The meeting this morning was primarily as a catch up for questions and inquiries. For me I am very happy to have learned from it that I am allowed to use Blender instead of Maya as my software for rigging and animating models. For me Blender is a better option because unlike Maya, Blender is free. This will allow me to continue rigging and animating models even after I finish this course since I plan to use the skills I gain to rig and animate models for games I develop in Unity and possibly Unreal Engine.
For the most part I haven’t done a lot for this course over the last two holiday weeks since a couple of my other IT courses had assignments and tests due. Starting from now I intend to correct this and do a bit of experimenting which I will proceed to record in this blog.
Okay, so the morning following the session I have been spending some time in Blender and what a breath of fresh air. I have made more progress learning my way around it than I ever have in Maya. It is so intuitive and easy to navigate. Plus I am finding that there is far more up to date and relevant documentation and forum discussions available for Blender than Maya making my research life so much easier.
The other perk is that there are far more models available in Blender. I have had a look this morning and picked two which I think will be suitable for my assignment. These I have sourced from a site called ‘Blend Swap’ which contains an abundance of free models. I have also checked and ensured that the licence supplied for these allows me to use these as I see fit. The only requirement is that I give the original author credit for the works I am using which I will ensure I do when I use them in my assignment.
After finding out that that I can treat the rigging and animation sections of the assignment separately and use a different model for each I have elected to do this. I intend to use the Mike rig for the animation part while Sintel will be used for my rigging. Both come pre-rigged which is great for the Mike rig since I will need a pre-rigged character to use for animating. However, for Sintel I will need to remove the original rig so I can create my own.
Also, both have come with a preset pose position which will need to be removed.
Below is a look at Blender. I have had a bit of a move around of the interface to suit my working style.
The first thing I did was to figure out how to reset the model to its rest position since this will make rigging much easier for me. It took a little bit of online research but I did so the following way.
I went into pose mode using ctrl + tab. This can also be done in the lower left of the view-port which is where the mode is shown.
I select the whole rig by clicking one part of it on the model and pressing the ‘A’ key.
Now this is the bit where my research was very handy. I used the following three commands to fully reset its pose.
- Alt+R for clearing of rotation
- Alt+G – for clearing of location
- Alt+S – for clearing the scaling of the bones.
And there I have it. The model is back to rest position.
For this model I went a step further following this and have deleted the rig entirely in preparation for my own rigging.
The Mike rig also will need to be set to the rest position for animating.
I have done the same thing of selecting the whole rig while in pose mode and used the three alt commands to clear any location, rotation and scaling.
Now the model is at rest position ready for future animation.
Because I want to keep the above two models for my assignment work all my experimenting will be done on other models. This will give me the additional benefits of practicing working on a range of model types.
For this session I am having a look at the equivalent of blend shapes in Blender which from what I understand are called ‘Shape Keys’. These allow an object to be deformed into many different shapes for animation purposes, etc.
For testing out shape keys on facial rigging in Blender I have selected a new model to work on.
Following from here will be my steps as I did my experimenting. I will be doing these in a lot of step by step detail since one of my best learning methods is to write my learning down. It will be noticed that I am not doing the shape keys to begin with as I needed to quickly familiarize myself with using the interface to set up a rig in Blender since it does differ from the layout I have been using in Maya.
I began with creating a new collection in my outliner to house the rig. This I feel is good practice and will keep all my rig components together tidily. With this selected I hit ‘Shift + A’ which brought up my ‘AddMenu’. This is where objects are added from. From this menu I clicked ‘Armature’ which added a bone into my scene.
What I am creating first is a rig for moving the eyes.
I created a plane and using this I set my bone to a custom object which in this case is a plane and re-sized it according to my needs. The reason I had to first create a plane is because an object must first existed in the scene before it can be used as a custom object.
The next thing I was required to do is to set the ‘x’ and ‘z’ axis of the bone to that of the eye. Now this is where I ran into a bit of trouble initially as the position values of the eye were all set to 0 by the model creator making the eyes current location its default. This means I have no position values I can use to set the plane/bone to be the exact same ‘x’ and ‘z’ positions as the eye.
The solution I learned to this dilemma is as follows.
After ensuring I am in edit mode I selected the eye and hit ‘Shift + S’ to enter snap mode. From here I snapped the cursor to selected. I then went into object mode and selected the plane/bone. After entering the snap menu again I snapped the section to cursor. This places the plane/bone in the exact position as the eye. From here I just move it of along the ‘y’ axis.
I created another two custom bones inside the first.
Then I did a quick tidy up by shrinking the outer bone on the ‘z’ axis.
My understanding of this currently is that the outer bone will move both eyes simultaneously while the other two bones will allow the two eyes to move individually.
Now that I have my bones in place the eyes need to be constrained to them. This is done by selecting an eye and opening the ‘Constraint Properties’. From here I add an object constraint called ‘Copy Rotation’.
With the restraint type selected I choose the target which in this case was the ‘Bone Left Eye’. Oh by the way I forgot to mention till now I have renamed all three of my custom bones so that they are better identified.
As can be seen when I rotate the left eye bone the correct eye rotates with it.
I then did the same set of actions to get the right eye rotating as well. If I select both I can rotate them together. However, this is not a very good way of doing this. Hence, where the third custom bone comes in. I select the two single eye bones and then the ‘Bone Eyes’ and hit ‘Ctrl + P’. This brings up the parent menu. The option I want is ‘Set Parent To Object(Keep Transformation)’.
As can be seen the two individual eye bones are now parented to the bone for both.
Now if I select and rotate the ‘Bone Eyes’ the two eyes will rotate simultaneously.
Now that I am more familiar with the interface controls in Blender, time to have a play with shape keys. These are located under the ‘Object Data Properties’ tab.
First thing is needing to remove the models existing shape keys for the head to make it easier to locate my ones. At first I could not figure out why I was not able to delete them. It seems that I needed to be in ‘Object Mode’ to do so whereas I was in ‘Edit Mode’. If in ‘Edit Mode’ the plus and minus signs for adding and removing shape keys will be grayed out.
Now I have a clean slate.
The first ‘Shape Key’ defaults to being called ‘Basis’ since this is normally left for setting the object back to its original pose. It also doesn’t have the same options as all other shape keys since it is not intended to be changed.
For this experiment I am going to experiment with making the model lower the eyebrows to give a bit of a frown. First thing is to give my blend shape an appropriate name.
Then with the shape key selected I go into edit mode and start moving around the vertices or edges to mold the eyebrow in the position I want.
Now when I go back into ‘Object Mode’ I can see the finished result. (I have been switching between the two modes regularly as I changed the vertices to ensure I am getting the look I want).
This was the before look for comparison.
Now to do the other eyebrow. With the current eyebrow shape key selected I want to select ‘ + New Shape From Mix’ from the arrow on the side.
I give it a name and then select ‘Mirror Shape Key’ from the same menu on the side.
I can see that all the vertices changed as part of the previous shape key have been mirrored for this one.
I give the new shape key a value and now I have a finished set of shape keys. I was a bit worried that it didn’t look perfectly mirrored at first but then realised that it was the shadows from the light giving that appearance.