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Learn character rigging in Autodesk Maya


Learn character rigging in Maya with this comprehensive class.

Rig a spider model step-by-step, from joint setup to control curves and IK handles.

Master precision, naming conventions, and history deletion for a solid rig.






- Workflow

  • When the spider mesh has been imported inside Autodesk Maya, we can see that the body and the legs are perfectly symmetrical.

  • This will make it easier to make the skeleton or the rigs for the spider.

  • Before we begin adding in the joints, we need to select the spider mesh and add it to its own layer.

  • Double-click the layer to change the name and color.

  • The color will help us identify the layers faster.

  • Change the workspace to Rigging to view the rigging options and tools.

  • In the Skeleton tab, click the Create Joints button.

  • Now that we have the Create Joins tool, open the Top view camera to start adding the joints.

  • To add joints, click on the workspace.

  • The circles are the start of each joint, these will help the mesh to bend their arms and legs and anything else that needs to be bent or moved.

  • When you are done making the joints, click either Q or Enter to finalize it.

  • To make it so that we can see the joints through the mesh, click on the X-ray Joints button.

  • To make it even easier to see where we place the joints, activate the X-ray for the mesh as well.

  • In the Outliner the joints we’ve added work in a parenting system.

  • The first joint controls every other joint connected to it, when moved the entire collection moves.

  • This also applies when we try and rotate it.

  • The other joints when rotated, rotate every other joint after it.

  • It is crucial to keep in mind we never want to use the Move tool to move the joints that aren’t the first ones.

  • Moving any other joint will cause complications when creating IK handles for the rig and will lead to the rig not working properly.

  • Instead, we can use the Rotate or Scale tool to move the other joints in place.

  • To know if the joints are properly placed and not moved using the Move tool to check the X-Axis on the Move tool.

  • First, we need to set the Axis Orientation on the Move tool to Object.

  • Double-click the Move tool to open this menu.

  • The X-Axis needs to point toward each joint after it.

  • You’ll know if the joint has been moved with the Move tool when the X-Axis isn’t pointing toward the other one.

  • If we try to use the Create Joints tool in Perspective view, it will be hard to tell where the joints are being placed and how they look.

  • It’s best to add joints through the front, side, or top camera view.

  • One way to make IK handles is through the Create Joints tool.

  • Open the Create Joints tool settings and check the Create IK handle button.

  • Now when we make a joint, after we’ve clicked Q or Enter, a string will appear on the joints.

  • Moving the last joint around will make the other joints before it move as well, bending them in place.

  • IK handles are best made manually to have better control of how they will impact the rest of the joints.

  • Create joints along one of the legs for the spider, keeping in mind where the joints need to be placed.

  • We want the end joint to be on the tip of the leg.

  • Click Q or Enter to finalize the joint.

  • To change the size of the joints, in the Display tab, in Animation options, click the Joint Size button.

  • A smaller window will appear on the screen with a slider.

  • Change the size of the joints if they appear too big.

  • From the Perspective view, we can see that the joints aren’t on the mesh itself but rather on the ground.

  • We can fix this by moving and rotating the first joint in place and afterward using only the Rotate tool to put the other joints in place.

  • If some joints are now smaller, use the Scale tool to make them longer.

  • To prevent the joints from not attaching themselves to the mesh, inside the Create Joints Tool Settings, activate the Projected Centering.

  • Now when we add in the joints they’re going to stick to the mesh.

  • If we try to drag and select a mesh with joints on it, the selection will always prioritize selecting the joints inside of the mesh.

  • After you’re done with the first leg, check the X-Axis on each joint.

  • The end will always won’t be facing the correct direction and you’ll have to manually rotate it.

  • We want the X-Axis to point towards each joint as it flows down, this includes the end.

  • Even though the end joint doesn’t have a neighbor after it, it still needs to point toward the direction of the other joints before it.

  • Make the joints for the rest of the legs only on one side.

  • In the middle of the body, hold the X key while using the Create Joints tool to snap the joint in the middle of the grid so that it is perfectly centered with the mesh.

  • While using the same method, add 4 more joints to create the back of the spider.

  • From a perspective view, if the joints didn’t stick to the mesh, move and rotate them in place.

  • Make sure the first joint for the back of the body is directly on the tip of the spider’s behind.

  • If the joint is too small, you can scale it with the scale tool.

  • Repeat the same process for the head of the spider.

  • Hold X while adding joints to center them perfectly in the middle of the head.

  • Afterward, use the rotate tool to place each joint accordingly.

  • After the joints have been placed, make sure the X-Axis is pointing in the correct direction on each joint.

  • The same process goes for the fang.

  • To connect the head, body, and legs to the main joint in the middle of the body, we need to parent the joints.

  • First, we’ll parent the last head joint with the first fang joint.

  • Select the fang first, then the last head joint.

  • The order depends on what you select first when you want to parent joints.

  • After the selection click P on your keyboard.

  • Moving on to the rest, select all the joints, select the middle joint the last, and click P.

  • To select all of the joints on the rig, select the middle main joint, hold down Shift, and Right-click and click the Select Hierarchy option.

  • Now that everything is selected we can FReeze the transformations by either clicking the Snowflake icon or going into the Modify tab and clicking the Freeze transformations option.

  • Doing this will erase the Rotations on the joints so everything starts from 0 again.

  • It is very important to name every joint correctly to avoid confusion in the workflow.

  • If anything needs to be mirrored it has to start with the side it is made on.

  • The side we worked on today is the Left side.

  • All the joints on the arms, legs, and fangs need to start with L_, this is important for the mirroring tool to work on the joints.

  • The images provided show how the branches of joints need to be named.

  • After the naming process, open the Skeleton tab and click on the Mirror Joint Options.

  • A new window will open, here change the Mirror Across to YZ.

  • In the Search for write L_ while in the Replace with write R_.

  • Select the fang by the first joint so it selects everything below it, then in the Mirror Joint Options click Apply.

  • Repeat this process for the arms and legs of the spider till every joint is mirrored on the right side of the mesh.

  • Select the entire rig and add it inside a layer.

  • Double-click on the layer to change the name and color.

  • Hide the Geo layer by clicking the first button marked V.

  • Open the Curves/Surfaces sub-tools so that we can add the controls on the rig.

  • Click on the circle to add it to the scene and scale it to be bigger than the joint.

  • While having the Move tool on, hold down V and snap it to the ends of the joints on the leg.

  • Make duplicates and snap them on the rest of the legs on the mesh.

  • Add a control rig to the end of the behind joint.

  • For the Main joint, the one in the middle of the body connecting all the other joints, add a control rig that is rotated vertically.

  • Add the same type of circle in front of the face of the spider.

  • Lastly, add one larger control rig for the entire mesh, snapping it in the center of the spider.

  • These controls are added so that we can make efficient IK handles that will help us move the bones of the rig properly.

  • After all the controls have been added, name them accordingly and make a new layer for them just like we did for the body and bones.

  • To make the IK Handles, open the Skeleton tab and click on the Create IK Handle button to activate the tool.

  • Hide the Geo and the Control layers so that we can only click on the bones and nothing else.

  • Before we proceed, make sure the Pivots are turned off inside the Show tab.

  • Doing this will ensure you are able to click on the joints using the Create IK Handle tool.

  • With the tool, select the start of a joint, then the end of it to create the IK Handle for that part, in this case for one of the legs.

  • When we move the IK Handle the entire joint branch moves with it.

  • Repeat this step for the legs, arms, fangs, backside, and head.

  • Once all the IKs have been made, select all of them and put them in their own layer.

  • The next step is to connect the IK Handles to the Controls.

  • Hide the Bones layer to better select the IKs and Controls.

  • Select the IK Handle first and the Control the last, after that click on P to parent them.

  • Now even with the IK not being visible and unable to be selected, we can still select and move the Control.

  • It will move the IK Handle with it, giving us the same result as if we were moving the IK.

  • Doing this will make the rig cleaner and easier to use and animate.

  • Repeat the parenting with the rest of the joints in these steps for the arms, legs, fangs, head, and behind.

  • For the Main Control, hide the IK Handles layer and reveal the Bones layer again.

  • Select the main joint of the spider then select the Main Control and click P.

  • When we move the Main Control, all of the IK Handles and joints on the body will respond.

  • Lastly, select all of the Controls, making sure you select the Master Control the last.

  • After that click P to parent the Master Control with the rest.

  • Now when we move the Master Control, everything with it will move.

  • It won’t bend joints but it will move the entire body and bones without changing them.

  • The next step is to bind the mesh and the rig.

  • Select the mesh first and then the root of the rig, after that, open the Skin tab and click the Bind Skin menu first.

  • A new window will open for the Bind Skin Options, make sure that the Bind method is on Geodesic Voxel, afterward click Apply and close.

  • When we move the controls, the entire mesh will start moving as well.

  • For the Head Control or the Look At Control, select the controls first and then select the main head joint.

  • Open the Constrain tab and click the Aim button.

  • Now when we move that control, the head will look in that direction.

  • Now that we have everything connected we need to Weight Paint the mesh and the joints.

  • Weight painting is the process of assigning influence to each vertex of the mesh, indicating how much influence each bone of the skeleton has on that vertex.

  • For example, without any weight paints, when we move one part of the spider, let's say the back control, it will slightly move the legs that are attached to it.

  • We don’t want the mesh to move or bend in strange parts when we use the controls for the rig, this is where Weight Painting comes into play.

  • To open the Weight Painting tool and options, click on one of the controls or hover over a joint, hold down the Right Mouse button to access the sub-options for the rig, and click on the Paint Skin Weights Tool.

  • A new window will open up on the side and the mesh will be drowned with different colors.

  • Each color represents the influence of the joint over the mesh.

  • Blue means it has the least amount of influence over that part of the mesh.

  • Black means it has no influence at all.

  • Green has a medium amount of influence over the mesh.

  • Yellow and Orange have above medium influence.

  • Red and White means that the joint has complete influence over that part of the mesh.

  • When using the Paint Skin Weights Tool, make sure that the Paint operation is set on Replace, this is to prevent accidentally adding influence on one spot to multiple joints.

  • If the colors are a bit too much, you can turn off the Use Color Ramp in the Gradience options.

  • Now only black and white will be flooding the mesh.

  • Black means it has no influence, white has full influence, and gray has medium influence over the mesh.

  • Like any other brush tool inside of Maya, we have different brush types we can select in the Profile options.

  • The Value controls the intensity of how much weight we add to the joints.