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Minotaur XVI: Control Rig

Creating Controls for an Animation Rig

Control rigs are used to abstract the complexities of an Animation rig, which in turn transforms a Pose rig. By simplifying the controls of a character’s rig the animator benefits from learning how to use the rig quickly while Blocking Out a Sequence and applying this knowledge when Refining Poses with controls that follow the same logical set-up.

Unified Logic for Animation Controls

It’s important that an animator does not spend alot of time figuring out how to effectively use a rig to target Key Poses for a specific character, particularly given that each character’s rig will need to differentiate (to some degree) for believable Mesh Deformation.

As a result a unified logical approach when determining how to set-up a character’s controls can assist the animator with understanding how to pose a character from Blocking Out to Refining/Finessing Sequences. It is therefore more significant for a rig to bias a single, specific transformation for animation purposes rather than utilize a combination of animatable Translations, Rotations and Scales that will likely keep the animator guessing when becoming accustomed to a rig.


One Control for all Controllers

The visual representation of the Control rig is the animator’s first point of contact when creating animation for a character. It is therefore essential that the controls do not require an explanation, a tutorial or a verbose software manual. The intent of each Control should be clearly conveyed in its appearance and that appearance should be consistent and unobtrusive for the animator.

  • Isolating controls into groups with Layers that logically cascade into more detailed, smaller groupings can be used to communicate rig structure and hierarchy clearly to an animator.
  • Simply utilizing the location of a Control can communicate Controller Functionality to an animator, i.e. what part of the mesh is effected by that specific control. This can create a sense of familiarity for any animator that is aware of how a marionette works.
  • Relying on representing control sets with¬†artistic icons can easily become subjectively interoperated by one animator to the next and subsequently should be avoided.

A single Control Type on a rig that is Translation-biased is effectively the only explanation an animator should require.

A Controller for a Translation-biased Rig

Animation Rigs consist of IK controllers, Constraints and Dummy bones. They are used to drive the Rotations of the Bones that comprise the Pose rig, which in turn causes the character’s geometry to deform.
Animating with IK (Inverse Kinematics) is preferable for many animators as multiple Bones can be controlled with a single Controller and (more importantly) it is easier to establish contact points with a surface during animation.
However, the bones used in an IK chain can often end up obscuring a mesh’s visibility. This is also often the case with most rigs consisting of general Animation Constraints, such as Tracking and Property Duplication Constraints which are essential parts within any medium to complex Animation Rig.

A Control Rig built on top of an Animation Rig can be used to reduce the viewport clutter that prevails when setting Constraints for an Animation rig.

A Translation-biased Control Rig communicates to the animator that the rig favours Translations as opposed to other transforms for animation purposes.


The Following section outlines the setup procedure required in Blender to reproduce the main Control used throughout the Minotaur’s Rig. When the Armature is not selected the Control’s visibility is virtually non-existent, keeping the animator’s view of the character unobstructed. Subsequently the animator is not forced to hide the rig during Playblasts or OpenGL Preview Renders.
As a rig should never be exclusively Translation-based this setup does not effect animating between IK and FK as the animator would normally expect the ability to overwrite Animation and Control Rig precedence when necessary.

Setup for a Translation-biased, Unobtrusive and Persistent Control for Control Rigs

setp1RendcrossSetup consists of two simple controls that make up the Custom Shapes required throughout the rig. The shapes resemble a Plus and Minus sign. They should have very low poly counts, between 2 to 6 faces. Adjacent planes work best as the screen-space they require will be minimal.

The Minus shape is used to point to the area that is effected barby the Translation, while the Plus is used as the Selection Handle and should be the main component the animator will subsequently need to interact with. Keyframes for Translation will typically be set on the Selection Handle (AKA Plus shape).

setp2Rendsetup03An animation rig can be setup as per usual, making use of IK’s, constraints, expressions and drivers. This example is using a two chain IK constraint. The component selected in the image will become the Selection Handle, it will therefore not require a Parent.

setp3Rendsetup04With the Target bone selected change it’s Display Property to the custom Selection Handle (Plus shape). The option to use a Custom Shape in place of a Bone’s default representation can be found in the Bone’s Object Properties View, under the Display section.

setp4Rendsetup02Now it’s time to add the Bone that will be used to point to the area effected by the transform. In Edit Mode, duplicate the Bone used as the Selection Handle. Then Parent it to the Bone that Deforms the area effected by the Transform. Use the “Connected” Parenting option.

NB. Currently Blender (ver 2.70) requires that the setup must follow the order of Steps as noted in this guide. Having the Bone that was created in Step 4 (Minus Shape) connected prior to setting up an IK Constraint will often yield undesirable Rotations in the chain.

setp5Rendsetup05Display the duplicate Bone as the Minus Shape. Use the same techniques noted in Step 3 to set the new Bone’s Display Properties to the Custom Shape resembling a Minus sign.

setp6Rendsetup06Make the Minus sign point and stretch to the Selection Handle. Add a Stretch To Constraint to the Minus Bone and target it to the Selection Handle (Plus Bone). Adjust the Rest Length Property and set Volume Preservation to None.

setp7RendFinally move the Bones cluttering the view to other Layers.

Use the Properties View to move Bones that are not needed for animation purposes out of sight.

The final Setup should only require that the Control Rig and Deformable Mesh are visible for the animator.


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