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Introduction to Rigging: Planning Your Rig

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Date Added: 28th February 2012
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Naming Layers

Naming layers properly will make a scene easier to manipulate. The best way to manage a lot of objects is having them in layers. Normal tasks as hide, freeze and select are much quicker if the scene is organized in layers. I recommend starting all the layers for a character with the name of the character. This will make the layers to stay together as we get more layers for other objects. Normally you will only work with the rig in your Max scene, but as soon as the animators put it in a scene for a shot they will have more layers in their scene for other characters, background... (Fig.07)

Fig. 07

Apart from naming the layers with the name of the character, it is also good to have a second name to describe what is inside the layer. Use an underscore "_" for the space between the main name and the description of the layer.

Here is the rule to name layers:
_mesh: for all the meshes of the characters and object we want to see on the render.
_hidden: for all the objects we need to get the rig working but we don't want people to manipulate or use.
_control: for all the objects the animators will use to create their animation. Basically all the objects the animators will add keys to.
_proxy: a low res version of the characters quicker that the layers mesh, normally a sliced version of the character linked to be bones. Animators will have a quick rig for blocking their animation.

For example:
We must be sure that every object we create in Max is in one of these layers and none of the objects is in the layer 0.


Rigging is a technical process where you have to take a lot of things into account. It is very difficult to remember to check everything, so using a checklist is the best way. A checklist is usually a word document or excel file where you include all the things you need to check once you finish your rig. You will find a few checklists in the next chapters.

Similar Type of Objects for the Control Objects of a Rig

It is a quite extended practice to use the same type of object for the controls, the objects the animator will use to move the rig. The reason for this common practice is that Max has a selection filter that allows you to select the object of a certain type making the animators' life easier and avoids selecting objects by mistake.

The most frequently used types of objects for controllers are splines, as we can make our custom shapes for each control. In this tutorial we will always use splines as our control objects for the rigs (Fig.08).

Fig. 08

Versions of Rigs

A rig usually has several versions. You will need to add changes to the rig that the animator requested or update the rig with improvements. To update the rig we use the Max tool for saving and loading animation.

Tip: It is a good practice to change the colour of the main control each time we do a new version. This way it will be easier to check that every scene has the latest version of the rig.

Tip: Don't allow anyone to merge or use the files you use to create the rig. It is good to have a separate folder with the final version of the rigs. Always include the version in the name of the file.

If you don't follow this system, you could find that an animator merged the rig from a file when you where working on it and hadn't finished the rig yet.

For example:
Alien_rig_V1 for the first version
Alien_rig_V2 for the second one, etc.

Animation Rig and Deformation Rig

There are two main types of rigs - animation and deformation. Animation rig is the rig we riggers create and animators use to animate. Deformation rig is the rig that allows the mesh of the character to deform and helps to create the deformation in a nice way. We use the deformation rig combined with the skin modifier to deform the character in Max. Trying to do the animation rig and the deformation rig at the same time is a bad approach. Always start with the animation rig. We will not move to the deformation rig until we are sure that we have achieved what we need on the animation rig. The deformation rig will always be working on top of the animation rig.

In the following chapters, firstly we will create the animation rig for each body part and then we will continue with the deformation rig (Fig.09 and Fig.10).

Fig. 09

Fig. 10

Tip: In busy projects, you can start giving the animator an animation rig with the proxy geometry. This rig will be quick and will allow the animator to start blocking their shot. The proxy mesh will give us a rough idea of how the final mesh would look. Later on, you can load the animation to a rig with the deformation rig, so the animator will be able to see if the character with the mesh is deforming properly. By doing this, animators can start working earlier in a shot and take pressure off of you (Fig.11).

Fig. 11

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Swapnil on Thu, 19 July 2012 7:30am
It's very nice for rigging artist, Thank you ...
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