Rigging Of Animated Characters

In Toon Boom Animate and Animate Pro, the rigging process is where building a puppet can take several different directions. In this section, you will learn how to create a simple rig. Afterward, you will learn how to add pegs and create a hierarchy. Please open the scene provided with this tip before you start going through the steps. This tip is divided as follows:

  • Getting the Sample Material Required
  • Rigging Basics
  • Rigging the Head
  • Rigging the Body
  • Creating Hierarchy
  • Ordering the Layers
  • Adding the Master Peg
  • Creating the Keyframes
  • Articulations

Getting the Sample Material Required

To perform this exercise, you will need to download the following sample material provided with this article.

Downloads: Sample Material (ZIP)

Rigging Basics

The Rigging Basics topic is divided as follows:

  • Simple Rigging
  • Parenting Layers
  • Rigging using Pegs
  • Rigging the Head
  • Changing the Layer Order in the Network View

Simple Rigging

Simple rigging is very fast and easy to do. It is built as follows:

  • All the body parts are independent
  • All the timeline's layers are attached to a master peg layer (trajectory layer)

The advantage of using this technique is that you are free to move any part around without being influenced by any parent layer.

However, since the parts are not parented to each other, the parts will move from point A to point B along a straight trajectory. The hand will not follow the arm's rotation. You will have to set more keyframes for the hand to move along a curved path.

Parenting Layers

When you want a part to follow another one, such as the forearm following the arm, you can attach the layers one to the other. For example, you can attach the forearm layer to the arm layer without having to encapsulate the forearm into the arm layer. They will still be parented, but you will be able to access the forearm directly without having to enter the arm layer.

The advantage of parenting layers is that the child layers will follow the parent smoothly without having to select them or create a series of keyframes.

The disadvantage of parenting layers is that you are not able to move the parent independently of its children, since the child layers receive all the transformation information from their parent.

Parenting layers such as the arms and legs and letting the torso and hips independent from those is often a good solution.

To attach one layer to another, you have to drag the desired layer onto the other one in the Timeline view.

Animate and Animate Pro offer powerful techniques to create hierarchies between your layers without having to encapsulate Symbols into each other. These techniques are a great improvement over the less efficient and time consuming method of creating parenting between your layers by inserting Symbols into other Symbols. Therefore, rigging with Symbols inside Symbols is NOT recommended.

Rigging using Pegs

When you are doing more advanced puppet rigging, you can use peg layers. Peg layers are trajectory layers that do not contain drawings. They are motion paths that you can use to control your entire puppet or advanced hierarchies. Parenting a drawing layer to a peg layer allows you to divide your motions on two separated levels. You can scale your body part directly on the drawing layer. This way, you do not affect any child layers that could be attached to that part. Then, you can perform your translation and rotation on the peg layer so that all the parts attached to that peg layer will follow the same trajectory.

Rigging the Head

You will start by attaching the facial features to the head.
The advantage of parenting the features to the head layer is that you can easily animate each facial feature, and they will all follow the head motion.

To parent the facial features to the head:

  1. In the Timeline view, undo the parenting to the Head layer to have all of your head layers at the same parenting level.
  2. In the Timeline view, unselect any layer that could be selected.
  3. In the Timeline View Layer toolbar, click on the Add Peg button to add a new peg layer to your timeline. You can rename the Peg to keep your work organized.
  4. Select all the head and facial features layer and drag them ONTO the peg layer to parent them.
  5. Select the Head layer and drag it below all the facial feature layers. Make sure it stays connected to the peg.

Changing the Layer Order in the Network View

You can help yourself with the Network view which is useful when it is time to do advanced ordering and hierarchy.

To order your head layers in the Network view:

  1. In the Network view, select the Head module's connection connected to the Composite module located at the left of all your facial feature modules.
  2. Drag the connection to the right of all your facial feature modules' connections.

Rigging the Body

Now that the character's head is ready, you can move on to the body. You can do a simple rigging where all of the body parts are independent one from the other, or create some parenting between some of the layers.

Simple Body Rigging

Simple rigging consists of leaving the layers in the Timeline view without doing any kind of parenting. Later on, you will attach those layers to a master peg and organize them in the correct order.

Your drawings must be connected to a Composite module. A Composite module takes all the drawing layers connected in it and flattens them into a single image which allows you to organize your network and manipulate your puppet easily. It also allows you to apply effects on your complete character. The Composite module is useful when you have to deal with a lot of modules in the Network view. If you import your layers into the Timeline view, they will automatically be connected to the Composite module available in the Network view.

Connecting Modules to a Composite Module

In Animate Pro, if your modules are not connected to your Composite module in the Network view, you can connect them all at once following the Timeline order.

To display the modules that are not connected to a Composite module in your Timeline view, you must enable the Advanced Display mode.

  1. Select Edit > Preferences (Windows) or Animate Pro > Preferences (Mac) to open the Preferences panel.
  2. Go to the Advanced tab.
  3. Enable the Advanced Display option.
  4. Close the Preferences panel.
  5. In the Timeline view's Display toolbar, select the Display All mode.

To connect your modules to a Composite module:

  1. If you do not have a Composite module, open a Module Library view. In the top menu, select Window > Module Library.
  2. In the Module Library view, go to the Favorites tab and select a Composite module.
  3. Drag the Composite module to the Network view. You can also use the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl]+[H].
  4. In the Timeline view, select all the modules you want to connect to your Composite module.
  5. Right-click (Windows) or [Ctrl]+click (Mac OS X) on your selection and select
    Connect To Composite > select the desired Composite module.
    You modules are now connected to your Composite module in the same order as the Timeline.

Creating Hierarchy

Animate and Animate Pro let you extend your rigging techniques beyond normal boundaries and sets new standards. You can create hierarchies without encapsulating your Symbols inside each other by creating a linked structure between your layers.

You should create a hierarchy on your arms and legs and keep the arms and legs separated from the body. This gives you more animation freedom. This way, when you need to scale or skew the torso, it will not affect the entire body.

To create a hierarchy in the Timeline view:

  • Drag the child piece (hand) and drop it ON the parent piece (forearm). Then, you can drag the parent (forearm) piece onto another parent piece (arm).
  • To create a hierarchy in the Network view:
    From the Parent part, drag a new cable connection out of the module's Output port (bottom) and connect it to the child part module's Input port (top).

Ordering the Layers

At this point, it is possible that your character's pieces may show up in the wrong order.

There are two ways to fix this. First, you can reorder your layers by dragging them to a higher or lower level in the Timeline view. The top layer is displayed in front of the others and the bottom one is displayed behind. Second, you can use the Z-axis nudging (forward and backward) for the extra views.

  • Ordering the Timeline Layers
  • Ordering Layers in the Network View
  • Nudging Parts Backwards and Forwards

Ordering the Timeline Layers

The layers should be ordered to match the view you will use the most often, generally the three-quarter front. Do not worry if the other views are still in the wrong order, you will order them in the next step. Do not move the drawings to other layers.

To order the layers:

  • In the Timeline view, drag a layer to reorder it and drop it between the other layers.
    NOTE: If you drop it on a layer, it will create a parent hierarchy, so make sure to drop it between layers.

Ordering Layers in the Network View

The Network view allows you to reorder your layers without breaking any hierarchy. For example, if you want the Head layer to appear behind all of the facial features, in the Timeline view, you cannot simply move the layer down because you will break the parenting between the head layers. In the Network view, since you have a set of flexible connections, you can change the Composite module ordering without breaking the parenting between the modules.

The Composite module ordering corresponds to your Timeline ordering unless the Network view's organization is to complex to be displayed in a simple layout such as the Timeline's one. The element connect in the left-most port in the Composite module is displayed in front in the Camera view as the one connected in the right-most port is displayed behind.

To order your layers in the Network view:

  1. In the Network view, select the module's output cable connected to the Composite module and drag it to its new position.

Nudging Parts Backwards and Forwards

If you created a hierarchy on your arms, legs or other body parts, it is possible that you will want a part, such as the hand, to appear in front of its parent. Yet, if you move the hand layer above the arm layer, you will break the hierarchy. To reorder a layer rigged in a hierarchy, nudge it backwards or forwards.

You will do the same for the layers that are not in the right order on the extra views. Do not place the drawing on another layer. You want to keep all your drawings of the body parts in the same layers like a box containing all of the hands or all of the shoes.

Animate allows you to move your elements in three dimensions:

  • Up and Down (Y-axis)
  • Left and Right (X-axis)
  • Backwards and Forwards (Z-axis)

In the same way you create multiplane backgrounds (depth), you can do a micro nudge of the part to be reordered and see it in front of the other elements, even if its layer is actually behind the other ones in the Timeline view. The Forward-Backward position can also be animated over time.

Repeat the following instructions for all the views.

To nudge your parts backward and forward:

  1. In the Tools toolbar, select the Transform tool. Make sure to enable the Animate mode.
  2. In the Camera view, select the element that you want to reorder.
  3. To move the element forward, use the default keyboard shortcut [Alt]+[Down Arrow] and to move the element backward, use the default keyboard shortcut [Alt]+[Up Arrow].

Adding the Master Peg

When you animate your character, you will probably need to resize and reposition it to fit your scene. When you need to scale down or move your character, it is a good idea to hook (attach) the whole puppet to a trajectory.

Attaching your puppet to a peg will allow you to scale it and reposition it without having to do this to your different parts and pieces. Only one layer will contain the position information, this makes your animation easier to modify and control.

To add a Master peg:

  1. In the Timeline view, click on the Add Peg button. Name the new peg Master plus the character's name.
  2. In the Timeline view, select all of the layers you want to attach to your new peg.
  3. Drag your selection ON the peg layer to parent all your character's pieces to the peg.

Creating the Keyframes

Once all of your drawings are ordered and your master peg is added, you need to insert keyframes on each cell to create all of the function curves and block your pose in place.

To create the keyframes:

  1. In the Timeline view, collapse the master peg by clicking on the Expand arrow.
  2. In the Timeline view, select the first cell.
  3. In the top menu, select Insert > Keyframe. The default keyboard shortcut is [Ctrl]+[F6] (Windows) or []+[F6] (Mac).You can also click on the Add Keyframe button located in the Timeline view toolbar. Note: If you use the [F6] shortcut when working the Flash keyboard shortcuts, this not only creates a keyframe but also duplicates a drawing
    Now that you have learned how to do a simple rigging in Animate and Animate Pro, you can apply these new techniques in you personnal projects. Make sure to refer to the cocumentation for more information on rigging.


For more information about fixing joints and creating patches, refer to the Animate User Guide:

  • Chapter 10: Building a Character > Breaking Down > Completing the Parts and Articulation > Fixing the Articulations
  • Chapter 10: Building a Character > Appendix > Patch Articulation