Low Poly Character Project – Rigging & Skinning

With the Texturing complete it was time to move on to Rigging and Skinning phase which is something I have very little experience with.  I’ve only done rigging once before this project and I have never skinned a model, so I was somewhat excited and tense to finally have a crack at it.  Before I started I went through a thought process of how detailed I wanted to make the rig as this character is only going to be posed for a final shot showcase and not actually perform any actual animation.  I know most of my team wouldn’t be doing detailed rigs most likely relying on 2-3 controllers at most for character movement but I wanted to do a detailed rig more for the sake of learning then for the project itself.  So I decided to do a full bone skeleton rather then a cat rig with controllers for the feet, knees, hips, back, hands, fingers neck and head.  Oh and shoulders as well, and the elbows…… think that’s all of them… yep that’s all of them.

Screenshot 2016-03-28 00.03.31Beginning with the legs I created bones for the thigh, shin, ankle ball and toes and then attached an IK from the thigh to the ankle in order to prevent the legs from bending the wrong way, just in case this character ever needs an exorcism.  In order to attach the controllers I couldn’t just attach them directly to the bones themselves as this would cause all sorts of orientation problems, so to combat this I used helpers.  I aligned the helpers to each bone making sure they were aligned not just by position but also orientation and then linked the bone to the helper.  With this done I could then link the control to the helper and then reset all the transforms.  It’s always important to reset transforms after linking objects that way if you accidentally move something or find there’s a problem with the movement you can always ‘reset to 0’ which will return the object to its original position.  I basically did this method for the entire model and when it came to the feet and fingers I added some wire parameters to their respective controllers.  What this enabled is that when I selected the controller for either the foot or hand there were a bunch of options to rotate each individual bone in either the hand or foot.  This removed the need to create a controller for each part of the hand or foot so that it wouldn’t clutter up the scene or confuse the animator.

With the rigging done I moved on into skinning which is something completely new to me.  So I applied the skin modifier to the model and added all the bones to its list and like magic the model was now moving with the bones.  Unfortunately there were some problem areas where the model didn’t deform right when moving limbs so I fixed by using the weight system.  When selecting a bone it would bring up its area of influence marked by colours, and as you select vertices you can adjust the amount of weighted influence that particular bone has on that particular part of the model.  It’s a rather tedious process and I’ll admit I didn’t like it, I’m not entirely sure if it was bad model topology(which I don’t think it was) or my inexperience with skinning, or maybe there is just some limitations to the skinning software at this time, but there were just some areas of the model that I could just never get happy with.  Mainly the arms, when I’d move them there was generally weird deformation going on so, I’d fix this with weighting and have them looking nice but then if I moved the arm again it would generally deform weird again.  It was a real pain.  Eventually though I got the model to a point I thought was acceptable(at least for my first time) and called it a day.

All up it took me around 15 hours to complete this process and it’s daunting to think of how much time I put into this and yet barely scratched the surface of what I could really do with rigging and skinning.  No wonder artists specialize in these fields as they truly are a field onto themselves.  It’s also slightly depressing to put all that work into the modelling and texturing phase and have it diminished due to the average skinning job.  But I certainly learned a few lessons here, mainly about how topology reacts to skinning which of course makes me a better modeler.  But also just how much further you can push rigging like facial rigging and the biggest thing I learned with this project is actually how to get the most out of a low resolution texture.  It’s a shame we humans learn best from our mistakes but I suppose it’s the feelings we get from those tiny failures that drives us to succeed.