Friday, September 13, 2013

Look mom! I rigged a plushy!

It will be soon a year since I started with my "learning Blender adventure". Learning to model and animate 3D creatures is something I wanted since I was seventeen (half a life!) When I was about to turn to 36, I decided I owed this to myself, and embarked into... well, learning to model and animate 3D creatures, by using Blender.

I knew I had to find a chance and give myself a full three weeks break, because you don't learn to model after five minutes of watching a video tutorial. You need basics. You need practicing them. You have to realize when you're making mistakes and research to fix them. You have to keep in mind the needs of the target platform (which is SL in my case). You have to model shapes that will go nowhere but to learning what do you need to learn next. Theory. Practice. Try first. Try again. Only when you're at your wits end, you're allowed to ask someone else. (I'm not saying the latter is for everybody. It's how I've been raised.)

Then of course, RL uses to have different plans, the store needs normally don't coincide with what I feel like doing, and I spend a great deal of time teaching and later writing the books. Maybe I'm just looking for a self indulgent excuse to the question "why haven't you reached any further yet?"

Since I'm no fan of excuses, I pushed myself. "Thursday, you have to release a prop. It will use a non straight shape. Something more organic. Like a plushy. Yes, that sounds good. No «if's», no «but's». Thursday." And that's how the following came out:

I first modeled the plushy that is in a "T-Pose" (as animators call it). It sure could have had less geometry at some points. I tried to even the loops as much as possible. But it had to leave room enough for deformations. Why? Because I wanted to also be able of sitting it, so I could have several versions of the plushy.

How do we sit the plushy? Do we model it again, this time in the sitting pose? Heck no!

Two different base meshes will likely have two different UV layouts. If we want another pose, three different UV layouts. Which also means three different ambient occlusion maps, three different sets of baked textures... and a lot more of work, since you have to model and even the geometry every time.

Why doing all that, when there's a simpler solution? We can build an armature with an approximation good enough of what the skeleton of a plushy would be (if plushy kittens had skeletons, of course), and then we can, say, "attach" the plushy to the armature, so when we move a bone, the plushy mesh is deformed accordingly (the technical word is "parent").

This led me to my very first experience in rigging. I first read all the basic theory (books have always been my best friends), and soon I was already dancing on the desk:

Same UV layout, same textures for all the plushy shapes I could need, copy & paste abilities with quick deformation extras. And that way, I quickly arranged the object:

which also made it very easy to prepare the poses. Using Avastar and loading my shape, the final touch for the prop was almost immediate (five poses after, that's it).

I'm aware that rigging is no piece of cake. Weight painting is a topic I'm a newbie at. But every learning adventure always begins like this, with a small step at a time. Today it is the little sitting plushy:

Tomorrow, who knows?

Have all a great weekend :-)

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