I just want to make sure that I give the animators everything they need, so they have plenty of choices to match their animation.Mickey Rooney, Actor
3D rigging is not the only method an animator can use to create movement in animations. Other methods are no less demanding in skill and time, and ultimately it is the animator's preference that sees rigging or not-rigging prevailing above the other. But certainly, 3D rigging does hold undeniable benefits.
In this blog, we will discuss how 3D rigging can, all in all, deliver smooth, consistent movements in shorter time frames, and how it allows for scalability and flexibility. The depth of characters, as well as the simplicity that 3D rigging lends to the animation stage, will also be touched on.
Whether you are a freelance animator that has to do it all by yourself or working for an animation agency as a rigger or project manager, the benefits of 3D rigging will undoubtedly enhance your animation projects.
Think about if you were to be the animator on a team with the work in each stage of the animation production pipeline allocated to a different person: You and the rest of the team sit and discuss the characters, styles, and ideas for the story and script. Now the individual work begins.
Someone goes off and models characters according to the agreed-upon ideas and sketches. These models get passed on to the next person who does the 3D rigging. They then pass on the rigged character model to the animator.
The rigger hopes that the person responsible for the character modeling added enough detail and scope to allow for sufficient movement. The rigger hopes that this team member thought of all the different character aspects and parts required. They then commence the 3D rigging.
They put in all the points where joints should bend and complete the weight painting for the entire character. They try to anticipate where qualities like squash and stretch might come in handy, or the levels of movement detail that might be needed at different moments in the animation.
Once the 3D rigging is finalized, the project reaches your desk. It is your time to shine - to make the character come to life and actually live the story!
Finding yourself in this position will surely trigger the hope that the rigging artist held the same view as expressed by actor, Mickey Rooney in his quote at the start of this blog … That the rigging artist gave you every movement you might need to exercise choice in your animation!
If the rigger did their job like a pro: showed insight, as well as applied great skill, your job to animate will be a pleasure and move along a lot faster. Because of 3D rigging, you will have options for the movements you choose. You will have options of how the character’s personality can be expressed through his body language.
Exercising these options will not create more work, and changing your mind will be an effortless exercise compared to the method of frame-by-frame drawing. You will have more time and mental capacity to work on the character development than having to flesh out every tiny movement or transition between key movements … things will work.
When working on your own projects or freelancing as an all-round-animator (this includes 3D rigging), it will benefit you to think of yourself as one of a multi-member team. Approach each stage within the animation production pipeline with the attitude of “I want to give the next person everything they might need to do their job.”
If you approach your work with this attitude you will find that suddenly you no longer have to go back and forth between the stages in the production pipeline because the previous work you did fell short in some way. You will save time because re-doing work will be eliminated from your process.
Taking on this approach holds extra benefit when you are a one-person team because you have the completed idea, in full, in your head, and you get to make all executive decisions. You know exactly what you will want and need in the next stage of the animation production pipeline.
3D Rigging, or skeletal rigging, as it is also referred to allows a character’s movements to be confined within chosen restrictions. These restrictions are chosen and applied during the rigging stage of the animation production pipeline.
Practically this translates to the following: If you are working on an animation project that requires the characters to move in realistic ways, your 3D rigging can restrict your character from performing an unrealistic kind of movement during the animation stage.
You can model your character movements on real-life anatomy and the constraints of that anatomy. These ranges of movement are then set and cannot be changed or infringed upon during the animation stage.
You can go back and adapt or change your 3D rigging. However, unless your rig is broken in some way, changing your movement limitations is counterintuitive as you initially set them up for the purpose of consistency and realistic movements.
When drawing movement frame-by-frame, inconsistencies can often creep in unnoticed until the final project is viewed. Correcting the mistakes requires a lot of work to be redone and results in lots of lost time.
3D Rigging will allow you to set up movements for a character according to the character’s specific personality trait and required physical abilities once. These qualities of movement will then remain consistent throughout without you needing to pay it any real attention again.
If you think of the rig as something separate from the character model but attached to the character model, you can see why it will require a lot less effort and time, to go rectify a mistake in the movement of the animation, retrospectively, when using 3D rigging to create movement.
Although movement constraints and limitations can be rigged into a character, the movement capabilities of 3D rigging are unlimited. You can truly set up an object or character to move in any way you deem fit. You can even apply unrealistic movements to characters in a way that simulates the work of a 2D animation artist that draws by hand.
The unlimited and open nature of movement created by 3D rigging also allows for multiple rigs to be used in conjunction with one character. This is common practice in gaming animation.
By using copies of the character model you create several rigs that cater to different levels of movement detail in the same character intended for different situations.
This is particularly used in gaming animation and rigging as the animations need to render in real time. When characters are in the background, their movements and expressions don't require lots of detail and the 3D rigging being applied can include a lot less detail.
This is also helpful towards the game animation performance optimization as fewer details require less engine capacity to render. When the characters are present in the foreground or the focus is on them, 3D rigging with more detail in its movement capacity can then be applied,
When looking to enhance your animation projects it is vital to consider the hardware and technology your animations will run on and how what you do will impact its performance or the limitations your methods need to account for.
What if it is not you that is doing the 3D rigging? What if you are not doing the animation either?
Visualize this scenario: you are the owner of an animation studio. Your studio is doing very well, so while you might do some animation on one project, you only fulfill the management and leadership role within many other project teams.
At the end of the day, it is you who need to make sure that all the work your animators, 3D rigging artists and entire team deliver is of the best quality. Unfortunately, the reality is that you will not be able to oversee or approve every bit of work being done as it is being done.
As a leader and management, you need to account for work being re-done or changed because of your dissatisfaction or even a change in project direction. You also need to account for the time this act will add to your project timeline and any effects this could have on the ultimate deadline.
Implementing 3D rigging on all your projects creates space for critique and revisions to be done even if the project has reached the animation stage.
If you create movement by using sculpting tools for example, there isn't much room to correct one mistake. Each movement is created by following up on the previous movement. If a mistake was made, all consequent frames need to be adjusted.
With the use of 3D rigging, movements can easily be tweaked and tweaked, expanded and adjusted. Revisions will not result in having to create entirely new sketches, and critiques can be addressed without having to push back deadlines.
The consistency and reliability of your output and ability to meet deadlines are crucial to your success as an animator or to the success of your animation studio. When your clients can trust that they will receive their animation timely and of the expected quality, they will keep coming back!
It is clear that 3D Rigging makes your work as an animator easier. By using 3D rigging, you can break up the entire animation production pipeline into segments managing each separately. It is no secret that planning is utterly important to the successful completion of any creative project.
Within an animation studio setup, the work of rigging and animating can easily be split between two people. 3D Rigging allows for easier revisions on work. It can also be applied as a planning process so that you have your ideas fully fleshed out by the time you get to animating.
The true enhancement 3D rigging has to offer to your animation projects lies in the simplicity it grants your entire workflow and all animation stages that follow the rigging stage.
In an industry with tight deadlines, where small mistakes can cost you a lot of time, a practice that offers you structure is invaluable!