatives that I’d love to have techie books like a Blender manual, but every Christmas it’s the same useless tacky stuff…

    Let me know if you need any more props for “Sugar” or other works. I’ve been pretty fidgety lately.

    Also, I just saw this link about Ed Benedict, the creator of many of Hanna Barbera characters. I read this quote:

    “WHAT MAKES A GREAT ANIMATION DESIGNER? (besides talent)… The best way to learn it is by animating simple rounded characters. Not stylized characters that rely on motion tricks.”

    … and immediately thought of “Jose’s Dinner”.

  2. Thanks for the compliments!

    I’ll let you know if anything else is needed.

    For this week I’m taking time off from Blender to work on some genealogy stuff, but I hope to get back to it soon.