Deep Time: Custom Rigs

With the completion of the Malverns Complex scene, my attention has been turned to the flora and fauna that inhabit some of the less barren scenes involved in the Heredfordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust’s brief.

For this, I have been required to work on my organic modelling to achieve accurate 3D representations of the required creatures. It has been something of a challenge, as I am far more comfortable with environmental modelling, and have had some disastrous attempts with modelling animals in the past. However, I would never improve if I didn’t challenge myself to work in a skill areas that are weaker.

Firstly, I modeled a crinoid (a sort of underwater creature) to populate the sea beds of the Avon Group scene. It was a relatively simple model, as the majority of detail will be included in the texture – such as the fern-like leaves.

crionoid-01The next step was create a bone system to allow the model to be animated. As 3ds Max does not contain any default rigs similar to that that was required, I created a custom one using the bone tools. It took a bit of tweaking, as the bone tools are quite tricky to work with, and it was my first time undertaking such a task. In the past, I have simply used the default biped rigs, and did not have to alter them all that much, so this was a significant learning curve to tackle.


Each bone corresponds to the bend joints in the model, as it means – when weighted – it can be moved without seriously deforming the overall shape of the mesh itself. It will only affect the smaller polys either side of the bend joint instead.

I then skinned the model, and weighted the polys to particular bones in order to allow the model to move with them in a way that would not cause the mesh to deform peculiarly, or in a way that would create sharp corners.


The final step in this process was to animate the crionoid to ensure that the custom rig was able to perform the sort of movement that is required of it. For this, I hand-keyed a gentle swaying motion in 3ds Max to make it appear as if the model was being battered around by a sea current.

crinoidOverall, I am very happy with the final product, as it is the first instance of me creating a custom rig for a model that I have produced, and – on top of that – I have successfully animated it as well. The next step for this asset will be texturing, and then importing it into Unity.

In addition to the crinoid, I have also been working on an orthocone for the Wenlock Aymestry scene. This was a considerably more difficult task, as the orthocone is an inherently more complex creature to both model and rig.

orthoconeWith the use of extensive references, I produced a model suitable for use in a Unity scene, and proceeded to create a bespoke rig that would allow every tentacle to move separately, along with rotating eyes, and a beak that can open and shut. In addition to this, certain elements will partially affect certain areas of the face to give the impression of muscles moving beneath skin to achieve particular movements.

The orthocone has yet to be animated. I have been gathering reference material on how squids propel themselves through the water in order to begin work on a number of planned movements for it, such as idly floating, swimming, and potentially changing direction if needs be.

I look forward to discovering if this rig will perform as well as that created for the crinoid, and hope to continue improving upon this more technical aspect of asset creation throughout the duration of the project.


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