Rigging Animated Characters

Rigging is such an important aspect when animating characters. It is almost like a skeleton which controls the movements of the characters body. In an animation studio, the job of rigging would usually be done by a dedicated team whose sole job would be to rig the characters ready to be passed on to the next team. They would have to make sure there are enough rigs and controls on the character to help create realistic movement, make sure they are all connected in the correct hierarchy and name/colour them so that they are easy to distinguish. 

There are two types of rigs: FK (Forward Kinematics) and IK (Inverse Kinematics) rigs. Both are just as important, but are used for different types of movement within animation. Often both types of rigs will be added to the character as depending on your character, and what action and movement they are doing, the animator will sometimes need to alternate between the two types of rigs. But in certain situations, the animator will only need one style of rig, which is most likely to be an FK rig. 

Forward Kinematics are generally the more straightforward type. They have a clear hierarchy where, basically if you move one handle or joint which is at the top of the hierarchy, all of the other handles and joints that are attached to it will also move, almost like a chain. An example would be if you rotated an FK rig on a shoulder, the elbow, wrist and hand would also move and rotate with it in the same way. Forward Kinematic rigs are good at creating more realistic looking arc movements and paths “because it’s all rotational, it’s very natural” (Sir Wade Neistadt, 2017). And since arcs are one of the 12 principles of animation, they are fundamental in creating a more fluid movement.

In Inverse Kinematics, if you move one of the child joints for example the wrist, this would now effect and move its parent joints of the elbow and shoulder – basically, the ones that are above it in the hierarchy. IK often has better control, but compared to FK, IK handles don’t move in arcs and instead “move in line trajectories, unless you create the arc manually.” (Miloš Černý Animation, 2018). This is not a necessarily a negative issue as in certain movements, you wouldn’t always want your character to move in an arc shape. 

Creating rigs is a very time consuming part of the animation process, but a fundamental  step in getting characters moving. Although, one the rigs are created, they can sometimes be re-used within different characters to save on time. Pixar have been known to re-use their rigs for different character. Originally, they would create a brand new rig for every single character, but this changed around 1999 when they were able to create a new style of rig which “allowed animators to reuse and adapt rigs for multiple characters. This sped up the animation process and gave animators more control over movements and facial expressions” (Insider, 2021). This re-using of the rig templates even works with characters that are of a different species “The sea lions in Finding Dory were actually constructed from dog rigs, with legs folded into flippers” (Insider, 2021). This is a good example showing how the rigs can be adapted and re-used. 

Overall I hope that I can take into account all I have learn about rigging when it comes to animating my own 3D character, including which type of rig to use on my character, though this will depend on what type of motion she will be performing. It may also be quite challenging to do since I am a beginner at rigging, although I will be able to use the basic skills which I learnt in the rigging lab to help me.


Sir Wade Neistadt (2017) Animating with IK and FK [Video]. Available online: youtube.com/watch?v=p6PYKyxR0aY [Accessed 19/03/21].

Miloš Černý Animation (2018) FK and IK Explained – which one to Use and When? [Video].  Available online: youtube.com/watch?v=0a9qIj7kwiA [Accessed 19/03/21].

Insider (2021) How Pixar’s Movement Animation Became So Realistic | Movies Insider [Video]. Available online: youtube.com/watch?v=QbhsMLD9Hb0 [Accessed 19/03/21].

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