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Character Modelling (animation And Rigging)

By Author: haloteck
Total Articles: 15

we will build a character for use in rigging and animation. When rigging and animating, it's always nice to have an appealing character to work with. However, if you don't have a lot of experience character modeling, it can be difficult to create a character you will be happy animating. There are free characters and rigs out there, but many have been used over and over, and it would be nice to create something you can call your own. In this course, we'll cover the building of a simple character, with emotive eyes and eyebrows that you can then rig and animate. We'll look at methods for building the head, body, arms, and legs and connecting them all together. We'll talk about building the topology with an eye towards rigging and animation - building it to deform well. The ultimate goal of this course is not to give you a new pre-built model to use, but rather to teach you to use the techniques shown to create your own custom character, ready to rig.
A character rig is essentially a digital skeleton bound to the 3D mesh. Like a real skeleton, a rig is made up of joints and bones, each of which act as a "handle" that animators can use to bend the character into the desired pose.
A character rig can range from simple and elegant to staggeringly complex. A basic setup for simple posing can be built in a few hours, while a fully articulated rig for a feature film might require days or weeks before the character is ready for Pixar-level animation.
Placing the Skeleton
Placement of a skeleton is perhaps the easiest part of the rigging process.
For the most part, joints should be placed exactly where they would be in a real-world skeleton, with one or two exceptions.
• Joint Hierarchy: In order for a rig to work properly, the bones and joints must follow a logical hierarchy. When setting up a character's skeleton, the first joint you place is called the root joint. Every subsequent joint will be connected to the root either directly, or indirectly through another joint.
• Forward Kinematics: Forward kinematics (FK) is one of two basic ways to calculate the joint movement of a fully rigged character. When using FK rigging, any given joint can only affect parts of the skeleton that fall below it on the joint hierarchy.
• For example, rotating a character's shoulder changes the position of the elbow, wrist, and hand. When animating with forward kinematics, the artist typically needs to set the rotation and position of each joint individually—to achieve the desired pose the animator would work through the joint hierarchy sequentially: root → spine → shoulder → elbow → etc. The final position of a terminating joint (like a knuckle) is calculated as a function of the joint angles of every joint above it in the hierarchy.

Inverse Kinematics
IK rigging is the reverse process from forward kinematics and is often used an efficient solution for rigging a character's arms and legs. With an IK rig, the terminating joint is directly placed by the animator, while the joints above it on the hierarchy are automatically interpolated by the software.
IK is most appropriate when the animation calls for a terminating joint to be placed very precisely character climbing a ladder is a good example.
Because the character's hands and feet can be placed directly on the ladder's rungs rather than the animator having to adjust their position joint-by-joint, an IK rig would make the animation process far more efficient. One drawback is that because IK animation uses software interpolation, there's often quite a bit of cleanup work that must be done in order to finalize the shot.
Degrees of Freedom/Constraints
When rigging, keep in mind that joints like the elbows and knees limited to a single degree of freedom in the real world, meaning they can only bend along one axis. Likewise, a human neck cannot rotate a full 360 degrees.
To help prevent unrealistic animation, it's a good idea to set up joint constraints when you're building your rig. We'll address this further in a tutorial.
Squash and Stretch
Another consideration that must be made is whether the rig will support squash and stretch, or whether the character will be constrained to realistic motion. Squash and stretch is an important principle in exaggerated cartoon animation, but typically doesn't look right in realistic film/VFX work. If you want your rig to maintain realistic proportions, it's important to set a constraint to lock the position of each joint in relation to the rest of the rig.
Facial Rigging
A character's modelling facial rig is usually altogether separate from the main motion controls. It's inefficient and incredibly difficult to create a satisfactory facial rig using a traditional joint/bone structure, so morph targets (or blend shapes) are usually seen as a more effective solution. Facial rigging is a topic in and of itself, so be on the lookout for an article exploring the subject in depth.

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