In a professional environment you are always asked how long it will take you to rig a character. This is always difficult to know, and it is quite normal to be over-positive and think that a rig will be easier and quicker to do than it turns out to. Be careful with this, it is better to be realistic and get the job done in time than promising a quick job and then being late. Your supervisor will prefer a realistic time and this will help to schedule the work properly. A good start is a To Do List. Write down all the tasks you need to complete the rig, together with an estimated time for each task. If you want to investigate or do a bit of R&D for a certain part of your rig, write it down too. Please bear in mind that not everything will go perfect from the first time and you will probably have to do changes, so adding some extra time for potential problems is always a good idea. The experience is an advantage - if you had to rig a similar character in the past, you will know how to approach it properly and be faster the second time.
Normally the time you get to do a character is limited. Distinguish between primary and secondary tasks. Primary tasks will be the ones you have to get done in order to have a rig ready for the animators. Secondary ones will be those that will make the animators' work better or get a nicer deformation but are not essential; if they are not included in the rig, the animation can still be done. If you manage to get all the primary tasks of the rig done and still have a bit of time left, you can go for the secondary tasks that will be a good plus to your already good rig. But having all the primary tasks done will ensure animators can do their job (Fig.03).
Working with other artists
In a professional environment riggers are always working with other artists. As a rigging artist you will be involved with other disciplines - modellers, texture artists and animators. You will have to work together with modellers that will provide the mesh to begin your rigging with. It is always good practice to review the meshes with them to be sure they will achieve good deformations. Experience will allow you to know when a mesh is good or is bad and what makes a mesh deform well or not.
The technical word for a mesh that does good deformation is topology and you can search on internet to find samples or discussions about it. My opinion of what a perfect topology is has changed during my professional career, it is a debatable subject. You will have to ask the modeller to put the character in a certain pose that will make the rig much easier. The T pose is one of the most commonly used (Fig.04).
Modellers must be sure that all the objects they have created will match a series of technical checks that will allow you to rig a mesh without problems.
Animators will be the final users of your rig, so it is a good practice to keep a constant feedback with them. Asking them what they like or dislike about your rig will be always positive. Be ready to get critics to your work and be open to suggestions. At the end of the day the animator is going to spend all his working time with the rigs you created. And the suggestions they give can improve you rig and the final result.
Once you finish the rig and set the characters in different poses, it is a good idea to do a few renders in collaboration with the texture artist in order to check if the textures don't stretch or hold nice each pose. In quite a lot of cases the texture artists have to retouch their UV's or textures to make the character work nicely in all the poses.
When you work as a rigger, it is important to be organized. You will not be the final user of the rig, animators will use your rig and lighters will have your rig in their lighting scene.
Naming is a good way to distinguish objects and to know what object is for. It will be difficult to know what each object does if things are not named properly when you go back to an old rig. That is why naming each object is a must in rigging. Well used names are a powerful way of organizing things inside your Max scene. I recommend starting all the names of the objects for a character with the name of the character followed by underscore "_" For example: all the objects in our rigs will start with "Alien_" I get a really quick way of selecting the hole rig for that character when I select the objects with "character_*" Fig.05
This is the rule to name objects:
Character's name + "_" + Side + "_" + Part + "__" +Type of object and Kind of object
Side: to define what side of the character we are working on. It is only a capital letter:
_L_ left side of the rig
_R_ right side of the rig
_C_ no side, when an object is in the centre of the rig.
Part: specific part of the rig
Type of object and Kind of object: combination of two capital letters. The first letter will be the type of object and the second one the kind of the object.
First letter - type of object:
M mesh object
S shapes object
B bone object
D dummy or helper object
P proxy object we create for quick rigs
W object that will apply to another object as world spaces modifier (such as FDD, bend, etc)
Second letter - kind of object:
A objects to animate
H hidden objects we don't want to see on the viewport
F objects we don't want to select and will be frozen
Alien_L_eye__MF Alien character, left side, eye part and object mesh and kind freezable.
Alien_C_pelvis__BH Alien character, centre, pelvis part, object bone and kind hidden.
Please note the two underscores "__" before the Type of object and Kind of object.
This symbol __ will help us to separate the properties from the rest of the name.
By using "*__MF" in the selection floater, it will select quickly all the meshes and freezable objects in the scene.
By using "*__SA" the selections will be all the shapes and animation object in the scene.
Having "_SK_" in all the objects that will be part of the skin is a quick way to select them when applying skin modifier.
Max allows you to have names with spaces but I recommend using names without spaces. One easy reason is that if you double click on an object's name it will select the full name, but it won't if the name has got spaces.
Compare these two names: "test_arm_control_move" and "test arm control move"
If you double click on the first one, you will select the whole name. But if you click on the second name, you will only choose a part of it and you will have to select the full name by selecting manually. This sounds trivial but when you copy and paste a lot of names, it saves a lot of time (Fig.06).
Also, other 3D applications don't use spaces. If you want to export objects back and forward between two applications, you will have issues.
Max allows two objects to share the same name. This can cause trouble when loading and saving animations or when selecting objects. Checking you don't have duplicate names is a must for a good rig.