news rigtip video

Rigging Dojo Alumni Showcase: Chris Lesage – New demoreel and face rigging techniques

[Rigging Dojo alumnus, Chris Lesage @chrislesage presents his new rigging demoreel and face rigging techniques he developed and refined while in the Apprenticeship program  @riggingdojo #maya3d #rigtip #techart. Chris is currently looking for new clients and projects to work on. He proved he was easy to work with, professional when dealing with critiques and feedback and produced excellent work during his online course with us. (Reprinted with permission.) ]


A New Demoreel & My Cartoony Face Rig Structure

by Chris Lesage on September 9, 2013

I just got back from an awesome summer vacation, travelling in South America! Now I’m back to work, developing some new Python animation tools and plugins (which I’ll blog about soon) and looking for new clients and projects for the coming year!

Today I want to show you my new character rigging demoreel. It has a few highlights of my tech artist work from this past year. After the video, you’ll read a bit about the facial rig that I developed with help from Rigging Dojo for a cartoon feature film.

In this demoreel:

    • Character rigging for a successfully Kickstarter-funded indie feature film
    • Cartoony face rigging for an animated feature film
    • Cinematics from a Coca-Cola mobile game I worked on (I also did some in-game rigs for a Maya/Unity workflow.)
    • Some rigging goodies like the cylindrical foot-roll I blogged about, and an auto-swinging trunk/tail rig.
    • Some footage from some mobile game prototypes I’m developing in Corona and Unity3D.

The “Face Plates” Rig

The cartoony face rig I developed was really interesting. I based it off of some of the principles from “A Hybrid Approach to Facial Rigging“. And I took a session of Rigging Dojo where Brad Clark and the Dojo community really helped me push the quality of the rig.

The face rig needed to be flexible and expressive, but it also needed to be fast to setup and swap between characters. There was a large cast of characters, and I started the project alone. Eventually we hired a second rigger, but the process had to be modular and stream-lined.

In the past, my face rigs would have used dozens of blendshapes, based on Stop Staring. But in this production we had a LOT of modelling revisions, client feedback and a small team!

The process had to be simple and fast.

So we had to have a solution that didn’t have a lot of brute-force work for each character, such as requiring too many corrective blendshapes which would have to be re-done or tweaked with each modelling revision. I kept the amount of blendshapes down to only 8-10 per character, for special things like puckering and “ewww” shapes.

My solution was something I called “Face Plates”. Using a series of nurbs surfaces which are shaped to match the curvature of the character’s face.


The curvature of the plate is controlled by two blendshapes. By combining the two shapes, they can be concave, convex or saddle-shaped. Using follicles and geometry-based constraints, a joint follows the curvature of the nurbs, giving an effect of sliding over a rounded structure.


The animator uses the controller in X and Y, and you get a nice natural curved effect with less effort. Using the controller in Z lets you pull the skin off of the surface if you need to.


The advantages I found with this system…

You could also use a single object like in the “Hybrid Approach to Facial Rigging”. But by having separate pieces, you have a few advantages:

  1. Place them to match the face in a fairly complex way very quickly with only a few parameters and without having to do any modelling.
  2. Constrain the plates to the rig controllers or add Driven Keys for an additional layer of complexity/expression.
  3. Have 1 controller moving concave while a nearby one moves convex for creating overlapping or fat-bulging effects with only standard skinning.
  4. Easily make or remove plates to create a custom character. In this way we were able to use the same basic rig to also rig cartoony animals with completely different proportions.
  5. The size of the plates gives your joints a natural limit, preventing the animators from breaking model.

A Simple Skin-Based Method for Fast Setup

But the best thing about this approach is the simplicity of the skinning. By using joints to skin the face, when the clients asked for modelling revisions, it was simply a matter of adjusting the positions of the Face Plates, and then transferring the weights to the new geometry without too much pain and re-modelling of blendshapes.

This also made it fast and easy to setup new characters. Animation could even be swapped between characters, though it would take some tweaking afterwards. (In the future I’d like to figure out how to re-target the animation. The translation, scale and curvature of the plates holds information about the characters proportions.)

I then set up a face panel which controls large expressive motions on the face for quickly blocking out poses. And then the controllers on the face allow the animators to make more fine-tuned adjustments.

Again, 90% of the face rig is done through placing the Face Plates and using regular skinning. Other than that, the head squash-and-stretch uses a lattice.

Do you have any questions or feedback? Do you have any favourite examples of face rigging systems? Share them in the comments.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.