Characters in games move around and express themselves through their actions. They can run and jump between skyscrapers, do summersaults to avoid a barrage of bullets or even make you flip their stepdad of in a fit of rage (Life is Strange hype!). These things are awesome, but they wouldn’t be possible if we couldn’t manipulate the character model. So this is where rigging comes in.
First step to place a skeleton-like structure inside the model that we want to animate. The parts that make up the skeletal structure are called joints or bones and they are the part of the character that gets exported to the game engine.
Step two is to bind the skeleton to the character model and adjust how much the different joints control the model. For example, we don’t want the left leg to control parts of the left hand. But this could be an issue because the 3D-software doesn’t know a leg from a hand, which is why we need to define it. This process is called skinning.
Quick fact: The amount of joints in Kill to Collect’s characters is about 40-70 per character. Games like Guilty Gear Xrd has over 400 joints per character, which is insane.
A modern game character consists of large amount of polygons (polygons which are a group of vertices) which would be unbearable to try to animate, but also hard for a game engine, that works in real time, to compute. This is why we instead create a simplified skeleton to control. Now, for the for the final step, the control rig!
The control rig manipulates the different skeletal joints/bones and is the interface that the animator uses to create the different actions. Control rigs are usually color coded to make it easy on a glance to see the what control manipulates which limb. Depending on what you need to do in your game, the control rig can vary in complexity, but a rule of thumb is that you try to give your animators as much control of the character as possible. It should also be easy to select and not performance-heavy so you can preview the animation smoothly.
Quick fact: For Kill to Collect, we use the Setup Machine Games Edition for an easy to use auto-rigger. Stretchy limbs are awesome!
There is still lots of things to mention but that’s for another time. Now stop reading articles and play games!