An introduction to Super Simple Rig
Why a simple rig?
I just need a simple rig!
There are a lot of really cool rigs out there, with an impressive amount of control and flexibility. They have features like animation layers built into controllers, automatic walkcycle generators and full body IK with multiple modes of operation. Animators and riggers are always impressed by fancy rigs they just saw online (me included). But have you ever tried using one of these rigs in production? In deadline crunch? They just frustrate me! There is too much clicking and too many controls, and they also break real easy. All I want is a simple rig!
From Maya to 3ds Max
Maya is known as the leading character animation software, and there are some really simple and powerful rigs available for it. At Toxic, I studied several Maya rigging tutorials by Paul Thuriot and Jason Schleifer, and their rigs were not made to be overly fancy or complex. They were meant to be easy to set up, easy to debug and to be easily modified or replaced if a shot required it. I built my first rigging system in Maya back in 2004 based on these tutorials.
When I started my own company in 2008, I wanted to concentrate on character animation, but I wanted to do it in my favourite software: 3ds Max. So the same year I built the first version of the rigging system. The rig has evolved for every character project I've done, ending up with the version that you can download here today.
Why not use the built-in 3ds Max rigs?
3ds Max has two comprehensive rigging systems built into it; Character Animation Toolkit (CAT) and Biped. They are filled to the brim with features, and made to cater for every type of character and animator out there. The CAT documentation is a whopping 72 web entries that each has multiple pages of text. That is a lot to learn when you just want to animate. A lot of people find CAT and Biped sufficient, as with everything it is a matter of personal taste. But for me, both are time-consuming to set up and use, so I'm not a fan. If you agree, then Super Simple Rig could be what you're searching for!
The principles behind the rig
The Super Simple Rig is designed to be light and fast. I have come up with a set of principles that I constantly evaluate the rig against:
- The rig should have as few controller objects as possible. You should spend your time animating, not navigating the software.
- No cross-influence across limbs. Animating the arm should not affect the shoulder or chest, leading to potential counter-animation.
- No adjusting of multiple curves for posing a single bone, so you'll use the track view more constructively and less for fixing.
- There should be as little scripting and expressions as possible, so the rigs are fast enough to enable real-time playback in the 3ds Max viewports.
- No relying on extra plugins, so that Super Simple Rigs can be shared with users that does not have the system installed.
- All animatable controls are available as numerical sliders. This gives some of the Maya channel box advantages, meaning you'll have easy access to your keyframes and their values.
- Different limb setups should only differ internally, as identical setups makes for a faster workflow.
How the rig works
The three layers of the rig
Before you start rigging, you need to know the basics of how the rig is arranged in your scene. Understanding how the layers are connected will make it a lot safer to operate and upgrade the rig.
As you see above, the Super Simple Rig is built up of three layers. First you'll find the controllers layer, these affect the next layer, which is the rig. The rig affects the last layer, which are the bones.
The middle layer, the rig, is made to be "invisible" to the user and exchangeable, while the first and last layers are designed to appear the same when you replace the internals of the rig. I'll explain these layers into detail.
The controller layer
The first layer contain the rig controls. These are objects that you animate in order to move the rig. The controllers are shape type objects, and often contain extra attributes for control beyond just moving and rotating.
The rig layer
These are the rig internals, which largely consists of a complex collection of helper objects that interprets how the controllers should affect the bones. Unless you are a TD or a very technical animator, you do not want to touch the internals of the rig. This layer should be kept hidden and frozen at all times, because changing anything in this layer might break the rig.
The skin bones layer
The last layer, the skinning bones, are at the bottom level of the Super Simple Rig. The rig interprets the controllers in order to move these bones. The skinning bones are what you skin your mesh to, and typically you only have the bones layer visible when you perform the skinning. After the skinning is complete, you can keep this layer hidden at all times.