Choosing the Rigging Technique

Many animators wonder which rigging technique to choose when it comes time to build a cut-out character.

Animate Pro offers various types of rigs. The more that you explore the different rigging techniques available, the more you will discover what you like and be able to adapt it to your own preferences. At some point, you will develop your own personal rigging technique.

There are three main rigging techniques:

If the production has a cartoony and dynamic style, then the Open Rig is recommended. It provides the animator with the freedom to select and stretch whatever he wants, without affecting the rest of the character. The Open Rig technique allows the maximum amount of freedom and cheats.

If your production has a more realistic style, keeping human proportions and not involving a lot of stretching or deformations, it is recommended to go with Mix Rig. The Mix Rig is a combination of Hierarchy and Open Rig. This way, when you rotate the arm/shoulder, the rest of the arm (forearm and hand) will follow naturally.

The Full Hierarchy technique is not recommended since it gives less freedom to the animator. Use this technique only if you need to produce a very long and fast animation in a short amount of time. This means about 3 to 4 minutes of animation per animator per week. Obviously, we are not talking about a high quality animation here.


You can rig your character from your Timeline view, but Animate Pro’s Network View is very useful and much more powerful for this task, offering more options. The Network View offers a visual representation of the whole rig, making it much easier to follow the connections. Each drawing, peg or effect element is shown as a module.

You will notice that in this article, there is a peg attached to all of the drawing layers. The reason is that to give a maximum of freedom to the animation, the drawing exposure is done on the drawing layer and the animatio keys are done on the peg, which allows the move the drawings and keys independently with ease.

Open Rig

The open rig is the easiest way to build the puppet. Using this method, there is no parenting between elements (an “element” is a drawing module plus a peg module). Each part of the puppet is independent. The parts are simply hooked to one Master Peg, used to control the whole character.

Review the following before choosing this technique and rigging your puppet in open rig:

Advantages and Disadvantages

When working with an Open Rig, there are no restrictions on selecting and moving or scaling parts at any moment. The rigging allows the animator the most freedom.

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Although the initial impression may lead you to believe that the open rig takes more time and is more complex to animate, it is quite easy to use and to handle. All of the pieces are independent and can be moved freely without affecting the other ones. This rig is the easiest to use when creating key poses.

You can almost avoid using the Timeline view during an Open Rig animation process. The Timeline view usage can be reduced to a minimum as you can also decide to play with all of its parameters.

A traditional animator can essentially use all established animation principles. The animator can animate straight ahead, pose to pose, do a breakdown, deform, skew and swap any drawing. This does not require advanced digital knowledge or experience.

The auto in-between (Motion) should be used sparingly and in small increments. The animator has to do more keyframes and breakdown in the animation when working with auto in-between. If you prefer to have the computer control a part of the work, select another technique, such as the Mix Rigging.

Although automatic interpolation (using the Motion keyframes to create your in-between) may seem to be a faster and better method, it is not the best choice to mix with an open rigging. Since all of the parts are independent, the rotations are not followed between the individual parts. They will go straight from point A to point B.

©Nelvana Limited

Open Rig Summary

The open rig works well with Stop-Motion keyframe and allows substantial control over the animation with a minimal level of experience. The Motion keyframe is usually used in small increments.


The open rig can be divided into two categories:

The Basic Open Rig

The basic open rig fits the above description fairly well. All of the elements are independent of each other and spread all over the Network View, linked to a master peg. This master peg controls the whole puppet in order to move it from place to place within the Camera View.

To create a basic open rig:

  1. In the Timeline View, click on the Add Peg button. You can also use the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl]+[P] (Windows) or [Command]+[P] (Mac OS X) in the Network View.
  2. To name the Master Peg:
    • In the Timeline View, click on the peg name and type the new name in the field.
    • In the Network View, click on the Peg’s yellow square and type the name in the field name.
  3. In the Timeline View’s left window, select all of the drawing elements and their corresponding pegs except for the Master Peg. Drag the selection onto the master peg to parent them.
    Connections between the pegs and the master pegs appear in the Network View.
    In the Timeline view, the parented elements are placed under the master peg and shifted to the right.
  4. If you have a Write module in your network, select it and delete it.

The Advanced Open Rig

The advanced open rig is not very different from the basic. The first steps are the same because you have to create a basic open rig before working with an advanced one. Once you have added the Composite, you are ready to add the extra components. The freedom to move everything around and to be able to select any part may be appreciated, but it can be time consuming and frustrating to have to select all of the facial features or the whole upper body, for example. Since the puppet is not always positioned for a quick selection, you can add extra pegs to help with this situation.

If you are drawing all of your angles in the same layers, the peg pivots may not follow your animation properly while using the auto-in-betweening feature. In this case, it is better to separate your angles in different scenes.

To create an advanced open rigging:

  1. First, create a basic open rig as explained above.
  2. If you created a group in your basic open rig process, click on the group’s right arrow to enter the group.
  3. In the Module Library, select a peg module and drag it to your Network View. You can also use the [Ctrl]+[P] (Windows) or [Command]+[P] (Mac OS X) keyboard shortcut to add pegs directly into your Network View.
  4. In the Network View, click on the new peg’s yellow square to open the editor.
    The Layer Properties opens.
  5. In the name field, type the new peg name according to your naming convention. For example: Ab_fullarm_r.
  6. In the Network View, connect the new peg to the peg elements that you want it to control. For example, connect the Ab_fullarm_r peg to Ab_arm_r, Ab_forearm_r and Ab_hand_r.
  7. In the Network View, connect the master peg to the new peg.
  8. Repeat steps 1 to 7 for each peg you want to add.


Hierarchy is another available rigging technique, initiated the same way as a basic open rig. The hierarchy structured network connecting all of the elements. Each piece is connected to another, for example a character’s hand is linked to the forearm and the forearm is linked to the upper arm, all the way up to the master peg. The hierarchy rig resembles a real puppet, as all of the pieces are dependant on each other. This technique is useful if you are new to animation, or if you want to create quick and basic animation.

Review the following before choosing this technique and rigging your puppet in hierarchy:

Advantages and Disadvantages

The main advantage of the hierarchy rig is that you can select an element such as the shoulder, and the whole arm will automatically be selected with it. All of the pieces influence the others, so you can use the Motion keyframe (Auto-Inbetween) fully. The rotation from the parents will influence the children and so the rotation arc will be respected. This means that your animation will not break; you can set quick poses and the system will do the in-between for you.

©Nelvana Limited

If you prefer to use a Stop-Motion keyframe and work pose-to-pose or with straight-ahead animation, this also possible. This works quite well on this type of rig.

©Nelvana Limited

When using inverse kinematics, you can pull on the extremities to move the central parts. For example, you can lock the character’s foot to the ground and pull on the hand, causing the whole character’s body to follow like a real puppet.

©Nelvana Limited

When using forward kinematics (Transform Tool), move a central part to have the extremities follow. For example, you can move the character’s shoulder and the arm and hand will follow.

The main constraint in working with a full hierarchy is that you cannot select a central part without also selecting its children. This means that if you want to move, scale, skew, rotate, or otherwise change this part, all of the children will receive and follow the modification, reducing that amount of control that you have over the animation.

©Nelvana Limited

If you use Motion keyframes and want to modify some single ease or keyframe information, you need a better knowledge of the Timeline View and ease curve editing.

Hierarchy Summary

The full hierarchy works well with Stop-Motion or Motion keyframes. However, it provides limited control over the animation and the selection. It can provide quick and easy animation, but requires greater experience in order to modify and control the animation.


To create a hierarchy rigging:

For example, attach the torso’s peg to neck’s peg; attach the torso’s peg to left arm’s peg; and attach the torso’s peg to right arm’s peg

  1. First, create a basic open rig. See the Basic Open Rig topic above.
  2. In the Network View, attach the peg’s output port (torso or pelvis) to its children pegs’ input ports.
  3. In the Network View, attach the next parent element’s peg to its children’s pegs.
  4. Repeat step 3 until parented hierarchies have been created for all of the elements in the rigging. Always start with the central parts and finish with the extremities such as the hand and the feet.
    Make sure that your head’s peg is not connected in the neck’s peg, but the reverse: the neck’s peg is controlling the head’s peg.


Now that you have reviewed open and hierarchy rigging techniques, you can select and combine points from both processes. This brings us to mix rigging, the final method. This process consists of leaving some parts as an open rig and creating hierarchies for others.

Review the following before choosing this technique and rigging your puppet in mix rigging:

Advantages and Disadvantages

A popular example of a mixed rig is to create a hierarchy, attaching all of the facial features to the head, and to leave the rest of the body as an open rig.

Another advantage is to have the whole upper body as an open rig and to create a hierarchy for the lower body. This is useful in creating a walk cycle, or when using inverse kinematics to bend a character’s knees, perhaps to make him sit. By creating hierarchies for the arms and legs without connecting them to the body or hips, the limbs can be moved independently.

This kind of rigging requires more experience and experimentation with tools. The animator needs to use the Timeline more often than for an open rig animation. The mixed rig works well with Stop-Motion keyframes. Motion keyframe will also work, but will require some corrections and extra poses since there are still open rig connections.

Mix Summary

The mixed rig works well with Stop-Motion keyframes. In a mixed rig, motion keyframes can be used in larger increments than in an open one, but still require extra poses and corrections. The user needs experience to control the animation and can experiment with the Timeline View.


To rig your elements using a mixed technique, review the basic open rig, advanced open rig and the hierarchy techniques detailed above and combine your favourite features.