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Learning Character Rigging

Every year we see people asking where to start, reaching out for help and or simply overwhelmed.

“I want to learn about rigging characters but I am not sure where to start?”, “Anyone have a recommendation for resources, X video on YouTube was confusing!”, “Rigging courses or schools are are too expensive, how can I become a character TD if I can’t afford it”.

The first advice is if you are going to learn, learn to solve problems and read the documentation… really!! Read through at least all the rigging documentation so you can understand the basic vocabulary of Maya. If you get stuck and need help and have to ask, be detailed. To be detailed you need to know the language Maya uses so you can talk to other Maya users to ask for help or to follow tutorials.


Now of course we would love if you could train with our mentors but the truth is that money isn’t required to get started or even get good enough to get hired. Hard work, self determination, problem solving, grit or tenacity to work through problems and the ability to learn (from the right resources) are what will get you there and we’re here to help.

Myth busted!

Before you dive into the resources, lets address the often repeated myth that “Software does not matter, you can learn on the job”. This might hold true sometimes for animators and modelers who can jump between software with much less trouble, but not for rigging. Tech artists need to learn deeply the inner workings of the main tools that production is using and won’t have time to learn the foundation work on the job.

Autodesk programs like Maya, MotionBuilder and 3dsMax are the core tools still for Animation in VFX, Feature Film and Games. While foundation rigging concepts apply between software, what is important is your ability to learn and problem solve no matter what you are learning.

Scripting in Python is a core skill for a technical (tech)artist, tech animator or character technical director (TD) but for someone starting out learning rigging do not neglect deformation and skinning quality or lose sight of the job, making characters look great when moving.

Without anymore delay, here are some resources we think are worth your time to learn from. Remember, use them as a guide and work to understand WHY and HOW you are doing what you are shown in the tutorials so that you can apply the information to other work and keep growing

Learn from the ground up

.Introduction to rigging in Maya by our friend Jahirul Amin, does a great job explaining the why of rigging with explanations very close to what we have taught for years and is a very overlooked resource.

Updated Body and Face Rigging for after you get the body working since the face is often the next thing to rig. There are many ways to do a face rig and different reasons for different rigs, pick one and do it well.

You might want to follow only the face rigging part or do the entire body and face training here from AntCgi. He has been teaching for a long time and covers body,face, quadruped rigging and python so you can stay there or go through the entire thing.

The Autodesk Maya Learning Channel has many tutorials and sample files that cover a wide range of topics in rigging. We are recommending you check them out after you have a good idea of what you are doing though as we have seen many people struggle with them.

Rigging Quadrupeds, animals and creatures!

The good news is all the things you learned rigging a biped will help you rig almost anything else you need to rig. The bad news is, having a nice working animal leg can be hard but this classic tutorial can help you out. Maya has changed some since it was first created but the information is still very good and one of the old school ways “we” used to have to learn thing…on DVD.

Quadruped Friendly Rigging masterclass on rigging a Quadruped from Javier AKA “Goosh”, one of our friends and early mentors. We also have a large set of bonus training rig tips that are great to know.

Skinning and deformation

As we said, pay attention and get good at deformation and skinning. It is the “Solid Drawing” of rigging and is always needed.

Painting Weights and Skinning: A Straightforward Approach
Painting weights can be miserable. However, with a clear mindset and exposure to certain tools and processes, you can overcome each of them.

Also Corrective Joint Rigging Setups from Kiel Figgins is a great look at controlling all the areas that regular skinning just doesn’t do well with.

Blender

We are giving Blender it’s own mini area as it has some very different ways of working but lucky for all of us there are a few really great resources for you.

Rigging in Blender
Skinning in Blender 

Bonus step by step rigging and skinning in Blender by pro Armin Halac. Great foundation to see rigging concepts from Maya applied in Blender ( We know not everyone is using Maya).

We did a great interview with David from Level Pixel Level and he has continued to update his list of very clear, detailed and well crafted Blender rigging tutorials from someone who has used it in production. His Rigging a Knight series is a great getting started point.

One of the first free with paid option class we took in Blender is Rig Anything with Rigify and found it was full of great information and really can help you get a grip on rigging in Blender (his weighting videos are the most detailed on Blender skinning and weighting we have found)

Advanced Rigging Concepts 

This starts a deeper look at rigging ideas and concepts beyond the basic built in tools of Maya or a similar software. This is a huge amount of information so take it slow and allow yourself time to learn it and only when you really feel good with the above materail.

mGear Data Centric Rigging from our friend Miguel. While mGear is an opensource autorig toolset, Miquel has created a series of videos covering the rigging approach he takes to develop the tools and use them. This is a great introduction and foundation to understanding both the how and why of rigging with his tools and start to be able to grow beyond them. Covering concepts and body and face rigging and more. This is a great start after the easier tutorials. 

Cult of Rig (Rigging Dojo Intro) One of the most advanced deep dives into Maya rigging from bottom to top, Raf has created a series (we are sponsors) that takes a deep look at rigging in Maya beyond any rigging examples you will find elsewhere. Raf takes a rigging by first principles approach to deconstruct everything you think you know about rigging and break it into the smallest parts possible, before putting it all back together.  We have a series of blog posts as a starting point for you to help ease into the series by trying to break down or relate what he is talking about to what you have learned already or you can go directly to his page and start learning. You could simply start with this and go through everything and if you understood it it would be great but we still find value in the other learning resources because you need to know how to deal with more common rigging you will encounter while also reaching to grow beyond those limitations.

Need more? Register now for mentor led instruction from Rigging Dojo

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