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The following is an excerpt from Stewart Jones’ Digital Creature RiggingDigital Creature Rigging gives you the practical, hands-on approaches to rigging you need, with a theoretical look at 12 rigging principles, and plenty of tips, tricks and techniques to get you up and running quickly.

A lot of 3D packages create bones as a “special” sort of object/node, with specific bone-only properties that no other node in the application has. One of the unusual, but very awesome, features of 3ds Max’s bone system is that any object can become a bone, grab hold of all the properties and attributes that make it a bone, and behave exactly the same. I still prefer to use bones when creating a skeleton, but the option to use anything we want is sort of cool. When it comes to currently selecting the joints and bones that make up our creature’s skeleton, it is a bit cumbersome, as we have to select through the mesh. As we do not have any controllers in place or an actual rig setup just yet, that is really the only thing we can do for the moment. However, as bones are not classed as a “special” sort of node within 3ds Max, we can edit their appearance to make selecting them easier.

Of course, we could jump into the Bone Tools options and turn on “Fins” adjusting them to better fit the mesh, but this would be a waste of time, as we can do something much better. With a bone of your choice selected, head over to the Modify Panel and add an “Edit Poly” modifier to the bone. With the Edit Poly modifier applied, we are able to go into all of the parameters, attributes, and options for the modifier and edit the look of the bone. What this means is that we can reshape every bone in the skeleton to fit our creature very closely.

Make sure to keep this as a very low-poly edit so the bones can evaluate quickly in the viewports. By doing this, not only has this made selecting the bones easier, but it has also created a low-poly “cut” version of the creature. In later stages when this creature is placed into an environment, the skinned geometry may cause the scene to slow down, and this can make the animation process incredibly difficult, as if it was not difficult enough already. By having this low-poly cut skeletal version of the creature, the animator can hide the geometry and use this instead. Obviously, this will not give the animator access to view the deformations of the creature with the geometry hidden, but it should speed the viewport up and give a very good representation of the size and mass of the creature as it moves and interacts with the environment. I usually leave the fingers out of this bone reshaping step, both because it can end up taking too long and because it is not overly beneficial for the animators at this stage.

Oh yeah, and you can mirror to the other side too! Simply copy the “Edit Poly” modifier from a completed bone, paste it to the other side, then add the “Mirror” modifier and adjust the parameters so it fits correctly.

FIG 4-44 An Edit Poly modifier added to the bones of Belraus and reshaped to fit the geometry.

Reshaping Bones

To reshape the bones of your creature, simply add an “Edit Poly” modifier to each bone and edit away. You can easily mirror to an opposite side by copying the modifier to the other bone and adding a “Mirror” modifier and adjusting the parameters so it fits correctly.

To complete this reshaping, it is a good idea to color the bones using our coloring convention. Although these bones may not be seen at all when we introduce the animation rig, we still want them to be easily distinguishable while in this base rig phase.

Excerpt from Digital Creature Rigging: The Art and Science of CG Creature Setup in 3ds Max by Stewart Jones.  © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Digital Creature Rigging can be purchased Amazon.com, BN.com, and wherever fine books can be found.

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