Rig setup preference (How do YOU prefer to work?)


Hey all,

I recently downloaded the wonderful “IK Joe” for Maya at this thread:


and, as I was playing around with it, noticed that there is no character set definied for the rig. --And this brings me to my curiosity: When you are animating a character in Maya, do you prefer to keyframe the parts all individually, or do you prefer to block the animation out with a character set first, and then tweak in graph editor?
For those who don’t know, Character sets gather up all the keyable attributes you choose for a character, and allow you to set one keyframe for the character set, which keys every attribute of that character at once. Working in this way allows you to work much more like a stop-motion animator, creating “key poses” instead of simply manually keying every joint.
I don’t think it’s possible to get a finished, very finessed animation out of character set keyframing alone, but I have found that it gets me very close to the “tweaking” stage much more quickly.

How about you?



Well, I’ve just now started doing some serious character animation, and character sets are a blessing. I briefly did some stuff when I was using max, but it was a total mess, because I wasn’t focusing on the poses.

Character sets help me keep in a “pose-to-pose” frame of mind, instead of animating straight-ahead. Getting the poses, the timing, then tweaking/adding keyframes seems to be working for me.


Character sets are useful, I use them, but I used to use (still am …) a mel button with all the selections (select all your controllers, copy from Script Editor to shelf) and it does the same thing. I like simple things … :slight_smile:


I like to set keys on the individual bones and sometimes even in the individual channels.

This way I don’t end up with a lot of useless keys all over the place and it’s a lot easier to edit…

But that’s just me


PS: Hhmm… maybe I should have included a character set in IK-Joe for those people that do use it… next time :hmm:


Well, sure…of course you key individual bones and even channels. We all do that. But if you use character setup, you can always delete static channels and simplify curves to get rid of extranneous keys.
BTW, I already added a character set to my copy of IK Joe. I also pared all the extra crap out of it. So I have a nice, sleek, light character ready to practice with whenever I please. THANKS for making him available. I don’t think I thanked you in the other thread. It’s a great rig.

BTW, not to insult you AT ALL: But if you haven’t given character sets a good shot, I’d suggest giving them another go. I think they’re great for a first pass of motion.



Hey all!

I agree… character sets are a fantastic way of halding your data… what maya really needs, however, is a much faster way of dealing with charcter sets (i.e. setting, selecting, etc).

hmm… Maybe I’ll write something in my spare time today. :slight_smile:

Along with the idea of managing curves, maya needs a better method of providing information for the animators… A|W, if you’re listening:

  1. We need to have an overlay plane in the dopesheet, graph editor, and timeline to make notes which will move along with the editors. And by make notes, I mean the ability to draw like a grease pencil.

  2. We should be able to colourize keys in the timeline/graph editor to easily tell the difference between different types of keys.

  3. Need the ability to have “template” keys in the timeline so we can see keys for another object… that way it’s easier to animate overlaping action if you take an upper arm and set the key display to template (shows tickmarks in a special “template” section…) then select the lower arm and see it’s animation keys…

lots more… :slight_smile:



I thought char sets where cool when I first encountered them but now I just hate, hate, hate them. Especially when stuff needs to be rerigged/layered/blended in the middle of production. They really just get in the way.

And then there’s the “capture the script editor and make a button” method of selecting controls. I think this a step in the right direction but still very clumsey.

Those who have looked at UltraPose might have noticed that it has a really nice underlying technology called a Skeletal Map. What’s cool about a skeletal map is that it provides all the same functionality of a character node without the damned character node and (!)… it’s not hardcoded to work with explicit object names like a character node or a captured script. This applies to UltraPose such that two chars who’s controls are topologically similar yet lexically dissimilar can share the same pose library.

Looks like I’m rambling but the reason I mention this is because the next version of ultraPose will include some selection/key controls to make it easier to key your rig and possibly predefined rig regions without necessarily having to select anything at all.



What specifically is it about the character nodes that you don’t like?

I’ve done a number of rigs where I didn’t have character nodes because they didn’t work well with auto-key (and some of the animators were using it. ech)

So I created a gui which would allow the animators to select specific parts of the character by clicking a button… would let them control various things… blah blah blha… but in the end, even when I was animating it, I found it annoying having another window up on the screen for dealing with this stuff.

Now, I use character sets… and i have 4 scripts on my shelf which either select the character sets I have selected in my outliner, make no character sets active, show me which character sets are in use, and create new character sets.

And I layer them… so I’ve got left arm, right arm, left leg, right leg, etc etc etc… and the on TOP of that I’ve got upper body, lower body, then full body… then separate are fingers and toes.

This way I can quickly block out the motion for the entire character… and then work down to sub-levels…

then when I’m just working on individual bits, I turn off all character sets and work on the objects.

clean and easy!



I got going on my “hate, hate, hate them” kick while on a large MoCap project (SWAT:UJ) at Sierra On-Line. We were doing a lot of motion blending in Maya (our own stuff in lieu of Trax/Filmbox) and the rig was constantly being updated. It was important to be able to rely on finding control objects by keyword and to be able to count on them both having the their keys and not also having inputs from other objects (such as character nodes). While I could have written our stuff to manage the character node connections and such, in the end it proved to be not worth the hassle.

That got me started on alternatives which ultimately lead to the development of the Skeletal Map system that is used by UltraPose. I’ve been using a quick n’ dirty selector/keyer, similar to what you describe, that is also using Skeletal Maps. Many other things grew from that as well, like an auto-control rigging pose librarian for hands and a mild fungus on my chair.

BTW, we’ve maybe/sorta worked with some of the same people, you and I. SWAT:UJ was captured at Giant Studio’s Santa Monica location. Them Giant folks are very sharp. Much more so than their ant logo suggests. :slight_smile: Did you get to work with them at all?



I didn’t work with them personally, but the mocap guys did… but I’m aware of their work. definitly a bunch of smarties. :slight_smile:

that’s one thing that maya doesn’t handle at all. motion capture.

we REALLY need some good tools for editing curves… oh my LORD!! :slight_smile:


Yes! This is what I spent a good 6 months working on at Sierra, mocap blending editing tools. In the end I got a pretty nice thing working that I call UltraBlendy. It can blend N number of MoCap source skeletons with a single keyframed source and it understands skeletal split points so that various parts of the body can be blended at different times. It did this by building a ginormous matrix of blendWeighted nodes based on a skeletal map (there’s that pesky map thing again).

Sounds kinda of messy and the code really is, but the end result was better than filmbox in many respects (not to mention Trax) and certainly easier to learn. New hires could learn it in an hour. Just the fact that we kept everything inside Maya made for a huge improvement in what could have been a very nasty pipe.

I need to write a version of that for public consumption.



Ok… you guys got me thinking about the character sets now… I’ll have to take a good look at them.

As far as selections go though, I have built a nice shelf (with little icons, etc) to select pretty much each individual bone… (it’s a little bit smart… just a little) so when I’m in IK mode, it selects the IK and when I’m in FK the same button (let’s say hand) selects the FK hand.

This way I can very quickly select bones and key stuff.

But regardless… I’ll take a look at the character sets thanks




I’d give anything (nearly) to be able to sit and watch you guys animate for a while.

I currently don’t use Character Sets and still mainly animate straight ahead (only due to lack of experience).

I’ve tried animating in a more pose-to-pose kinda way but I really just don’t get it. I suppose I have only been animating in Maya for 7 months.

That’s it, you’ll just have to video camera yourselves and send it to me in Australia! It’s the only way!

Oh by the way Goosh, I love the animations you have on your site! Though I was wondering what the snake says in your effects reel?

Something like “Theories and queries?” hehe, I doubt it.

And with your IK-Joe setup (which is very nice), I’ve noticed that you’ve set it up so that it’s got foot roll in one direction (ie if you move the foot backwards the toes stay flat after the heel is lifted) but what about lifting the heel when you move the feet forwards?

Isn’t animating a walk hard if you can’t tilt the foot back?

Is this rig at all similar to your ‘vampire guy’s’ rig?

And you mention in your ‘Package Man’ pdf file, that with him you can animate the ‘stickiness’ of the hands and feet, is that hard to setup because it would be very useful.

Oh dear, I’m reminding myself of that boy Tim on Jurrasic Park who keeps asking Dr Grant all those annoying questions.

I’ll be quiet now, thanks.

P.S. You guys are the greatest.


You don’t REALLY wanna sit here and watch… not when we’ve been sitting in the same spot for 13 hours straight going “aghh… okay… a little up here… a little there… okay… blast… ok… AGH!! okay, push that over here… andnn… pleaseworkpleaseworkpleasework… AGAHHHG!!!”


actually… we’ve got it pretty easy. One of my friends here, stephen buckley, is a stop-motion animator… and the stories he tells about dailies… oh man, the stress!

For those of you who don’t know, dailes are where you show the work you did the day before to everyone for feedback and comments. It happens usually every morning… sometimes twice a day… sometimes once every 2 days… but it’s the time when you’re “on display” for everyone to see what you’re doing.

For CG, it’s not so bad if there’s a pop… you go back ,fix it, and you’re done…

but stop motion… if you screw up a 10 day shoot… Stephen would tell us these stories where they’d be showing his shot that he’s been painstakingly working on for days and days and days straight… and the director would just turn and look at him and go “yeah. yeah, well, that’s a re-shoot.”



Try doing some 2D animation and pose-to-pose will make sense pretty quick. :slight_smile:



I’m with Jason on this one… I don’t really think you want to know how I animate… there is a lot of swearing, frustration and praying…

Ok… I’ve also only been animating for a little while, and I can really see how much I need to learn, but I know this and it’s a slow process… I’m working with some very talented guys at the moment and looking at what they are doing helps a lot. Now I’m watching the clasics (Toy Story, etc) and studying how they act, how the characters move their hands, they eyes, etc… concentrating on different limbs…

Originally posted by Jozvex
Oh by the way Goosh, I love the animations you have on your site! Though I was wondering what the snake says in your effects reel?

Something like “Theories and queries?” hehe, I doubt it.

:blush: well…er… actually… it says “Do you want women?” :smiley:
It’s for a Mexican ad… don’t ask… :smiley:

Originally posted by Jozvex
And with your IK-Joe setup (which is very nice), I’ve noticed that you’ve set it up so that it’s got foot roll in one direction (ie if you move the foot backwards the toes stay flat after the heel is lifted) but what about lifting the heel when you move the feet forwards?

Isn’t animating a walk hard if you can’t tilt the foot back?

Well… there are two ways really… you can have the pivot point of the foot on the heel, or in the ball… for more realistic animations, the pivot point is actually in the ball of the foot, while for more cartoonie animations it’s on the heel… I’ve originally had it in the hell, but I was working on an animation where I required the pivot point to be in the ball of the foot, so I’ve changed it… It’s pretty easy to change, so if you’d rather have it at the heel, you can change it without a problem.

I was looking into writing something to be able to change the pivot point from ball to heel, but I never got that far… I think I got distracted with other stuff.

Originally posted by Jozvex

Is this rig at all similar to your ‘vampire guy’s’ rig?

Not really… there are a few differences… Dracula is a little bit more simple… He doesn’t have the complicated spine set up and he doesn’t have the IK/FK switching for the hands… which it would have come really in hand in the animation “Wake Up Call” since he interacts with his coffin… but having said that… it still worked out just fine.

There are always work arounds for everything you do.

And as far as Draculas rig. well… If you see “Wake Up Call” you can see that he can be animated just fine. I’ve learnt a lot since then, so I would probably animate him a little bit different, but the rig would still hold without a problem.

It’s 10 times better than what I’m using at the moment at work… but I’m working on a game right now, and we have a lot of restrictions :frowning:

Originally posted by Jozvex

And you mention in your ‘Package Man’ pdf file, that with him you can animate the ‘stickiness’ of the hands and feet, is that hard to setup because it would be very useful.

Hmmm… nope… not really… the feet are created with a classic, reverse foot lock, which you can find examples of it in a lot of places in the web.

The hands are a kind of modified, fancy reverse foot lock. That took me a while to figure out, but since then, I found out a different way to do it, and much less complicated one…

Have fun

Send me a mail if you would like me to go over any part of the rig, I would be glad to explain it.



Thanks guys,

I’ve been avoiding learning how to rig well, because I’d rather concentrate on animating (of course), but I think it would really help to learn how to rig my own characters, and rig them well.


It is nice to rig your own characters… specially since you put in all the things that you like and you know you’ll need… and you understand what it’s in them and why.

At home I get the pleasure to work with my own rigs and can polish them as much as I want.

Then there is the other side. At work you don’t always have that luxury. Sometimes you just get something and that could be far far from anything remotelly animatable and you have to make it act.

So even though it’s nice to have your own rigs and animate with them. It’s also good and important to be able to animate anything regardless of what the rig is like.

If you see what the rigs I’m animating with at the moment at work are like, you’ll never want to animate in your life again… very very scary, and pretty frustating… but it’s good to be flexible.



Yep… I’ve been pretty lucky so far… I’m animating rigs I created at work AND at home. :slight_smile: However, I have been presented with rigs I didn’t set up… and when this happens, I usually end up re-rigging really quickly. If you can’t do that, though… then at least having a good understanding of what’s going on in the rig can definitly help you overcome some of the limitations that will be presented…



Hey, Jason and Bigfatmelon and Goosh, maybe you could take a look at this link

where I asked a question about arm rigging. Would you have any comments, any tips?