Rigging. After over about 15 years of working with short 3d productions both inside and outside of the academic sector, I can tell you that (especially amongst younger animators) it is the most common bottleneck there is.
I find the most common mistake is to rig the character as if it is a toy. Similar to the mindset of modeling a dollhouse as opposed to a film set, animators make the mistake of thinking they must develop one, singular, perfect rig which never needs to be changed, broken, or adjusted for a shot. In a way, they feel they need to rig a character independent of any film or camera shot which can be handled and manipulated by someone without any real understanding of animation or story-telling.
While I’m sure there are character setup artists who boast this ability, I can also assure you that – having met many Disney and Pixar animators over the last 10 years- the rigs almost never do what they are supposed to do right out of the box. At any rate, rigging this way is simply above my pay-grade and, to my mind, is a waste of budget hours.
For me, I find it much more useful to rig for the camera. Looking at my boards and knowing what I need the characters to do, I rig based on those actions. Perhaps this is due to my lack of knowledge in the area of advanced rigging, but working with two or three different rigs per principal character is working out very well.
For Gryphon Animo, the risk of getting bogged down in rigging hell is very real. After all, there are over 12 3d characters that require rigs and these aren’t the standard bipedal rigs that we are used to seeing in 3d production. These characters are 2.5 D and the functional requirements of the rigs are very different.
Take Roland, for example. Roland has to walk. This sounds simple as we all know this means move one foot in front of the other, hit the major keys, contact, weight, pass-through, etc. Translate up and down….. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work in his case. Roland, if you recall from my earlier posts, is built almost like an Egyptian hieroglyph. He has both legs facing the same direction on the same plane. Considering this design and the way I wanted to treat space in Gryphon, I sketched out a few concepts for how the walk might work. Naturally, this was all subject to testing.
This is where I’ll lose some of you. See, the goal is not to make the most life-like walk cycle. Animation is NOT the illusion of life, nor is it the illusion of realism. Roland is a puppet. He looks like a puppet and he should move like a puppet. I was hoping to keep the hips separated and not have to translate the joints to make the walk work.
Roland also has a Tommy Gun which is essentially part of his arm. So his rig was built with an IK connection to the forward hand which holds the barrel of the gun and flash and point light were integrated into the rig so that it all moved together, much like a rod puppet.
I found, however, that once the walk was tested, there were several adjustments to the rig that were needed. Keeping with my filmmaking philosophy, I decided to create solutions for this walk cycle alone, but use alternate rigs for other scenes where Roland needed to do actions that did not involve passing one foot in front of the other. In the end it was necessary to translate the hips to make the walk cycle look believable.
This test is right on the line. It’s about as naturalistic as I’d want to go. Hopefully it doesn’t abandon the flatness of the model and still looks quirky enough to be unique to Roland’s character.
I’ve given myself two weeks to rig the entire film. If that seems fast to you, you probably need to spend more time around Motion Media studios. ;) There is tremendous value in working swiftly, quickly. Completing an entire pass of a project and THEN revisiting the thing as a whole to revise and rework the weaknesses.