Character rigging for animation

character rig

If you’re new to animation, you might wonder what character rigging is. It’s the process of creating a virtual puppet for your character so that the characters can be animated. It sounds pretty straightforward, but a lot goes into it. Please keep reading to get an overview of character rigging and how it’s created using animation software.

What is Character Rigging?

Character rigging creates a character’s motion infrastructure that allows for animated characters to be posed. Rigging character setup involves giving static model joints and weight settings that enable it to move. Rigging can also be used to animate properties of a character such as facial expressions, cloth, and hair. Character rigging is essential in character animation as it creates a believable foundation for animators to work from. Rigging helps turn static character models into moving characters!

Reasons You Need to Know Character Rigging

Learning character animation rigging is essential for a successful character animation pipeline. It provides animators with the necessary tools to expand the range of movements they can bring to life in 3D character models. From facial gestures and body language to more complex physical traits, rigging enables artists to create highly detailed yet optimized character animations. With this knowledge, other departments, such as character designers and modelers, can form an optimal understanding of how character rigs affect their 3D models, ultimately allowing them to craft unified character designs that will provide the best possible results for the project.

Step-by-Step Instructions to Rig a Character

Character rigging is a specialized art form that requires a careful balance between the character rig’s technical performance and functionality. Animation character rigging is essential in producing movies, TV shows, and video games, as character rigs are vital to bringing characters to life. Rigging artists will familiarize themselves with character designs and storyboards to ensure the character’s performance can be achieved.

As the animation industry continues to grow, technological advancements have allowed character riggers to create increasingly complex rigs using sophisticated tools. Character riggers now have many rigging tools at their disposal, allowing them greater flexibility to achieve their desired character movements.

Character animation is a complicated process that requires accuracy and attention to detail for a successful character performance. Rigging is a critical step of the animation filmmaking process, and it involves using various rigging tools specific to each studio. There are many ways to rig characters. Here is a list of some of the most common steps in character rigging.

  1. Joint Placement
  2. Rig build
  3. Weight Painting
  4. Correctives blend shapes
  5. Clothing deformers
  6. Testing
  7. Clean up

Once you receive a character model, it’s essential to take a moment to inspect the topology. Even though the modeling team has its procedure for checking its work, occasionally, problems in topology will be found. To prevent additional inconvenience and costly fixes down the line, it’s best to note any issues during this initial inspection. Ultimately, the thoughtful examination can save a lot of headaches later on, so remember to give a good once-over before proceeding with rigging.

Joint Placement

Character rigging joint placement is a fundamental yet essential task that should be considered. Each joint plays a vital role in the way a character will animate. Joints provide the structure for which animation systems are based and ultimately define how our characters move. Additionally, if placed correctly, joints can help create a natural movement. Character rigging joint placement shouldn’t just be seen as a task to check off your list quickly; instead, take the time and double-check your work. Try to eliminate any guessing. If you need clarification on a joint’s position or orientation, ask for help. Remember that all of your decisions will determine how a character will animate.

Rig build

Auto riggers are a powerful tool for production studios. An auto rigger is highly technical and complex; one button press will create the whole automatic setup for you, creating animation controls, IK FK switches, space switches, and twist joints in seconds. Even though this is a beneficial tool, It’s advised that beginners spend time manually constructing their rigs. Developing a manual rig indeed takes much longer than using an auto rigger. However, once it has been built, it can provide a complete understanding of how rigging works under the hood, and it’s just an excellent way to learn to rig. If you’re experienced enough to develop your auto rigger, show it off in your reel, but I’d advise against using a third-party auto rigger for your demo. Any rigging work that you show should be your own.

Weight painting

Weight painting is an integral part of the character rigging process. Also referred to as skinning or weighting, it is typically the step that follows joint placement. The rigging artist will bind the geometry to the joint skeleton during this step. Weight painting assigns weight values to every vertex of a mesh. This weighting allows each bone to control individual points on the mesh, later allowing for believable deformations when animated. Whether manually adjusting weights or using procedural methods, this step takes a lot of time and patience.

Correctives blend shapes

Corrective blend shapes are a powerful rigging tool used to precisely adjust complex poses while preserving the volume of an object or character. They are often used on the arms and legs to help with knee and elbow deformations. They are also commonly used for facial rigging. Facial blend shapes can be combined with a facial joint system or independently. Corrective blend shapes offer an incredible amount of localized control, allowing even subtle movements to be fine-tuned.

Clothing deformers

When creating realistic clothing for characters in a 3D animated environment, clothes deformers are a great time and cost saver. Although they can’t quite hold up to cloth simulations, clothes deformers can set the scene just as effectively with much less investment. They’re beneficial when animating a scene where the character is moving minimally or is far away in the background. Solid clothing deformers allow for a more convincing reality that the general public will readily recognize and appreciate.


Testing a rig is one of the most important aspects of any 3D production pipeline. The animation’s quality depends on the rigging stage’s quality and thoroughness. An artist needs to double-check their work before passing it along so that animation can begin smoothly and confidently. Haste makes waste, after all! After an artist has thoroughly checked their rig, a supervisor or lead should also look to ensure that everything has been done correctly. Rig testing is often time-consuming, but it pays off down the line.

Clean up

Rigging is an essential part of the 3d pipeline, yet it is only a part, and the process of creating doesn’t end when rigging is done. Quality control during production is an important step that can make all the difference in the success of a final product. Although each stage in production – lighting, texturing, animation – has its level of quality control, testing for flexibility and reliability falls into the rigger’s concern. While everything may go according to plan during testing, unintended and unforeseen behaviors or errors will often need to be fixed. Unfortunately, this would only be discoverable at some later point down the line. Because checks and balances are ever-present throughout production stages, it is almost inevitable that someone will find a way to push a rig beyond what was intended – something for any rigger to keep in mind as well!

Key Considerations For Successfully Becoming a Character Rigger.

Learning advanced rigging techniques can be intimidating, especially to those starting in 3D animation. But it doesn’t have to be! It’s always wise to start small and build upon your skillset. Trying to rig an advanced human body or complicated model right off the bat is not suggested, as many components require a thorough understanding of the process before attempting more significant projects. Aim to create bare bodies or props and add more functionality as you become familiar with the process. By gradually taking on new challenges and often practicing, you’ll soon master the art of rigging and be able to make any model come alive!

Rigging can be confusing for those starting, so don’t feel discouraged if you’re feeling overwhelmed. You might not get it right the first time, but making mistakes is okay – it’s only natural! Allow yourself to explore freely, return to whatever you messed up, and try again. You can even use the experience of retrying something as a learning opportunity; rather than give up, focus on improving your work each time by experimenting and making the necessary changes. It might take more than one attempt, but rest assured that you’ll eventually figure things out with patience and practice. Remember: not giving up is half the battle!

Taking it to the Next Level: How to rig in animation

Taking steps to become a character rigger can be both exciting and daunting. While it is doable on your own, collecting free knowledge first is the most effective way to get started. This can include searching the Internet for tutorials, attending webinars, or talking to other experienced riggers by joining an online forum. Familiarizing yourself with different animation software options and understanding the fundamentals of character rigging will help you during the learning process. While plenty of rigging knowledge is free, consider taking an online class. If you have a mentor to guide you through it, having additional support and feedback will ensure that you’re mastering the materials in your own time and accelerating your growth in this career field.

My Experience With Character Rigging

Working in rigging has proven to be an incredibly fulfilling career path. In the 12 years I have been in the industry; I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of knowledge still waiting to be discovered. The demand for riggers is always high, and finding skilled practitioners is challenging. However, my experience over the years has been more than positive – every job I take on allows me to learn something new, which keeps the craft exciting and complex. It’s clear that rigging is a dynamic field with no shortage of problems that need solving – it will be exciting to see what comes next!

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