Maya Tutorials -- Rigging for Animation
Tips and techniques to help improve your workflow

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Hi Res Tom1 (click for larger view)
Nothing is more frustrating to an animator than a slow rig. This tutorial will show you some simple tricks and techniques that will help you speed up your characters for animation. The ultimate goal is real-time playback. If you feel like all your rigs are just a garbled mess, or just need a little guidance to get you moving in the right direction, then this tutorial will help you get the ball rolling.

Iíll try to keep the ďboringĒ stuff to a minimum, and get right to the point with what you need. There are so many things that you have to pay attention to when rigging that it is easy to forget which end is up. These tips and techniques should help improve your workflow.

Using Different Resolutions:
Having different resolutions of the character you are working with can dramatically increase the speed of your rig. You want to try to avoid animating the High Res version of your character until you have to do it. In my opinion, two or three different levels of resolution will work best ...
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Lo Res Tom1 (Click for larger view)
Blocking Resolution:
This should just be primitive geometry parented to the joints. Cubes and spheres will work fine. The most important thing is to make sure your proportions are accurate. Donít worry about trying to match up all the details in the model. Blocking resolution is optional, but if youíre going to have 50 characters is a scene running around, having a blocking res rig is essential.

Low Resolution:
Your low-resolution rig should be more accurately modeled to fit your character. This version could even include a high-resolution head that could be turned on and off so you can do lip-sync animations. Just like with your blocking-res rig, the model parts will be parented to the joints. The important thing is to accurately model all the proportions of your
Lo Res Tom3 (Click for larger view)
character. You, or the animator, will need to be able to animate without having to worry about the high-res version having intersections. The low-res model should be light, so do not waste your polygons, make sure every piece counts for something. If itís not important, or wonít be needed for animation, get rid of it. A good low-resolution rig will resemble the character closely, but without all the detail. The animator should be able to tell what character he/she is working with without a problem.

High Resolution:
This is your final rig, with the high-res model bound to the joints. Your high-res rig is the one that will be rendered once animation is final, and will be used by the animators to check their low-res animations. Some animation will probably have to be done at the high-res level, but it should be kept to a minimum. Try to avoid using it until absolutely necessary ...

Hi Res Tom 2 (Click for larger view)
Using different resolutions for rigging can create problems, too. How do you transfer animation from low-res to high-res? How do you update different resolution rigs if something changes?

One solution is to have the low-res and blocking-res rig live in the same file as the high-res. That way, when something in the high-res changes, you can quickly update your low and blocking res versions. Then you just create each resolution from one file. To transfer animation between rigs, youíll need to use referencing, export/import animation, or have a MEL script that will copy animation from one rig to the next.

Iíd like to make a quick note about referencing. I have noticed that many smaller studios use referencing in their pipeline, while larger studios do not. For a smaller studio, referencing makes sense. You canít spend all day opening and saving 300MB files, so you use referencing to keep file sizes down. Plus you donít have the MEL scripts or plugins to handle animation transfer, so referencing allows you start animation sooner. Referencing also allows you to animate, texture, and even light a scene all at the same time. I canít emphasize this enough: Donít do it.

Importing and exporting animation is a much more widely accepted way of transferring animation. It works great about 90% of the time, until you change the hierarchy in your character. If you do, then youíll find yourself copying over animations by hand (not fun!). If you know MEL, this is one of those times you should use it to your advantage.

Lo Res Tom 2 (Click for larger view)
Letís say you are working on your own project, and only have a few characters; there is an easier way for you to manage your animations. You can use layers or attributes connected to the visibility of the low-res and high-res model so they can both live in the same file. That way, when you want to see your high-res character running around, you can just turn off the visibility of your low-res geometry and turn on the high-res.

There are so many different ways now to transfer animation between rigs, it can be confusing. Choosing whatís right for you, or your studio, can be tricky. In the end though, everyone should be comfortable with the workflow.

While using different resolutions can be tedious and time-consuming for TDs, it is considered common procedure for most production houses. Once youíve overcome the struggles of dealing with separate rigs for the same animation, the process will seem transparent.

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