As I think I mentioned earlier in the blog, my characters are using skeletons to drive their movements. Since the game engine doesn't support the nifty shape-deforming tools that are available to CG filmmakers, I've got to make do with a basic skeleton. Think of how traditional stop-motion films are made, with their little wire frames inside a clay/foam body. It's the same basic thing.
Well, once you've got a body full of bones, you can grab them and start animating. But that's a bad idea, because it would take foreeeeeeeeeeeever. This is why we need rigs in animation. The word 'rig', in animation, refers to a whole system of controls and attachments that we stick to a character to make animation easier and quicker for the animators.
For example, I could animate a character sitting down by manually moving each individual joint all over the body down one frame at a time, until he was settled in a chair. But really, I'd rather just grab him by the waist, drag that down, and let the computer calculate the rest. That's an over-simplification of what a rig can do, but you get my point.
A lot of people in the industry hate rigging. They speak of rigging the way most American grownups speak about math. "Oh I was never very good at that stuff" "Man, I hate that stuff, never touched it since school" etc. Well I love math, and while I won't be writing any poetic adulations of The Rig, I don't mind riggin' either. It's fun puzzle out how to build all those controls to be easy for the animator, yet still work correctly. It's like uber-advanced virtual lego building.
To make rigging easier for me, and to speed things up when thesis hit, I've been spending spare moments over the past year making a rigging tool. It's called 'gRig'. It's a program I wrote using Maya's scripting language. It basically automates as much of the rig creation process as possible, and makes it easy to do the rest by hand.
So, using this tool, and armed with the massive list of improvements suggested by my animators, I updated it once more and used it to build a new version of the chef character. This time, I decided to record the process and share it with you. As a note: rigging a character is something people usually spend days on. I'm awfully proud I was able to pull off everything but the facial expressions in 45 minutes.
Another note: this is only a one-minute time lapse video of those 45 minutes