During my final year, I have been working on the short animation "Stupid Kow", directed by the one and only Jamie Buchanan.
For this film, I have been rigging and animating, with my main focus on character performance and facial animation.
The characters I was working with are-
They were modelled by Karla Zero and Slava Lawson.
Their bodies were rigged by classmate Ben Rogers, and were then passed on to me to rig the faces.
The facial rigs went through several versions as I continued to develop my skills, and as I encountered various difficulties with the models along the way.
Before beginning Kow's rig, the director pointed me in the direction of his various influences, and we discussed the style of animation he was hoping to create. As the character is very stylised, research into real life cows was very minimal. I looked firstly at other characters who are "humanised" in the way that Kow is. Characters I looked at included-
Looney tunes, Family Guy, Tom and Jerry, Roger Rabbit etc
The director had also suggested that he would like the piece to be reminiscent of claymation, so I considered this. I particularly looked at Aardman.
Here are a few blog posts from Jamie which also show useful influences-
I worked with the director closely throughout, as he planned out the ways in which Kow would move. We worked hard to realise his intentions in a 3D form, which is a medium he was initially unfamiliar with.
When rigging Kow's face, I experienced difficulty with the model. The Kow's face topology wasn't set up in a way which allowed for a good, easy to manipulate skin bind. When these issues were raised with the modeller, I was told there was no time to correct them, so I had to figure out a way to proceed. As the skin around the mouth was buckling and showing hard edges whichever way I attempted to rig it, I hesitantly decided to work with blendshapes on the character's snout. I discussed this with the director, and we agreed that this would be the easiest way to try to create exaggerated expressions as close as possible to what he was looking for.
examples of good topology- human and snouted
**(the two above images do not belong to me and were found using Google image search)
I am of the opinion that the character's range of expressions suffered because of these issues with the model, and the possibilities with a rigged snout with good topology would have been much greater. In this respect, I feel that my own work and what I was able to do was hindered.
Kow rig- mk1
The first rig used CV curves to control a basic joint/cluster set-up in the character's face, and an over-complicated bone structure within the head. The jaw bones were later discarded, as they were unable to work when implementing blendshapes on the snout.
I also designed a custom Control Pad with CV curves (seen on the right of top image), to enable the animator to control the face without touching the initial control curves.
Kow Rig- mk2
The second rig used a much simpler joint set-up, and worked purely with skin influenced by joints (no clusters, IKs). I wanted to keep it simple as possible, to allow it to be efficient and unbreakable.
The blend shapes were also set up.
Kow Rig - Final.
The final rig was more of an update than a re-do. Controls were added to the Control Pad to control the blendshapes.
These blendshape controls not only control the blendshapes on the snout, but also the "teeth" mesh and the "chest" control. For example, when "Ah" shape is turned on, the "chest" control pulls the geometry on the chest back, to avoid clipping. When the "N" and "Sh" shapes are turned on, teeth appear inside Kow's mouth.