Just like in real life, every player character, enemy, or NPC in a 3D game has a secret skeleton. Unlike real life, probably, these skeletons are made by artists in a 3D graphics software – artists like Sol Brennan, who was a technical artist-slash-rigger on Marvel’s Spider-man.
“It’s fairly safe to say if something’s moving,” they say, “And it’s moving in a more dynamic way, or needs an animator’s hands in creating it, it’s being driven by a rig.”
A rig contains a series of rigid, interconnected structures, accurately called bones, as well as control points and data about how everything should move in relation to each other. Almost every animation in a 3D game relies on a rig for manipulation. Rag dolls, which rely on physics-based procedural animation, still use a rig to help the body maintain a roughly humanoid shape, even though it gets all wobbly at the joints. Even motion-captured footage requires a lot of fine detailing, so to make a game actually look good, somebody has to finesse those animations individually.
That’s where the rig comes in.
“Most game studios will have a rigging tool set that they built, or maybe that they bought and pay for, that auto-generates a lot of very common components,” Sol tells us. “There’s certain systems that can be used over and over.”
Reusing rigs can save game developers a lot of time and labor, but there are some big drawbacks to relying on them. Watch the video above to learn more about just how much rigs affect character designs.