During my years in university I discovered that many animation students struggle with rigging and quite a few believe it to be the most dreadful part of animation pipeline. Unarguably, it can be a nerve-wrecking experience as for a beginner animator getting the rig done right is difficult and the smallest mistake can lead to a broken rig and, most likely, the pain of rigging the character all over again.
Even though the best way to decrease the chance of failure and the number of times you need to redo the rig for it to work properly is obviously practice, thorough thinking through and some planning beforehand can make the entire process more bearable and save valuable time.
To help make the process more enjoyable, here are 7 steps to planning your next rig.
1) Schedule enough time
The first and probably worst mistake anyone can make when rigging is not giving themselves enough time. It can be very tempting to schedule only a day or two to create the rig when in reality it is more than likely you will find something is broken and needs fixing as soon as you get to animating it.
Giving yourself plenty of time and starting as early as possible will make the process less frantic and you, being less stressed out, will be less likely to accidentally overlook or forget some important detail. So go ahead and give yourself at least a couple more days than you think you will actually need.
2) Set your mind up for a challenge
Rigging is all about setting all the little details right and most of the time it gets really tedious. Going through the process once could already be a rough experience for anyone who does not particularly enjoy scrupulous tasks and if something goes wrong and the entire rigging needs to be redone again (e.g. because you forgot to delete mesh history) it can make it even more miserable.
Setting your mind up for a challenge and expecting problems to arise will help to not get too disheartened when you eventually have to deal with them. Furthermore, remember that with every rig that you make the process will get easier and quicker and therefore more enjoyable.
3) Make sure you have an animatic to work from
Undoubtedly, your lecturers emphasized the importance of a good animatic. And very likely, you haven’t been paying enough attention to it. It is easy to make yourself think that time spent on it could be of a better use but eventually you will find that a well flowing animatic can save time and effort in nearly all other parts of the animation process, including rigging.
A good animatic will define which characters or items should be rigged and what parts of them could possibly be left out. For example, if a character is seen only sitting behind a desk, it is likely that you will need to create a rig for only the upper body.
4) Make a list of models that need to be rigged
Writing down tasks that need to be accomplished gives a sense of scope and it will help to be sure that you are not forgetting anything. Make a list of everything that needs to be rigged with a short note of what parts are important (e.g. will be featured in a close up shot) and what could be not rigged entirely.
5) Write down what the character needs to do
Determine what main actions your character is going to be taking. It will inform what main controls are going to be needed as well as your approach to creating them. If the character is going to have to pick up or hold onto something, you will be likely to use IK instead FK controls for the arms (following from the hand instead of the shoulder) while if he is walking and arms are swinging it might be work keeping FK controls.
6) Determine secondary actions
To give your character more personality and make the animation more lively you most definitely want to add some overlapping secondary action. Consulting the animatic can give you an idea of what the minor action could be. If the character has a flowing coat or longer hair, adding subtle animation to it can bring your animation to life.
Write down what secondary controls will be needed and how you are planning to approach them.
7) Make a list of expressions for characters
For any animation involving humans or things with personality, you will need model to be able to portray an array of emotions. As you are likely to use blendshapes for the expressions instead of bones, it is useful to write them down separately. To know exactly what emotions your character will express, look through animatic again and note every change in its emotions.
Once you know exactly what your character will be feeling, write down what facial expressions need to be created when rigging. Then, work out if there are any emotions that could be portrayed by the same facial expression. If the difference between the facial appearances is not too different and the timeline is tight, you will be able to work out the differences by moving eyebrows or changing the posture.