fix

IK splines are a big part of a rigger’s toolset. They come in super handy for anything that needs to behave similarly to a rope. Funnily enough, that behaviour is often desired in many parts of the body and is also often preferable to a ribbon, mainly because ribbon’s stretch is not always desirable. Examples include spines, soft limbs, tentacles, some cases with lips and eyebrows, etc. Additionally, IK splines are a necessity in prop rigging, so we definitely need to have a stable way of setting them up. That is why today I am looking at a quick tip on going around the issue where the end joint does not sit at the end of the spline when stretched or deformed a bit more extremely.

The issue

If you have ever used a spline IK you have probably noticed an annoying stability issue at the end of the chain. Basically, when the chain is stretched or deformed a lot, our joints become longer and it is harder for them to assume the proper positions and rotations along the spline in order to follow it correctly. Effectively, as we stretch the spline it is almost as if the joint chain becomes with lower resolution than needed.

Here’s an example of the issue. Notice how the end joint has trouble sitting at the end of the chain.

IK splines - end joint issue

Depending on the amount of joints in the chain this issue will be less or more pronounced. Since I very often have two layers of control on spline setups where the lower resolution one drives the higher one so the animators have a lot more control than a single one, I also need to provide the fix for both layers. So, let us have a look at it.

The setup

Depending on the way the spline is driven you will have to adapt the setup, but I think it will be fairly straight-forward how to do that.

Essentially, all we do is we create another joint chain with just 2 joints, where the base is rooted at the end of the spline (essentially driven by whatever drives the end of the spline) and it aims at the second to last joint of the chain. Effectively, giving us this.

IK splines - end joint issue fix

Stretching

You’ll notice that I haven’t added any stretch to that aimed joint. I have found that most of the time I really do not need it. It seems to me that in order for that to become an issue, the chain needs to be stretched quite a bit, which is not very often the case. If you know, though, that your spline IK setup would be stretched a lot, it might be a good idea to plug the distance between the end point of the spline and the second to last joint of the chain into the translateX of the tip of the aimed joint chain.

Up vector

Depending on the result you would like to see from the setup you have a few different choices for the up vector of the aimConstraint. If you want it to behave exactly like the rest of the chain behaves, you can use the up axis of the last joint in the chain to be the up vector. I would usually suggest going that way, as then however you decide to twist the chain the additional joint will always be following that. Other options may include, the joint we are aiming at, the base of the chain (if we do not want any twist) or whatever drives the end of the chain, so we get the full twist out of it.

Additional potential issue

If you have another look at any of the GIFs above you’ll notice that at a certain pose of the CV, not only the last joint is flying off, but also the second to last one goes past the end of the spline. That is caused by the exact same issue I mentioned above. Our fix will not behave amazingly when this happens as the aimed joint will have to pop in order to aim at the opposite direction.

To be honest, similarly to the stretching bit I mentioned above, I haven’t had issues with this mainly because the chains are rarely stretched or deformed that much. That being said, there is a potential solution, which seems quite heavy, but I suppose if the functionality is needed the cost is irrelevant.

What you would do to completely go around this issue is having a second spline IK chain with the exact same joint chain but in reverse. You would also need to use a reverseCurve before the ikHandle, as well. Essentially, we are duplicating the setup but in reverse, so the problematic area is not only the end of the initial chain but it is also covered by the base of the new one and we know that the base of the IK spline behaves correctly. Therefore, all we need to do after that is paint the weights using both joint chains and smoothly blend them somewhere in the middle.

I have to say that I have never actually used this setup, but I have only tested it out, so if you manage to get it to work or not I would be happy to hear about it.

Conclusion

I really like how in rigging there is almost always a solution and coming up with these solutions is always so much fun. By no means is this fix bulletproof, but most of the time it would do the job. I hope it helps you with building your own spline IK setups, since they are just so useful.