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Why do I need a Mentor?

Rig in to Spring, flowering tree here in Austin Texas with joints drawn over it in MAya

Are you better off without a mentor or coach?

Do you know who Toni Nadal is? He is the Uncle and Coach of Rafael Nadal, the famed tennis player. Rafael has won over 50 tournaments and an Olympic gold medal. He has made 60 million dollars in professional tennis.

Ronda Rousey, arguably the best fighter in the world—male or female. She didn’t get to this place alone and still before every fight, goes in to fight camp to improve and to work on weak areas and prepare.

What do you do?

Why do these world class professional athletes still need a coach?

We all need coaching to succeed. Success is relative for everyone, but hard work and proper coaching are the keys to achieve it.

The 10,000 hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” is only half the story in my opinion. What if you practice the wrong things for 10,000 hours? You’ll be good at doing the wrong things. This is why coaching is so important. The coach doesn’t take on some of those hours and labor for you, he or she points you to the best way to spend those 10,000 hours. The coach tells you what roadblocks you’ll encounter at what time. With the best ways to avoid or mitigate them as well.

Toni actually chose to practice on lousy courts with bad balls, just to teach young Rafael that winning or losing isn’t about good balls or courts or strings or lights. It’s about attitude, discipline, and perhaps most importantly, perspective … The latter is such a significant component precisely because perspective may be the hardest of all things to maintain once you hit a certain level in tennis.

We are all students and teachers

One of our ideas on perspective is that we are all students and teachers. At a Siggraph in the late 90’s Brad and I watched a presentation on the rigging for the film “Chicken Little”. The broken hierarchy approach they utilized blew us away. The rigs and animation seemed dynamic and fun. Recently, some of those folks have contacted us at Rigging Dojo to chat and discuss the future of rigging and educating TD’s. Full Circle.

We’ve learned a lot from our students in our Apprenticeships as well. Sometimes it’s a new technique, but it’s usually about how each individual approaches a problem.

We specialize in mentoring and coaching, we’ve been doing it for a long time at the top studios in the world. But we’re still learning from our students too. That is such an amazing gift.


The Nine Old Men at Disney knew the power of mentoring and they became guides, mentors and inspiration the next generation of artists.  Guess what, even these masters had continued education and coaching from Walt Stanchfield to become better artists. There are coaches for all topics in life, we all need help on our paths.

We started Rigging Dojo to help mentor, support and coach character TD’s and Technical Artists. If you want to explore learning with us, here’s how we can help you spend the next 9,900 hours working on the right things.

Ready to up your game, improve your work to get a raise, get a new job or work faster and smarter?

Apply now

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone!

Here is one last tip for the year as we are looking forward to what is coming in the way of rigging and animation and workflow…hope this lets you explore and get animating faster!

You should by now know about  Raf and his  ephemeral rig concepts (“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” could have used this technique easily)


Here we wanted to share a quick tip on how to try out and apply this concept out of the box *mostly, in Maya or MotionBuilder. We demo it in MotionBuilder but the Time Editor in Maya works very similar with pose clips. 


Check out our new free HIK training for Maya

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Guest Post: Tech Animator Dump: Customizing Radical Heights – Part 2

Customizing Radical Heights – Part 2 In this post I will step over the process the artist will run through to get the assets ready for game. The artists can import the mesh from any DCC they choose to create the assets within. The setup process itself is handled entirely in Maya. Part 1 can be found here: Setting up the item We need to first import the artist created meshes into a clean Maya scene. As mentioned pr

Source: Tech Animator Dump: Customizing Radical Heights – Part 2

Customizing Radical Heights – Part 2

In this post I will step over the process the artist will run through to get the assets ready for game. The artists can import the mesh from any DCC they choose to create the assets within. The setup process itself is handled entirely in Maya.

Setting up the item

We need to first import the artist created meshes into a clean Maya scene. As mentioned previously the clothing is created for specific sections of the character. In this scene we have a shirt/upperbody and pants/lowerbody.

Assign the mesh
The artist runs the Customization Builder tool, selects the mesh and plugs the selection into the gender specific field. This field is used to determine which rig/skinned mesh the item will be constructed upon. Upon assigning the mesh it is evaluated for poly count, number of uv channels and number of material assignments. It also makes sure the transforms are correct on the mesh before attempting to bind to a skeleton.

Name Item & Associate Slot
Next we set a unique item name and then we assign the body slot/section for the clothing item. This will rename the mesh accordingly, create an export hierarchy and apply attributes to the groups and meshes used to rig and export the item. These attributes assist the tool when opened later and will also inform the export process how to handle the current asset.

  • Assign the selected mesh
  • Create a unique item name
  • Choose the body part section

Rigging the mesh

In this stage we import a clean skinned base body mesh. We locate the flagged gender specific body mesh that was imported and copy the skinweights from the body to the clothing mesh. Additionally, the skinweights and bones are pruned based on the body part chosen, to use the least required amount possible.

The base body mesh is flagged for skinweight copying
Rigged body mesh is versioned to handle updates

Importing not Referencing
It’s important to note that I am not referencing the base body mesh here. While there are benefits to references they don’t apply very well here. If I update the body mesh or skeleton, I want to know how to propagate those changes to the meshes in the customization files. If I allow referencing to just update naturally I cannot control the changes. After opening an existing customization file a callback will check the local mesh/rig version and compare to the latest one in the depot. I use the version numbers to inform how to process any updates. Some updates happen without user intervention while others require notification. The callback code for the tool also has versioning so I can run code specific to the version number where applicable. Once the scene version is up to date I can tick the local version attributes to the proper index.

Rules for version updates:

  • Major: This requires a complete replacement of the rig in the scene & skin copy update.
  • Minor: The tool can update specific aspects of the mesh/rig without requiring a full update.
  • Patch: These small changes can generally be ignored and likely require no updates.

Range of Motion
The artist can optionally import the skeleton range of motion to check how the skinning worked out. A rom skeleton with baked animation is imported into the scene and the scene skeleton is constrained to the that skeleton. The artist can then apply some quick skinning fixes to the mesh or let the Character TD address any issues later in a polish pass.
View mesh skinning with Range of Motion

Exporting the mesh
Once everything looks good to go we can move forward with exporting the item. As was mentioned before the exporter handles all of the file naming and determines where to export relative to the project and the item slot. The file must also be saved and added to the depot in a proper location before exporting will occur. This ensures an artist that is putting assets into game will have the source file available as well.

On export the item FBX file is written out, a post-process is run on the FBX file to remove unnecessary nodes and correct the hierarchy where needed. A thumbnail is generated for our asset tool and all of the files are checked out and/or added to perforce automatically.

Exporting the mesh
The clean processed FBX file

Completed Process

Below is a video showing how easy the entire process is for the artist setting up the asset for use in game. The artist can further edit the existing meshes or update with another internal tool that will preserve all of the settings and replace the mesh, uv’s, etc, all with updated skinning as needed.
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Guest Post: Tech Animator Dump: Customizing Radical Heights – Part 1

Source: Tech Animator Dump: Customizing Radical Heights – Part 1

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Customizing Radical Heights – Part 1

My work on Boss Key Productions most recent project, Radical Heights, focused a lot on character customization. In this post I’m going to discuss the process and creation of a customizable character for Radical Heights.

Having previously worked on Lawbreakers and the Saints Row franchise, much of my time has been focused on creating processes for constructing customization for game characters. The methods described below were no doubt influenced by my past experiences and lessons learned working on these titles.

For customization purposes it is important that your visual goals are outlined initially and the “known” technicalities are addressed before jumping in and creating clothing assets. If you change any of the base character assets during production, you will lose a great deal of time re-working any of the existing clothing assets you may have already created. Understanding the problems up front is key to defining the customization process. You want to minimize the work on the art team and maximize the quality and quantity of assets that can be created.

Character Scale


First and foremost the Character Artist and the Character TD will need to work with the level and environment team to ensure you character height will work properly in the scale of the world. In most cases it is a good idea to keep close to real world units for scale. It’s likely easier to create real world weapons that work correctly with your character, if you follow this rule as well.

Play-testing your character in game running around, even early in a rough state will help you identify issues with character and world scale. It’s important to nail this down early in your process.

Character Mesh Topology

We started with a fairly standard male mesh until we fully determined how we wanted to approach the semi-stylistic look we wanted the characters to have. Here you can see some stages the proportions of the character went through before we came to our current version. The overall height and proportions didn’t have to change drastically from our initial construction. However, some aspects changed enough for us to have to modify the skeleton and in turn adjust and re-export animations.You can also see some of the topology was reduced to minimize the work that it would take to project onto future clothing assets and to lower the polycount overall.

From my past experiences, I found its best to have the character mesh topology to be created in a uniform manner. As you can see here, it’s almost a grid-like pattern. This actually makes it easy to define notable landmarks, where clothing assets will generally start and end. If you know the type of clothing and outfits the character may wear, its usually a good idea to make sure edge loops can border these common areas. This will be necessary for hiding the geo of the underlying character mesh at run-time, using a technique I will describe below.

When optimizing the mesh, it’s important to remove unnecessary edge loops where the detail doesn’t need to project onto clothing assets or the detail doesn’t support deformation. You may notice the nipples were removed from the topology as they may only be seen in very few assets and projecting that topology onto most of the clothing would just be too time consuming and wasteful. Only add edge loops to areas that need to support deformation and where the silhouettes of clothing would benefit from that detail.

Character model by Chris Wells


Customization Asset Topology

In the following image you will see how the clothing topology mimics that of the body mesh. This is important for deformation consistency. If the body can deform fine with the existing skeleton then the overlapping clothing assets with the same edge loops, will usually deform the same. You don’t want to have issues with the body tearing through the clothing and sticking out. If the topology was different between the meshes then you would likely have to add bones to correct for the tearing and intersecting issues as a result. This is not ideal when you are creating a game that needs to run as optimal as possible and extra bones increases processing time. Fixing visual issues with solutions that would hinder performance is not the best route to take.

Clothing meshes mimic the body topology


Character UVs & Mesh Hiding

The first uv channel is fairly standard as you can see here. The second uv channel is what we use to hide the faces of the body mesh. We first identified the common clothing areas and broke them down into subsections depending on the types of clothing. Next we generated uv shells based on those subsections and smashed the coordinates of those uvs to a singular value in the UV space. This coordinate can then be mapped to a game-side data file and referenced to hide when marked up with corresponding clothing assets. The material on the body skeletal mesh will have a technique that can then hide the triangles, or set them to not render when the coordinates have been flagged to be hidden.

For example, if the character is wearing a shirt, we would flag the first couple of coordinates being selected below to hide, ( U 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 ) Keep in mind the mesh assets need to be created so that the overlying mesh crosses over the edge boundaries, so that holes in the body will not be visible, when the body mesh faces are hidden.

UV Channel 1
UV channel 2 coordinates used to hide body mesh faces in game.


Customization Parts

When determining how complex you want your customization system to be you have to understand the amount of work you will be taking on. In Lawbreakers we did full mesh customization. This is essentially a mesh swap for each version of customization you want to have for the character. The creation is straight-forward to build as long as the meshes follow the conventions of the original character. The in game system is not complex at all, as it is just a mesh reference change, so the programming effort to implement this system was minimal.
For Radical Heights we decided to do a relatively basic “Paper Doll” setup. We researched the type of clothing we expected the character to wear and defined the most notable areas that we want to be able to customize so we could plan our asset creation accordingly. On the surface this looks easy to create for but it can spiral out of control very quickly from asset creation to in game implementation.

Clothing Boundaries

The things to be aware when creating the clothing, are asset parts that cross the boundaries of other parts and the volume/thickness of those assets. For example, if you create a shirt and pants with the same thickness and the shirt crosses over the boundary of the top of the pants, you will get an unwanted intersection. Determining how to create these assets consistently while avoiding these issues need to be decided up front.

Clothing Layers

Layered clothing, such as the UpperBodyArmor here, has to work relative to varying levels of volume/thickness of the upperbody assets. To correct for this instance, we have a morph target on the bulletproof vest mesh, that can be adjusted per upperbody asset at run-time. Addressing a singular asset in this case to correct an issue, works out far better than generating morph targets for each and every shirt asset. Always look for the cheapest way to solve a problem.

Clothing Materials & Draw Calls

Radical Heights can have up to 100 characters and the body mesh for the character already has three draw calls ( head, body and the eyes). For customization purposes we have separated out the clothing to specific parts, and each part on its own becomes a singular draw call, this means by default a character can be upwards of ten draw calls. This is not a great start, which means we need to keep the material count low for each clothing asset. We try to make sure they sure each asset has only a single material and two in the worst case.

Customization Fixes

When you have assets crossing boundaries or overlapping other parts you also have to handle how you want to deal with other crashing issues. In extreme cases we will hide the offending assets, large helmets will hide the hair parts. In other situations, in which we identify a common issue, we will create named morph targets to fix problems. Similar to what we did with the armor we will create a common morph target for each hair asset when a standard hat is enabled. This morph target will scrunch the hair down to work better with the hat. We cannot create a custom morph target for every hat asset, that amount of work and data loading would be ridiculous. Therefore, when we create the hat model, they fit to a predefined location on the head, so that a singular hair morph will work with every hat.

We did later determine that we wanted to have headbands for our characters to customize, as they fit the time period and aesthetic we were going for. This meant we had to circle back and create new morph targets for each of the hair assets to accommodate the headband location. This was an unknown initially but it was important for us to implement this specific data fix for each asset.

These rules for how hats, headbands and every other customization part can work together are important in defining creation guidelines. These guidelines are necessary to prevent data correction bloat from permutation issues. Understanding the volumes and boundaries for each asset is helpful to reducing these data fixes and ensuring compatibility with future assets.

  Character Skeleton

Radical Heights is an online Multiplayer game with up to 100 players. This means the character itself has to be fairly simplistic in terms of run-time complexity. The number of processing skeleton joints should be fairly small even at the lowest Level of Detail (LOD). The deforming corrective deforming joints start to drop off quickly as the character starts to LOD out. The twist and corrective joints are usually the first to go, ultimately leaving only the primary body joints, when deforming characters in the furthest distances on screen.

The supplemental joints here are comprised of joints used for IK hands and feet as well as joints only used when the character is in First Person/Aim Down Sights (ADS) mode.

  Character Rig

We continued to use Epic’s ART tools, created by Jeremy Ernst, to construct the player character rig for animation. The tool set allows you team to hit the ground running with a fully animation friendly rig and accompanying animation tools. I use most of the rig construction out of the box with additional custom rigging on top to satisfy our specific needs for animation and deformation.

Shared Skeletal Mesh

On Lawbreakers we chose to have two separate skeletons for First and Third Person. This required us to duplicate the customization assets work done by the character artists and double the amount of data that needed to be loaded by a character in game. The fidelity of the assets had also changed enough to necessitate this choice for that project. However, the speed at which we needed to create assets and the bandwidth we had on Radical Heights, meant we needed to be a bit more conservative and efficient with our time in asset creation. By having a single skeleton for first and third person it meant we should only have to create the clothing assets once and the same assets could be visible for both perspectives in game.
I modified the rig and skeleton hierarchy to be able to handle both aspects for animation purposes. The core of the third person skeleton remains untouched aside from various supplemental joints for controlling the camera and upperbody pitching in first person. This is handled by the rig using a single switch that modifies the visibility of various animation controls and changes multiple constraints that affect the behavior of the rig.

  Character Animation

In First Person, the camera is positioned relative to the head location, so we need to move the head out of the way for animation purposes. In the animation file we just rotate it backwards. In game we also hide the faces on the head and parts of the torso, using the UV method mentioned above, to prevent the them from rendering in the players view.

Animation by Ryan Palser

Checking Animation with Clothing Assets

The pipeline and tool set I created to work with all of the assets on Radical Heights, allows the animator to view customization items in their scene and correct poses where needed. Not every item will work perfectly with every pose, but this gives the animators the opportunity to easily address some of the worst cases scenarios as they are bugged by our QA team.

Animation by Nick Maw-Naing

Coming up Next

In the next post I will be going over the customization tool used by the character artists to setup assets for export and implementation in game.

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Maya Time Editor – Learning Series


A getting started series on the Time Editor in Autodesk Maya by Steven Roselle

A getting started series on the Time Editor in Autodesk Maya by Steven Roselle. This is a very clear ramp up on using the Time Editor to create, blend, edit and time warp animations in a non-destructive and non-linear animation editing tool. Must watch for animators in Maya.

Our friend and Maya master Steven Roselle from My Oh Maya is creating a series of videos on the Time Editor tool. These are a great starting point for anyone who still has not tried it yet. He also covers some tips and workflows that, if you have used the Time Editor, there is a good chance you missed or overlooked. He covers clip creation and re-use, time warps, animated icons for your pose library, matching clips and transferring animation to name a few examples.

While not yet a MotionBuilder replacement it offers a much better option than the older TRAX workflow in Maya. The Time Editor among other things gives your the ability to work with diffrent “TAKES” in Maya out of the box like an animator could with MotionBuilder, allowing more than once timeline of animation at a time in a fast way without hacking it with the older Animation Layer system.

Maya Time Editor Part 1 – Getting Started

Maya Time Editor Part 2 – Clips and Sources

Maya Time Editor Part 3 – Baking and Exporting

Maya Time Editor Part 4 – Clip Remapping

Maya Time Editor Part 5 – Blending and Retiming

Maya Time Editor Part 6 – Clip Layers



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