3D Rigging

The Ultimate Guide to 3D Rigging: Everything You Should Know

Table of Contents

Figuring out how to make your digital media project stand out due to its realism? You need to master the 3D rigging technique. Rigging makes the characters you create through computer animation move smoothly. It doesn’t matter what the object is, a character or a prop; pretty much everything can be rigged. Characters are usually rigged before they are animated because character models without rigs cannot be distorted or moved around.

However, character rigging can be challenging and intimidating at times, but with a bit of practice, you’ll be able to create beautiful rigs in no time. This guide will shed light on all you must know about 3D animation rigging.

Let’s start.

What Is 3D Rigging?

Rigging animation, often known as skeleton animation, allows 3D characters to move and interact intuitively in a digital world. When an artist produces a character, the two most important steps are 3D modeling and rigging. Animators create a basic skeleton of a model using specific software to establish the range of their movements based on a situation.

In 3D model rigging, a sequence of interconnecting bones is added to the 3D model, allowing you to move and edit the static image as you choose. The galaxy, buildings, and even the Pixar lamp are some of the most astounding examples of rigged 3D models.

3D Rigging Terms You Must Know About

Before starting, here are some key 3D character rigging terms and terminologies to understand and grasp.


Joints for rigging, sometimes known as bones, can be considered similar to human joints. They both function in the same way. Joints are the points of articulation you add to the model to control it. For example, if you were to rig a character’s arm, you would want to include a joint for the upper arm, another for the elbow, and the wrist, allowing the animator to rotate the arm realistically.

Driven Keys

When rigging a character, an artist can use driven keys to speed up the animation pipeline for animators. Driven keys enable you to utilize a single control or object to drive numerous separate objects and attributes. A driven key comprises two parts: the driver and the driven. The item in control of the animation is the driver, while the driven are the objects and attributes under the driver’s control.

Blend Shape

A blend shape, often known as a morph in 3D applications, enables you to alter one item’s shape into another. Blend shapes are commonly used in model rigging to establish positions for facial animation. Lip sync poses or more complicated expressions such as a smile or frown may be used – these new positions may be linked to the original face mesh and controlled by a single slider.

Inverse Kinematics

Inverse kinematics (IK) states that a child node in your rig’s hierarchy can impact the movement of its parents. While creating a 3D human character with IK enabled, an animator can lift the ankle joint and organically move and rotate the shin, thigh, and knee joints. This advanced technique allows the animators to move an entire chain of joints.

Forward Kinematics

Forward kinematics (FK) is the opposite of Inverse kinematics; it involves manually animating a hierarchy of objects from parent to child. Forward kinematics could be used to animate a leg by rotating the thigh at the hip joint to raise the knee and the shin bone at the knee joint to move the ankle. 3D rigging artists may incorporate both IK and FK to meet the needs.

Control Curves

3D rigging comprises various components that must be modified to generate positions. The animator should use control curves to modify the joints within the rig to produce movements. Control curves are frequently NURBS curves placed outside a character so that the animator may select the curve and position the character rather than the actual joint.


Both the rigging and animation processes rely heavily on constraints. Typically, your 3D application will provide various constraint alternatives. Constraints constrain an object’s position, rotation, and scale based on the parent object’s properties.


Deformers, often called modifiers, and space warps, are animation tools that allow an animator to manipulate vast areas of vertices on a 3D model to generate organic shapes. These techniques use algorithms to animate objects in ways that manipulation and keyframes cannot. Deformers are used to model surfaces and provide extra shape motions to an item.


This procedure connects the rig’s bones and joints to the 3D mesh. Once linked to the 3D mesh, the joints may be controlled, and the mesh will follow the movement. Without 3D skinning, the joints will not affect the movement of the 3D model.

Weight Painting

Weight painting is a crucial step once the skeleton has been created. It allows you to correct the distortions and set how much impact a joint has on a specific area of the 3D model. For instance, if the leg joint has way too much effect on the model, it might affect the torso, giving false results.

Facial Rigging

An animator can use facial rigging to change the shape of a piece of geometry in a scene by bending, inflating, or undulating the geometry. This effect is frequently used to morph the face features of a 3D model to generate realistic facial displays.

The Four-Step Process to Rig a 3D Model.

The 3D model rigging process demands great patience to achieve outstanding results. Once you get the hang of it, you can speed up the animation production workflow. Here are the four essential steps to rig a 3D model:

Step 1: Skinning

Skinning or mesh is the first step. It begins by building bones that characterize the skeleton of the models (polygonal geometry). Here, the artist creates bones and joints that function as the model’s armature. Next, the skin and bones are combined.

Step 2: Building Controllers

In this step, the 3D model rigger builds controllers representing different geometrical forms to control the model’s movement. A few of these shapes include:

  • Diamond – for rotation and translation of the model’s feet, hands, etc.
  • Sphere – it enables rotation and is used for the torso, neck, and pelvis.
  • Cube – to translate controls.
  • Trapezoid – applied to joints, commonly for the knees and elbow.

After completing the design of the skeleton, the character rigger adds movements and facial gestures. The connection between the bones is hierarchical, similar to a parent-child relationship.

Step 3: Set up Joints.

This step includes joints. Joints define the movement limitations of models, and weight painting is also a critical step in this stage. The weight scale determines how each component of the 3D model interacts. That indicates how much a part’s weight influences a bone in movement is critical in the model’s realistic and natural physiologic rigging.

Step 4: Forward and Inverse Kinematics

Forward and Inverse Kinematics is the fourth step. The relationship between the bones is hierarchical, as previously stated. It indicates that activity in the top portions of a model also impacts the lower regions, known as forward kinematics. Conversely, inverse kinematics occurs when lower portions are animated independently of upper components. Both of them must be adequately adjusted to achieve realistic results.

Pros and Cons of Rigging in Animation

Is 3D rigging the right option for you and your project? We will discuss its pros and cons to help you decide.

Below are a few of the perks that come with 3D character rigging.

  • The hierarchical structure of the rig allows bones to move on their own. All related bones will also have independent movement
  • By applying constraints to bones, whether for an object or character, you may produce more realistic results
  • Rigging allows simple bone movements through which animators can define their animation vertex by vertex
  • Thanks to hierarchical movement, animators don’t have to dedicate their efforts to every tiny detail. This saves time, and lets animators focus on other things

While there are perks of 3D rigging, some drawbacks also make it less beneficial for some projects.

  • 3D character rigging is highly time-consuming and demands precision and skills.
  • Each bone within the rig signifies only a set of vertexes. Thus, it doesn’t showcase the full complexity of the body’s movement.
  • Realistic muscle or skin movement can only be achieved through secondary features such as special controllers and deformers.

What Does a 3D Character Rigger Do?

A 3D model rigger creates the framework for the skeleton of 3D computer-generated (CG) models and defines their mobility constraints for the next step in the animation process, which is animation.

Riggers work on the characters created by modelers. Animators test rigs after designing the skeleton and movement network. The rigging part will be finished once the animators’ enhancement changes have been addressed.

How to Become an Expert 3D Character Rigger?

If you’re new to 3D model rigging, you can perfect your work by mastering the following skills.

  • Learn the basics of 3D animation techniques
  • Design, test, and maintain character setup.
  • Physics and movement
  • Know-how of the animation pipeline
  • Character articulation in surroundings, designs, and backgrounds
  • Problem-solving skills and a creative eye
  • Ability to use 3D rigging software programs.
  • And lastly, practice as much as you can

Which Is the Top 3D Rigging Software?

When it comes to 3D character rigging, there is a plethora of software out there for fulfilling your rigging needs. Each software offers unique features and options to rig your models. We suggest you choose the one most suitable for your project and workflow.

A 3D model rigger may prefer to work with multiple tools or use one independently for excellent rigging execution. Below are the most popular ones:

Unreal Engine (UE)

This software isn’t explicitly targeted for rigging but has the necessary tools and materials to perform this stage. Professionals can discover a ton of documentation explaining the best practices for using character animation applications in addition to robust rigging features.


Maya is another software with a free version that allows high-quality character rigging. Even experts with limited rigging knowledge may provide digital characters with smooth movements with the help of the sophisticated skeleton tool.


Another free-to-use program for creating and altering computer graphics is Blender. It provides more advanced capabilities for animation, mainly rigging, and is utilized chiefly for movie and commercial video production.

3ds Max

3ds Max is another Autodesk tool frequently used to create animated material. It is a professional tool that, apart from rigging, allows 3D cartoon lighting, modeling, and texturing. 3ds Max is software worth investing in for high-quality animation.

Count on Anideos to Craft a Masterpiece – Get Started!

Animation requires a lot of work to generate fluid and realistic movements for your characters or other models, regardless of whether you are creating a 3D game or commercial movie to market your company. 3D rigging might be challenging for novices. To ensure everyone knows what rigging is and how it is utilized, we tended to simplify it in this guide.

Ready to make your animations smooth? Rely on Anideos for high-quality 3D animation. Contact us to discuss your needs and wants!

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Adam is a copywriter and content specialist with years of experience in the digital industry. She has a knack for blending creativity with strategic insight that leads different businesses, particularly animation and tech, to success. Her persuasive and impactful content not just inform.