riggers

Firstly, I want to thank everyone who signed up for talk.bindpose.com. I know in today’s internet everyone seems to be trying to get your email and I myself am always very aware of subscribing to anything, so it is much appreciated!

Since I posted the page the other day, I have had about 30 people sign up, which is not an overwhelming number, but to me it says there will be at least 30 people to chat with and exchange ideas when I am stuck somewhere. Additionally, there will be at least 30 people to share and discuss cool rigging stuff with. When I put it this way, it feels like a lot! So, again, thank you!

That being said, any online community would need a bit more than that in order to be sustainable, as we are all too familiar with places that look dead and how unappealing that is. Unfortunately, that has been the fate of many good discussion boards, not only about rigging and computer graphics, but about anything really. Therefore, once the platform is live, we will need to make it grow a bit more in order for it to keep going.

If you have any tips and/or ideas on how best to maintain an online community for riggers like that and make sure it keeps going strong, please share them as comments here or hit me up on email or Twitter.

Additionally, if you have been a part of such online communities that have for one reason or another died, you might be able to point out some of the mistakes and I would be very interested in hearing those as well!

Roadmap

With the numbers out of the way, I want to share what I have in mind in terms of steps for creating the platform and kicking it off.

The way it is going to work is, as soon as I have a proper working solution (which should not be very far off) I am going to gather a bunch of people, from the ones who have subscribed, to give it a test and see if there is anything terribly broken. If that’s not the case then we are going to seed it with some initial information (questions, answers, sharing interesting resources, etc.) just so nobody other than me is faced with the big empty when they come for the first time.

That’s where I’ll need some help. I have some ideas about things I would like to have posted on the platform, but the point of the community is to have variety. So, I would really appreciate it if you have any ideas for specific rigging tips, questions, shares, etc. you would like to see and share them, so I can crack on and make sure we have a variety of content to start with.

Distant future

On top of sharing cool ideas and asking/answering questions, I have a few other notions for features that a platform like ours should have once it has been established.

Job board and freelance area

To begin with, I think it would be really handy if we have a job board and a freelance area. The reason for that is, again, similar to the whole reasoning about the platform. There are other huge places which try to do this, but I think the more narrowed down it is (rigging only) the better. That way, we can rate the jobs and make sure riggers do not have to settle for neither bad employers nor terrible rates, as of course, that affects all of us. I would imagine it would be really easy for companies to find people this way as well.

Workplace information

While we are on the job topic, it might be cool to share information about people’s workplaces. Since our industry is very fast paced and often people have shorter contracts, it would be amazing to be able to read about the work environment at all those other potential places you could work at through a rigger’s perspective.

Rigging challenges

Additionally, I think it would be so much fun if we do some rigging challenges. One of my teammates for my final university projectZeno Pelgrims – started a really cool online place for lookdev challenges – shaders.xyz and it looks amazing! Wouldn’t it be nice to set up a similar rigging challenge, where we all have to rig the same asset and then we all share our processes? It seems to me, this would be the ultimate way for learning from each other.

I am sure that for every one of these ideas, you guys probably have 10 more and I am looking forward to talking with you about them once the platform is live!

Conclusion

For the time being, while I am working on the website, I will be taking time off writing here, as unfortunately, there is only so much spare time. I think it will be well worth it, though!

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who signed up! If you haven’t done it already, please reconsider it – talk.bindpose.com.

In most productions finalizing the rig is actually half the battle. Depending on the role of the asset, but most often than not, you will need to maintain that rig. Which means to constantly provide fixes for issues that the animators and you might have missed at first glance. Additionally you may need to adjust skin weights for better deformations or maybe some props need to be attached to a character. Things like that. Therefore it is very important to have good Communication with animators. It all starts when we present/publish our finalized rig.

Of course, you should not be making a big thing out of it, but if there is anything you are uncertain about in the rig it is always good to shoot a quick message or have a chat with the animators about it. They would appreciate it as well. So, I would like to go over some points to keep in mind when communicating with animators, which have helped me through my projects.

Concepts

Even before the assets have been modeled, it is always great to grab some character concepts and pose/expression sheets and have a chat with the different departments. I cannot stress the importance of this, as often people tend to think of only their own little part in the big picture, which leads to lads of issues in other departments. Imagine having been passed a robot model that needs to move in a specific way, but in the place where you would expect a swivel mechanism or a ball and socket one, you have a solid plate. Happens way too often. Don’t do that to your animators.

At this early stage all you need to understand is what controls would they expect and how do they expect them to work. Obviously if the character is a standard biped you already know this and do not need to have this chat. But if your character has a long neck, more than two legs/arms, it is worth having a chat and seeing what the animators would expect from the rig. If you are asked to add a feature which you are not sure about, say so. Most of the time it would be something you can easily test within minutes, so if you are not pressured by time give it a go and come back with a clear answer. Never shoot yourself in the foot by saying you will add a feature without actually being sure how it would work. You would be surprised how well people respond to a reasonable explanation of why something would not work.

Old rigs and early model

In the past I have offered animators I have not worked with some of my previous rigs, just so they can see how I usually work and what I tend to provide in a generic rig. You do not have to do it of course, especially if you are not pleased with your old rigs, but it sometimes helps put context to what is being talked about.

Depending on the budget of the film you might be able to do some tests before starting the actual rigging process. If you are working on a personal project or a student group project, this is essential. Grab an early version of the model and build a basic rig around it. Think about where the joints will pivot from and test out what would give you best deformations. Do you need supporting joints? Maybe ribbons? Are you going to have to add some corrective shapes to areas? A lot of this can be identified very early on and the earliest you know about it the better. Obviously the more generic the character is, the more obsolete this point is.

The point of passing an early or older rig to the animator is to start getting the issues as soon as possible. You should always reasonably expect that there are going to be issues.

Publishing the rig

Once you are done with the rig, depending on the asset, you can either just publish it or do some explaining with it. In big productions there are so many assets that explaining them is not practical, and honestly having to describe how your rig works is something you should not have to do. The rig should speak for itself, through it’s controls, attributes, etc. In some cases though you might have a limited choice of control shapes. But I digress. The cases where you would explain things about your rig are when working on small projects with a couple of characters and you could really focus on them. In such small teams you are bound to have a chat about everything which is great.

Something that horrifies me is a rig with loads of features which end up not being used at all. It happens way too often. All these features do in that case is bog down the performance. So make sure the animators know about all the features and their benefits. It would make their lives easier and your time spent worth it.

You should not expect an animator to go through each and every control and make sure it works properly or has everything that it needs. That would be amazing, but you should not expect it. The way these things come up is by the animators actually posing the rig and seeing how it behaves. They cannot possibly know each pose needed, so you really should not be expecting them to have a look at everything. Let them play with the rig in front of you, while you mention all the good and bad stuff about your rig. This way they can have a bit of a clearer picture of what they have to work with.

Maintenance

From then on, rigs occasionally come back with the animators flagging up a missing or broken feature, messed up deformations, bad control shapes, etc. Needless to say, you should never get angry with an animator or feel like they are the enemy, because first that is stupid and second they are probably trying to get the best out of the asset just like you are.

Most of the time animators ask for features which are possible and sensible. Occasionally though, you would get asked to do something that just will not work. It might be a limitation of the software (Maya has plenty) or a limitation of the design. In either case, it is very important to learn to say no to animators and be firm about it. Of course, you should be trying to give them the best possible rigs, but when something will not work, you should say so. More importantly, you should explain and if possible illustrate why it will not work. Nobody will ever be convinced if you just say “Nah, that won’t work” and you will look like an asshole. You will find that everybody in the industry makes compromises, when you keep your cool and explain the problem. This is key.

As I mentioned in the What do we need from a model post, just remember to not be a dick and keep in mind you are all part of the team, trying to make the best possible project you can.

A lot of the time many beginner riggers complain that the bad deformations they are getting are down to the model. It is a possibility, but in any case we should examine the models we get before we start rigging them, so we can be relatively sure what we are working with can actually achieve what we want it to. Therefore I’d like to examine what do riggers need from a model.

We will go over the expectations that we should have from a model when we start rigging it. Most of these are really basic and I am sure you know them, but it is important to remember to look for them before we start working on an asset.

Topology

Obviously the big one. That is the first thing we were taught at university. It is the base of the technical part of modeling, as our whole production relies on deforming that topology.

What do we need from it then?

In my opinion we can split the most important aspects of the topology to:
– edge flow
– quads
– resolution

Edge flow

First and foremost, the edges should be following the features of the face and body. We will never be able to achieve a decent looking smile shape if the edge flow does not provide us with the circular loops around the mouth and the edges around the nasolabial fold. In beginner projects usually the faces look very very uncanny, and a major contribution to that is the bad edge flow.

What we are looking for in a good edge flow is a nice description of the anatomical structure of the model. We need to be constantly thinking about how would these verts look when we pull them in this or that shape.

Here is a nice example. Notice how the edges flow around the facial features

What do riggers need from a model - good topology example

And here is some bad topology. Notice how the edges just create a grid laid over on top of the face. None of them are actually following the shapes.

What do riggers need from a model - badtopology example

There are a lot of changes of directions of the loops in a good edge flow. These changes usually result in what is called a pole or a star, meaning a vertex which is connected to five other vertices instead of four. Take a look around the eye area of the good example and notice how the circular topology of the eye merges into the mask going around both eyes and eyebrows. This leads us to the next point.

Quads

This is the main thing people say when thinking about topology, that the model should consist only of quads. And yeah that is mostly true, but there are plenty of examples of good usage of triangles as well, so if you find that you need to have a triangle, by all means have it, provided that you have done your deformation tests and the triangle does not mess anything up.

That being said, I tend to keep all quads in my models as well.

Now another part of the conversation about quads and triangles is the poles I mentioned above. The thing with the poles is that they distort the quads around it quite a bit, making it easy to get shearing in that area which is a no no. If we are to have a proper edge flow, though, these are inevitable so we should make sure they are positioned at places where they will not have to be deformed a lot relative to their immediate neighbours. In other words, try to put these poles in places where the whole area will move more or less together.

Altogether though, I feel that the importance of all quads have been overstressed, mainly because it is an easy rule to define, and people tend to love having a solid rule to guide them. In this case though, if we really need triangles and we are smart about it there is no problem using them. Just again, make sure they do not get in the way of the deformation. Following the rule about poles – having the whole area move together – should be enough to make them work.

Resolution

Another big thing with topology is resolution and we as riggers should learn to be very picky about this one, as it is easily adjusted in most cases, but can cause a world of pain when painting weights.

When rigging characters, if there is a problem with the resolution it is usually that is too high. A lot of people would argue that this should not a problem, but I strongly disagree. Yes, there are many workarounds of course, but it is still an issue.

Here are my two reasons for being aware of dense geometries.

They are denser than needed

I am a big proponent of doing everything with a specific purpose in mind, as otherwise you are just bloating your life. If the higher density does not have a specific purpose like fixing texture stretching or adding wrinkles, etc. just lower it. We should not be spending time nor mental resources on stuff we do not need.

Painting weights is a pain

It is tedious and annoying painting weights on very high res meshes. Yes we can get smoother results, but the price you pay is keeping track of much more vertices. Additionally, the brush size needs to be very small in order to paint precisely and that again slows us down. Additionally distributing twist along many edge loops is just a punishment.

Of course there are techniques to overcome these issues, but if we can completely get rid of them, for me that is the better choice. Some of these techniques include, having a lower res geometry which we actually rig and then either copy our skin weights on the higher res one or drive it through a wrap deformer. As for painting smoother weights, we can always create temporary geo, skin that and copy the weights to our models. I often do that for cylindrical parts of the bodies like legs, arms, spines, etc. Getting a nice twist distribution becomes very easy.

Housekeeping

Riggers love housekeeping! We love stuff that is clean, elegant and makes sense. Who doesn’t actually? The difference is that we would usually go out of our way to make sure everything in the project is in order. Everything except our My Documents folders I guess.

So what does housekeeping mean in the context of a model?

It is more to do with the actual scene file than with the model, but it boils down to these few points.
– No history (except for the occasional lattice deformer for cartoony eyes)
– No transformations
– Proper normals
– Symmetry (except for cases where asymmetry is intended)
– No purposeless nodes
– Multiple shapes or multiple parents

No history

An obvious one. History makes the scene messy. And we do not like messy. Additionally, it slows down the scene quite a lot, because due to the nature of maya’s dependency graph all nodes that are upstream (are on the input side of a node) need to be evaluated before we evaluate the one we actually need. Considering, it is as easy as Alt + Shift + D, this one should never be a problem.

In some cases history is needed, like for having a character with non spherical eyes.

No transformations

This is not a deal breaker usually, but can cause issues sometimes, so generally a freeze transformations is considered a good practice. The issues that can be caused are mainly due to the inheritTransforms attribute we sometimes need.

Proper normals

99% of the time this is not a problem for us, but if we use some fancy setups that rely on normals, obviously it is important to have the normals working correctly. Additionally, this is going to be an issue for the further stages of the pipeline, so it is best if we catch it and solve it.

Symmetry

This obviously does not apply to models that are meant to be asymmetrical, in most cases of cartoony characters though, that should not be the case. The only area that might need asymmetrical features would be the face. Apart from that, having everything perfectly symmetrical makes our job much easier. Mirroring joints, skin weights, controls, etc. is a breeze.

No purposeless nodes

This is kind of similar to the No history one, but deleting history does not delete all unused nodes, as they might not be connected to anything. What we could do in cases like that is run the Optimize scene size command, but take a look at the potions and make sure you are not deleting stuff you might actually need. Additionally, we can always script something to clean up our scenes, but if there are native tools to do it, why bother.

Shapes

With shape nodes, sometimes we might have more than one under a transform, depending on how the modelers arrived to that final shape. If that is the case, it would be best if these are deleted before they are passed to us. That being said, if they are needed for some special purpose, they can be left in there, although that should be kept in mind as there are a lot of scripts out there that grab the first shape of a transform and operate on that.

Additionally, a shape node can have more than one parent – it is instanced. Again, that might be needed for your production, but sometimes modelers forget they have instanced stuff that will need to deform in different ways, which will not work.

Design

I keep reiterating that riggers should make sure rigs can achieve the desired shapes from the pre-production. Just take a look at the model side by side with the pose and expression sheets and think about whether the geometry will be able to support the necessary deformations. I know it is a bit arbitrary, but more often than not just taking a minute to think about that can be really helpful.

And lastly, I know this is a whole essay in itself, but please make sure you ask the modeler for changes nicely. We are all in the same boat together, part of the same pipeline, trying to get the best of our projects. Riggers are known to be kind and considerate and you should do your best to live up to the expectations!