Although the dragon was modeled first, I decided back then to postpone the production rig to later. I wanted to gain experience with Ara’s rig, both from the perspective of rigging as well as animating.
Well, as now I am about to animate the shots where the dragon finally makes its appearance, it was time to rig the dragon. I applied all the knowledge gained so far with Ara’s rig to the dragon rig: deformer bones, mechanics bones for hidden mechanical inner workings and final the control bones, those which are actually animated.
So far the rig was quite straight forward and I tried to do a fly cycle to see if I had all the control necessary for the dragon. In the shots the dragon will only be flying and never lands, so the rig was targeted to flying and moving the long neck and tail. Well and exactly the neck and tail area were the parts where it got nasty.
I just couldn’t get a flowing, sinuous and most importantly a controllable movement. Whatever I tried it failed. Thats when I suddenly recognized what spline-ik is really for. Up to now, spline-ik was just a name and a theoretical concept, but it was stored in the back of my head.
So I did some research on how to build a spline-ik rig with the tools available in blender 2.49. Blender 2.5 will have it built in, but 2.5 is not an option here, as least not for the rigging and animation. In the end I settled on a modified version of ‘The Bones on a Curve Spine’. Modified insofar, as I wanted to avoid the cyclic dependencies when controlling everything with bones, which I wanted to have at any cost.
That meant, splitting up the single armature into two parts, a deformer/mechanics armature and a pure controller one. It was quite some work to split and rebuild/rewire the whole beast but in the end it worked beautifully.
The neck and tail are now controlled with a spline-ik setup and give nice results. I will also build a spline-ik rig for the tongue.
Here is a quick fly test animation, quite rough at some areas but it shows to idea and makes me confident to have now a tool, which allows me to animate the next shots.