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Maya rigging: Introduction to rigging a human torso

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Date Added: 10th February 2014
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In chapter 2 of our free Maya rigging tutorial series, the super-talented Jahirul Amin reveals how to create a rig for a human torso using Maya 2014


A Maya directory (3dt_rigging) has been supplied containing all scene files and scripts used in this project.

Following on from my introduction to rigging, we will now take on the task of creating a flexible torso rig for our character. I think it is safe to say that the torso is the center of the movement. The arms, legs and the head are all carried by the torso and therefore it is imperative that we get it right.

Your spine consists of 24 vertebrae: 7 cervical, 12 thoracic and 5 lumbar (minus the coccyx and the sacrum). In CG, it's good to try and simplify the real so we do not overcomplicate the rig or overwhelm the animator. 24 controls to control the spine for example may drive the animator a little cookoo. I'm not saying never try to fully replicate reality in CG, it's just that sometimes we need only create the illusion of reality to fool the audience. In this tutorial, we will neither follow the natural s-shape of the spine nor place our Maya joints towards the dorsal portion of the torso. The reason for not creating the s-shape is so that we can use one axis to create a clean twist as opposed to having to use a combination of 2 axes. The pose of the mesh will also dictate if this is possible or not. If you had a very hunched over character, Quasimodo-style for example, it wouldn't work and you would need to follow the shape of the back. And the reason for not placing the Maya joints at the dorsal portion of the torso is because placing them closer to the middle of the torso usually creates better deformation. None of this is set in stone so please do experiment. The only way to figure out what works best for you is to go through a process of trial-and-error.

The spine we will create will give us the benefits of both Forward Kinematics (FK) and Inverse Kinematics (IK). This setup is actually based on Jason Schleifer's spine from his Animator Friendly Rigging series. If you haven't checked it out before then I highly recommend you do so. It is an absolute treasure trove of rigging advice.

Before we start the rig, I want to quickly mention the importance of naming conventions and consistency. Rigs can start off simple but very quickly become pretty complex. It is therefore imperative that very early on we put a structure in place to keep our rigs in order. The first thing we can do is come up with a naming convention for all object types. For example, all joints will end with a suffix of _jnt, all controls will end with a suffix of _ctrl and so on. It goes for prefixes also. All right-side joints or controls will start with r_ and all left-side joints and controls will start with l_. This will also make the rig easily understandable by other riggers should they need to tinker with your rig.

Next comes consistency. To make the rig as efficient as can be for the animator, we can keep a few things in mind. Firstly, we can decide which rotation axes will create which type of motion throughout the entire rig. For example, I am going to set rotate X as the attribute that will create all flexion/extension. This way, the animator can be solely working in the Graph Editor and whether he has the arm, leg or spine selected, he/she will know that by editing the rotate X, he will be creating flexion. Now this may all sound a little tedious but being organized is what will make the difference between a clean and a messy rig.

Rant over, let's create a torso rig...

Creating the IK spine joints

In the side view, go Skeleton > Joint Tool. Using the left mouse button (LMB), create the first joint just below the belly button and in the centre of the geometry. Hold down the Shift key on the keyboard (this will create a straight joint chain) and continue to create the rest of the spine by making 6 additional clicks. When you have drawn your joint chain, hit Enter on the keyboard to exit the tool. Now, in the Outliner, open up the joint chain and select all but the root joint in the chain. Pop a value of 8 (you'll have to experiment with the value) into the Translate X channel in the Channel Box to make all the joints of equal length. Select only the root joint and translate it around until you are happy with the position of the spine. Here comes the boring but ESSENTIAL part: renaming the joints. From root to tip, rename the joints as follows: spineA_IK_jnt, spineB_IK_jnt, spineC_IK_jnt, spineD_IK_jnt, spineE_IK_jnt, spineF_IK_jnt and spineEnd_IK_jnt.

Now, select spineEnd_jnt and hit Ctrl+D to duplicate it and then Shift+P to un-parent it from the current joint hierarchy. Rename it chest_IK_jnt. Hit Ctrl+D to duplicate it and rename the new joint midSpine_IK_jnt. Hold down the V key to activate the Point Snap tool and snap the new duplicated joint to spineD_IK_jnt. Duplicate that new joint, rename it hip_IK_jnt and then point snap it to spineA_IK_jnt. Increase the Radius of the 3 new joints in the Channel Box to make them easily selectable.

The IK spine joints in place and tweaking the radius to make some of the joints more easily selectable

Creating the low-res mesh

It's a good idea to test the rig as we go. That way we can iron out any rough spots early on. Simply looking at the joints will not always reveal the odd random twist here or the slight pop there that could be occurring. To test the rig, we will simply chop up the mesh and then simply parent the chopped up geometry to the joints. This will in turn give us a low-res rig that will be usable by the animator to get quick feedback for their animation rather than having to rely on playblasting. Now there are lots of ways to do this and I use different methods depending on the mood I'm in. I'll show you one example here but feel free to experiment. As long as the end result is the same, the process of getting there shouldn't be too much of a problem.

So firstly, duplicate the model and hide the original by hitting Ctrl+H. As we are focusing on the torso, go into face mode and simply delete all the geometry of the neck, head, arms and legs (not the pelvis). Try and keep everything symmetrical as you do this. Now, select all the faces between spineA_IK_jnt and spineB_IK_jnt (use the topology to guide you if possible) and in the modeling menu set (F3), go Mesh > Extract. Next, select the faces between spineB_IK_jnt and spineC_IK_jnt and repeat the step. Continue to do this until you have 7 individual mesh parts. Once complete, select all the parts and go Edit > Delete By Type > History. After this, rename the geometry segments from root to tip: hip_proxy_geo, spineA_proxy_geo, spineB_proxy_geo, spineC_proxy_geo, spineD_proxy_geo, spineE_proxy_geo and spineF_proxy_geo.

After this, simply select the relevant geometry segment and parent it under the corresponding joint. Rotating the joints should now affect the geometry. If you like, you could also reduce the density of the proxy geometry to create a faster rig. As long as the volume of the low-res mesh matches the main model then you should be good to go.

Parenting geometry to the skeleton to get a good idea of how the final model will articulate

continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Peter on Fri, 20 October 2017 10:34pm
So, I take it we don't make the spine_rig_grp with the do not touch part, right?
Korosh on Thu, 22 May 2014 7:01am
The Jahirul's rigging series are definitely the best tutorials for not only Maya rigging but for rigging fundamental concepts I've ever read.
KryX on Sun, 04 May 2014 5:49pm
I have been reading rigging tutorials for months and I have to say that this is probably the most straight forward one I've come across. Having it in both print and video helped to follow a lot. Thanks
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