Contrary to what most people think, 3D animation is not just about creating (the shell of) an object. This might be true for 3D modeling but when it comes to animating, it’s just as important to pay attention to the movements and their sources.
The fact is that a 3D model or character cannot be properly animated without an inner structure, aka “rig”. Rig is by no doubt one of the most complicated subjects in CGI. Although there is no unified workflow between major 3D software regarding rigging, the principles of animating a rig are quite similar and can be applied across a range of applications.
What are we talking about; 3D Flesh and bones?
Every 3D object in a 3D animation is represented by two main properties:
- The skin or mesh, which is a surface representation used to create the characters, and
- The skeleton or rig, which is a hierarchical set of interconnected bones and joints used to animate the mesh.
Before being handed over to the animation team, every 3D object should be equipped with this bone system, providing the animators the control and flexibility needed to move the objects and their different parts. It doesn’t matter what the object is; adding bones will allow it to be animated.
What is rigging?
3D rigging is essentially the method by which a rigging artist creates a skeletal system and connects it to the 3D model, so that it can be moved and/or deformed in a particular manner by the animator; just like a puppet. The job of a rigging artist in an animation studio is basically to make the animators’ job easier. It’s actually much like what puppet-makers do by creating the control system puppeteers need to move their puppets.
Rigged models of animated characters are used in video games, movies and of course 3D animations. The rigging technique allows a much better animation flow and possibly much better results in production. It is in fact the process of creating a logic behind what a 3D character can and cannot do.
Rigging in the 3D animation pipeline
With the 3D modeling process being over, the 3D model would be nothing but a plain static 3D mesh. It needs to be rigged with a skeleton system consisting of bones, joints and controller handles for the animators to manipulate the 3D object.
Rigging is a crucial step in 3D animation production pipeline. If rigging is not appropriately done, the animators will have a hard time animating the 3D model. But if done carefully, the animators would be able to produce much better results quicker and easier.
3D Rigging in action: flexible cat rigging demo reel
Cats are lovely animals with unique physical properties. They can get their bodies into the most cramped spaces and the most curious positions. These traits actually make them challenging to rig and animate, but interesting to watch.
The following video is a 3D rigging demo reel, created by Dream Farm Animation Studios‘ talented rigging artists. As you can see, extra handles are added to the skin for maximum flexibility. Facial rigging is also optimized for a wide range of expressions; leaving the animators with so much freedom in the animating process.
The rigging process is a significant part of the 3D animation production phase. A smooth and natural 3D animation is to a huge extent dependent on the quality of the rigging phase.
A rigging artist provides the structural logic behind character or object movements by creating a skeletal system and connecting it to the 3D model. After the models are properly rigged, they can be moved and/or deformed in a particular manner by the animator; just like a puppet.