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Thu, Oct 6 2011 16:38:12 UTC

Interview: Anzovin Rig Tools

This week we interview with Raf Anzovin, creator of several Maya plug-ins, and his studio's latest product, the Anzovin Rig Tools.

Can you briefly describe yourself?

I've been an animation and rigging professional for a while, and for the last eleven years I've run my own studio, Anzovin Studio. We do production work for games and commercials, but we're also known for our auto-rig plug-ins for Maya, The Setup Machine and The Face Machine.

What are Anzovin Rig Tools?

Anzovin Rig Tools is a suite of new rigging nodes for Maya. It has it's own bones, IK handles, constraints, and deformer. You can use these nodes to build rigs from scratch that take advantage of ART's unique deformer, or use them in a more conventional Maya rig to make some hard rigging problems easy.

Why did you decide to make this plugin, how did it come about?

One of the biggest problems with TSM2 has been it's speed. When we started looking at doing TSM3 we realized that, while TSM2 could be a bit more efficient, any fully-featured rig required a huge number of nodes in Maya, and Maya just isn't that fast at evaluating complicated node graphs. At first, we just had the idea of making a few new utility nodes that would do the internals of the rig faster, but once we started looking at writing our own nodes it became clear that we could do so much more.

How different is it from the built-in Maya features, why would someone use these?

ART's rig nodes do things automatically that are a huge pain to implement through Maya nodes. Shoulders are an obvious case--when a character rotates it's upper arm, the twisting deformation should be propagated up the arm to the elbow, not centered on the shoulder itself--not doing this results in very ugly deformation in the shoulder. Traditionally, this must be done with extra influences and a complex rigging system to figure out how those influences should rotate. Many of these systems break down at some point, usually when the upper arm is rotated past 90 degrees on one axis or another. This is the sort of obnoxious technical problem rigging artists have to deal with on a daily basis, for just about any character.

The ART deformer, on the other hand, handles this problem gracefully by default. You literally don't have to do anything to get perfect twisting deformation up the arm that will never fail, no matter where you rotate it--or even if you add a bunch of ART's Bone CVs and turn the arm into a wiggly noodle.

Similarly, the ART deformer automatically handles maintaining volume in a joint, and slides the mesh around the joint to provide a deformation quality that is exceedingly difficult to match through weight painting, even using a Dual Quaternion deformer. This is a general result of the deformer, not something that's centered around a specific joint, so if you add some Bone CVs and then form the bone into a curve with an acute angle you'll get exactly the same quality of deformation.

In a lot of ways, development of rigging and animation tools in CG are stuck in the late 90s. Clever rigging TDs have figured out how to produce good rigs with the primitive rig tools we have available to us, but it's really a chore to do even the most basic rig behavior. ART is a first step towards providing rigging tools for the 21st century.

How long have you been working on it?

I'd say it's been about three years now. Most of the work was in figuring out the right approach to get the results we wanted, but there was also (and continues to be) lots of work in implementation.

You're still in the alpha phase, how has feedback been from your demo so far?

Actually, we're not even in alpha now--it will probably be a couple of months till we are. But the feedback we've had has been great. It's awesome, after three years, to finally show what we've been working on and see that people are as excited about it as we hoped they'd be.

When do you expect these will be released?

It's too early to say for sure, but early-mid 2012 is what we're shooting for.

Do you have an idea of pricing yet?

We expect to be pricing somewhere between $300 and $500. Just like The Setup Machine and The Face Machine, you'll only need a license to make rigs, not use them. We'll have a free plug-in that will let you animate with them for free.

Can you tell us a bit about future features you're working on?

It's always hard to be absolutely sure about the features a product will be released with, but there's a few things we're pretty sure about:

1) There will be a constraint to attach transform nodes to a curved ART bone--not only on the curve, but anywhere away from the curve as well. These would get the same ''deformation'' effects as a mesh, meaning they'll both track a mesh perfectly and also supply the ability to use the advantages of the ART deformer to push transform nodes around instead of mesh points, useful to all kinds of rigging tricks.

2) There will be an ART aim constraint. Unlike Maya's aim constraint, the ART aim is built on the same technology as the mesh twisting and therefor provides aiming that doesn't flip or spin out without an up-vector.

3) The ART IK handle will provide the same stretchy and anti-IK pop tools as TSM2 built-in.

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