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Key 3D Rigging Terms

To Get You Moving

In its simplest form, 3D rigging is the process of

creating a skeleton for a 3D model so it can move.
Most commonly, characters are rigged before they
are animated because if a character model doesnt
have a rig, it cant be moved around. The rigging
process can become very technical and seem
overwhelming at times, but after a little practice
youll be creating great rigs in no time.

Sometimes called bones, you can think of joints for rigging in the same way you think of joints in a human body.
They basically work in the same way. Joints are the points of articulation you create to control the model. For
instance, if you were to rig a characters arm you would want to place a joint for the upper arm, another joint for the
elbow and another joint for the wrist, which allows the animator to rotate the arm in a realistic way.

Driven Keys
To speed up the animation process for the animators, a rigging artist
can utilize driven keys when rigging a character. Driven keys allow you
to use one control or object to drive multiple different objects and
attributes. In the example we can use a driven key to control the fist

A driven key contains two parts: the driver and the driven. The driver
is the object in control of the animation. The driven is the objects and
attributes that are being controlled by the driver. Typically for regular
keyframes an attribute has values keyed to time in the time slider. For
a driven key, the attribute has values keyed to the value of the driving
attributes. The driver can be another object, or in the case of the



example image above it is a control slider.

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position for the hand, with just one single control.

IK (Inverse Kinematics)
Animate bones by going up the hierarchy.
Great for keeping the hand planted while
animating the uppper body.

FK (Forward Kinematics)
Animate bones by moving down
the hierarchy, or forward. Great for
smooth arcing movements.


Kinematics : [kin-uh-mat-iks] : noun

FK (Forward Kinematics)

IK (Inverse Kinematics)

Forward Kinematics means your character rig will

Inverse Kinematics means that the child node within

follow the hierarchal chain. This means more control

your rigs hierarchy can influence the movement

over your chain, but also means youd need to

of its parents. For example, if you use IK for your

position each joint in your chain independently of

characters arm you can position your characters

each other. For example, with FK if you positioned

hand and the rest of the arm chain will be calculated.

the characters hand the rest of the arm wouldnt

This allows the animator to animate independently of

follow like it does with IK.

the chains hierarchy.

Instead you would need to position each joint

Because of this IK is great when needing to have

independently, starting with the upper arm, the

a characters arm stay planted on something. For

elbow and then the wrist. This obviously takes

example, pushing against a wall or swinging on a bar.

more time than IK, but can give the animator much
more control of the poses. Most times riggers will
incorporate both FK and IK into the rig to meet the
animators needs.

Learn more about IK and FK in a post on

Demystifying IK and FK for Animators.

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A description of how something moves. FK means that you

animate bones by moving down the hierarchy. IK allows you
to animate going up the hierarchy.

Constraints are very important in both the rigging and animation process. Typically your 3D application will have
several options for constraining. Constraints limit an objects position, rotation and scale based off the attributes
of the parent object. For example, by taking two separate spheres, applying a parent constraint, and then deciding
which is the parent and which is the child, you can select just one and the other will follow the parent.


Control Curve

Control Curves
Control curves are created by the rigger to assist the animator in manipulating joints within the rig. Typically a rig
consists of many components that need to be manipulated to move the character in the desired pose. This can be
very difficult to do without control curves because the animator would need to hide the mesh to see the skeleton

Control curves are typically simple NURBS curves placed outside of the character so the animator can easily select
the curve to position the character instead of the actual joint.

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within the character and try to determine which joint manipulates the elbow, for example.



Weight Painting

Deformers are often

used by modelers but
they are also extremely
helpful to enhance your
rig. Deformers contain
algorithms that can move
large sections of vertices on
a model to produce organic
shapes. For example, when
rigging a character you
can utilize something like a
cluster deformer that allows
you to manipulate a large
section of vertices by using
just one single control.

Skinning is the process of

taking the joints or bones of
the rig and binding them to
the actual 3D mesh. When
the joints are bound to the
3D mesh it allows you to
move the joints and the
mesh will follow. Without
skinning the mesh to the
joints the joints will have no
influence on the actual 3D

When a mesh is bound to

the skeleton, the computer
doesnt know how much
influence each joint should
have over each vertex, so
it averages the weight out
based on the distance from
the joint to the mesh. Think
of weight painting as a way
to set how much influence
a joint has on a particular
area of the model and
correct the deformations
on the 3D mesh.

Weight painting example:

if the leg joint has too much
influence on the model it might
affect the torso area giving you
unrealistic results.




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Facial Rigging
When creating complex character rigs the facial rig setup is often
a whole different monster. A typical joint or bone setup doesnt
work well for a facial rig other than having a joint for the jaw bone
because facial movement often requires very stretchy and organic
motion. Instead of a normal joint setup, facial rigging usually requires
deformers (mentioned on previous page) and blend shapes.

Blend Shapes
A blend shape, or morph depending on your 3D application, allows you
to change the shape of one object into the shape of another object.
When rigging, a common use for blend shapes is to set up poses for facial
animation. This might be lip sync poses or more complex expressions like a
smile or frown. You can tie all these new poses into the original face mesh
and have it operate all on one control slider.

For example, if you want to raise an eyebrow you can model a face pose
with one eyebrow raised, connect it to a blend shape and using the slider
with a value of 0 to 100 to either raise or lower the eyebrow. This is a great
way for the animator to be able to quickly make face poses without having
to move individual facial controls around. There are some downsides to
using blend shapes for facial poses, because the editability can be limited.
Riggers often will give the animators both blend shape options and
traditional control points to use them in conjunction.
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Keep learning with creative professionals on how to use these terms

and topics and develop techniques through hands-on experience with
introductory to advanced-level 3D rigging tutorials to become a proven
rigging artist. Find free 3D rigging tutorials to help you get started too.

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