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Rigging in 3DS Max

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Date Added: 9th December 2009
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Time to learn how to take your model and make it move! This tutorial will be geared towards learning how to rig a character like the one that I give away on my site (Family of Rigs) in the Downloads section ( - mainly a character that is simply a stand-in for bones, focused more on animation than aesthetics. However, the concepts herein can be applied to actual Bones used for skinning a character so that your mesh can move. These concepts, however, cannot be applied to Biped - it is already rigged.

First thing you will need to do is download the working file from here.

Here we have a simple version of my Man character that is ready to be rigged (Fig.01).

Fig. 01

At this point nothing is linked; they are just placed as they would be after modelling. So linking is the first step.

Before we move onto that, let's discuss for a second what this actually means.

Linking is how you tell objects who their parent is. What do I mean? Think about your arm: your hand is "linked" to your forearm (Radius & Ulna), which in turn is linked to your Humerus, which again is linked to your shoulder blade and clavicle. The hand is the child of the forearm, the forearm the child of the Humerus, etc.

This is the hierarchy.

So if the shoulder blade moves, what happens? Everything linked to it must move, because it is the parent of everything linked under it. However, does the shoulder blade have to move if the hand moves? No, of course not, it is only a child.

I also give this example because it uses the child and parent terminology: say a parent is in the store with their child, wherever the parent goes the child must go; however, as the parent is moving through the store to the toy aisle, the child, while they are still going in the same direction, is free to run around the parent. If this helps, great! If not, don't worry about it.

Alright, so what will our hierarchy look like for our character here? Well let's start with the basics first, starting from the bottom (Fig.02).

Fig. 02

Okay, so let's go ahead and do this for our character. In Max, chose the Select and Link tool (Fig.03). Now set your view up so that you can see everything you are about to link clearly. This is important because you don't want to have worked hard doing this, nor do you want to link the wrong objects because of the angle you are viewing the scene. For example, this is a terrible angle to work in while you are trying to do this linking (Fig.04).

Fig. 03

Fig. 04

Everything is too small in the viewport so you are going to have a hard time linking those toes to the feet.

This is a lot better (Fig.05).

Fig. 05

Note: I hit F4 to turn on shaded wireframe. It just makes this process even easier because now we will be able to see confirmation as we link. You'll see what I mean in a second.

Okay, so with our Select and Link tool active, go ahead and left-click on the left toe object, hold while moving up to the left foot, and then release to complete the link.

If the link was successful, you will see the foot blink white.

Now test it by moving the foot - the toe should come with it. If the toes do not follow the foot then you didn't link it correctly, so try again. Remember, moving the toe will not make the foot move because the toes are the child and the foot is the parent.

After you have a successful link and you've tested it by moving the foot, be sure to undo so the foot moves back to where it started.

So go ahead and complete the rest of the links as depicted in the hierarchy diagram above (Fig.02).
Remember, as well, to rotate your view to make this easier on you as you progress up the body.

Alright, time to do the opposite side of the body. Complete it the same way as you did before, only this time on the right side of the body.

Good, now here is the next set of links (Fig.06).

Fig. 06

Notice that I went ahead and named the actual objects so there won't be any confusion.Go on and do the links now, as stated above.

Finally, the only thing we have to do now is link the clavicles to the top of the spine, so do that now.
Once complete, ask yourself: Who is the parent object of the entire body?

The hips!
Everything is linked to the hips, so test this by moving the hips - the whole body should follow (if not, go back through and fix the links).

Oops, the facial objects stayed behind! Go ahead and link each of them to the head and now your hierarchy is complete.
Time to start on the rig!

Note: Save!

Inverse Kinematics (IK)

This next phase will take our hierarchy and develop IK so that when we move the hand, the forearm and upper arm will move; same thing for the foot and leg. To begin, however, we are going to customise our interface so that we can perform this quickly.

Go up to Customize > Customize User Interface. This will open the customize window. In here, go to the Toolbars tab and then down in the action window, left-click and then type "I" to quickly navigate to that letter sequence. Now find the History-Independent IK Solver tool (Fig.07).

Fig. 07

continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Diego on Fri, 10 February 2017 9:51pm
Great help for beginner.. Tanks!
Tureli_ on Wed, 16 July 2014 10:35pm
help when I do I back out such result
Bug.ikki on Thu, 19 June 2014 12:51pm
Very helpful for a beginner. Thank you very much.
HEMA on Wed, 24 July 2013 8:39pm
Awsome tutorial...thanks..
Shivaji on Fri, 17 May 2013 3:34pm
nice tuts buddy!!
Shemski on Thu, 15 November 2012 9:11am
thanks a lot. well done.
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