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Introduction to Creature Rigging


Creature Pinup is one of my favourite projects featured in my showreel. I was the Character TD for this project. I‘m going to cover the creature rigging process behind the teaser. At the Filmakademies Animationsinstitut the positions in the teams are quite similar to the industry. Therefore, every team member has the chance to work in their field of interest.lisa-ecker-01My responsibility in the trailer was the animation rig, deformation rig, face rig, all the fat simulation, skin sliding for one of the close up shots, cloth simulation for the skirt, and prop rigging. I completed all my tasks in Autodesk Maya.


Christian Leitner was the director of the project. He gathered a team of 12 people to bring his idea to life. The calendar concept existed right from the beginning. In addition to that, Christian had the idea to promote the calendar with an animated teaser. This was around March 2017.

When I heard about this idea I knew I wanted to be a member of the team. This project was the perfect opportunity for me to challenge my skills and push my knowledge further.  I would also work with really smart and talented people.

Christian’s idea is very easy to explain. Take two different elements, which in our case were “pin-up” and “creatures”, and mix them together. And there you have it – The Creature Pinup. The original idea was to design and create completely new creatures. However, our fellow students laughed the most when they saw creatures they already knew. So, he instead searched for some well-known creatures from movies.

The teaser shows the “Goblin King” (The Hobbit) as a rude, heavy and clumsy model during a photo shoot. While being tense and aggressive at first, he changes thanks to the photographer’s instructions. The teaser shows the photographer’s point of view. After he has taken his pictures we see the calendar in a back shot.

Animation Rig

I started the animation and face rig first, so the Animator (Kiana Naghshineh) could begin working. I continuously work on optimising my workflow with my own auto rigging scripts. For the body rig I used my own auto rigger as a base and built various setups on top, like for example for the scapula and the rib cage. These setups aren’t included in my auto rigger at the moment.

Facial Rigging

For the face rig modelling, Christian Leitner provided me wtih different modelled expressions. I worked closely with Christian on the expressions. This ensured he could provide me with all necessary shapes for the characters motion range. To get the right expressions for a realistic creature it‘s important to have a close look at the mimic musculature of the face as well as the Facial Action Coding System (FACS).

Due to our tight schedule, we focused on the shapes we would see in the trailer. I separated all the expressions and as a next step implemented them in my face rig. All in all, 75 different blendshapes were used for the face.

In addition to all the blendshapes I provided animation with tweaker controls to give them more control over different areas in the face. I used various rigging setups to build the whole face rig. I got a good tip from a very talented face rigger – there should be no dead areas in a face rig to achieve natural facial behaviour.

Deformation Rig

The next part was building the deformation rig. This is the final rig version used at render time and as a preview for animation. As a rigger I am very interested in the study of the anatomy. Before I started to set up all the muscles and fat parts in maya, we did a reference shoot with an actor. As a result, I got really good reference material for muscle and fat in motion, designed for our shots.

To get the right expressions for a realistic creature it‘s important to have a close look at the mimic musculature of the face as well as the Facial Action Coding System (FACS).

I always try to work with good reference material. I study anatomy books or guides to get an in-depth understanding of functional anatomy. Furthermore it always helps to get feedback or talk to experienced riggers.

lisa-ecker-03After this preparation I had a good starting point to build and setup the muscles. Christian provided me the underlying skeleton, so I could precisely place all the muscles. To achieve realistic behaviour and deformations I tried to mimic the exact origin and insertion of the muscles as well as their function and shape change. All in all I created 96 individual muscles. The muscles are only skinned to part of the geometry. If you skin your muscles to the whole geometry, rather than only to the parts they really affect, maya slows down dramatically.

Simulations and nCloth

For the simulated fat parts (chin, belly, breasts) I used nCloth. This was challenging, as nCloth is not really intended for fat or muscle simulation. Simulations were included via a wrap deformer and a blendshape into the final geometry. The main challenge for simulation was the fast and extreme movements of the creature over two very long shots. Therefore the simulation was customised for every shot.

Simulating the skirt was also a big challenge. The creature is very fat and it was not possible to completely avoid intersections between the belly and his upper legs. Furthermore the short skirt sometimes disappears under his fat belly. I first finished simulation for all the fat parts and worked with a simulation cache, while simulating the skirt.

Texture Considerations

When I worked on the deformations I always had a look on how the creature looks like with textures, to early recognise difficult areas and try to avoid texture stretch as good as possible.

If you are interested in seeing the trailer and the whole team behind the project see the video bellow:


Author: Lisa Ecker

Currently I am a Character TD at the Animationinstitut at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg.
I have a strong passion for rigging and I love to create realistic characters and creatures.
At the Animationinstitut I am deepening my skills in rigging and programming.
I welcome new challenges and enjoy developing innovative solutions.
Additionally, I am highly interested in the study of the anatomy of humans and animals and I love technical challenges.
To create realistic deformations on my character I always try to work with very good book and video reference material.
I have an in-depth understanding of muscles, physical motion, weight, balance and anatomy.
I always try to enhance my skill-set and I enjoy working in a team environment.

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