Ara’s very first steps

Contrary to my last comment about putting the project to rest for some weeks and to my own utter surprise I was able to invest some time on Ara’s Tale.

This time I started the rigging for Ara. Before actually doing a rig I had to do quite some research. I have never done a serious rig before, so I read a lot of tutorials, threads on rigging on blenderartists and cgtalk, watched various video tutorials just to get an idea what the essence of rigging looks like.

I soon realized, that I should not create a general purpose rig, but only implement the things I really need. The shot breakdown done with the storyboards gave me a good idea what to expect.

As always, learning is iterating. A lot of the problems discussed in various threads and the solutions provided in tutorials were just theoretical concepts and hard to categorize for me. So I just set up a simple rig and did some posing and first animation attempts. That gave me quite some insight and the tutorials and discussion threads made much more sense and provided additional insight.

After quite some iterations I am now at a point where I have a basic body rig for Ara which seems to work for all of the animations tasks ahead (face rigging will be done later, after I have done some serious animation work).

The key facts of my rig are as follows:

  • Strict separation of deforming, helper and control bones
  • The leg setup is IK based, with a foot roll control driving action constraints. I may add a FK chain and an IK/FK switch as I noticed some problems getting the walkcycle correct (shin swinging …)
  • arm setup is FK but I will use auto-IK for posing. There are two shots were an IK setup may be helpful, so I also may introduce an IK chain for this.
  • The fingers on each hand are driven through separate controls for curling and and splaying. For very fine tuning I have left access to the individual finger control bones.
  • The toes are not controlled separately.

I have read a lot about FK/IK switching and its inherent problems for smooth transitions without jumps and as it seems, even more importantly, the workload when you start tweaking the animation. As of now it seems to me that using Auto-IK with FK is a good compromise for the animations tasks ahead of me.

Rig controls

Full rig

The weight painting to tweak the deformations and maybe even adding corrective shape keys is still on my todo list, but that shouldn’t interfere with the actuals animation work.

There were countless pitfalls setting up the rig and I may still come back and built it from scratch, but having a working rig for Ara, I started to create a walkcycle. My very first walkcycle ever done.

I learned two things from it:

  • Animation is a hell of a lot of work to get it anything near watchable.
  • I really have fun doing it 🙂

On a personal and very subjective view I am quite pleased with the cycle produced. On a more objective perspective, I realize that this walkcycle has a lot of problems.

What helps in this project ( at least I think it does) is that Ara is wearing a long dress and thus obscuring various glitches.

Anyway I am really curious to what level I can push my animation skills during the work on this short.

See here for Ara’s first steps.

The next step will be to actually animate one of the opening shots where Ara is walking along a path with the cage in hand. To do this I have to investigate a little bit on a proper animation workflow.

One thing for instance is the use of the NLA editor in combination with cyclic actions. It would be cool to setup a walk using a basic walkcycle and using the NLA modifier system to layout the walk path. To work then on the details it would be nice to ‘bake’ the NLA strip to a new action and work on this action from then on. I will try to find an answer on the forums.

Author: loramel

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2 thoughts on “Ara’s very first steps”

    1. I didn’t do anything special, I think. I made sure I had the same pose for the start frame and the end frame. One thing I saw stated on tutorials on the internet was that you have to use one frame less than the complete walk cycle to do a cyclic walkcycle in the NLA editor. I found this to be untrue. With the last frame omitted I had the same jumps as you are experiencing now. As soon as I used the full walk cycle everything was smooth.

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