Setting Up the Rig & Muscles for a Realistic Polar Bear

Alexandre Fernandes walked us through the working process behind the Polar Bear project, showed how the character was rigged, and explained how its muscles were set up.

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Hello, My name is Alexandre Fernandes, or just Alex, and I've been a 3D Artist since 1998.

Throughout my career, I worked in several sectors of CGI production, and I currently work as a Freelance Character Rigger and CFX Artist for major studios and producers of films and games around the world, such as Casa Blanca VFX (Brazil), Method Studios Games (Canada), World Wide FX (London), and Green Gold Animation (India). I had the opportunity to participate in creating great films and games such as Hunger Games, Call Of Duty, Back 4 Blood, and many others.

My story began in 1996 when I purchased my first PC. In 1998, I studied and majored in Systems Analysis. However, my main interest has always been bringing 3D characters to life, so I made the decision to leave everything and focus on 3D Animation. Today, I specialize in creating rigging and CFX for muscle simulation, clothing, and grooming for 3D characters and creatures.

My sources of inspiration include films like Star Wars, The Matrix, and Jurassic Park, as well as animations such as The Lion King, Madagascar, and The Iron Giant. I have always observed the behavior of the characters in these animations, including their movements, muscle, and facial expressions. Nowadays, I continue to observe these details today in both movies and, most importantly, in the real world because I believe it is extremely important for creating realistic rigging and CFX for 3D characters.

Currently, I use programs like Marvelous Designer for cloth simulation, Maya for rigging, XGen for Grooming, and Ziva Dynamics for Muscle Simulation. I'm always looking to learn new tools and features, and now I'm learning how to use Houdini to combine results and extract what they offer from the most dynamic to improve my workflow.

The Polar Bear Project

The Polar Bear Project was conceived by World Wide FX with 3D supervision and modeling by Ran Manolov to honor Earth Day, which began in 1970 in the United States with an environmental forum that brought together 20 million people to protest pollution, and was instrumental in passing pioneering environmental laws on harmful gas emissions and protection of endangered species.

In this project, I was responsible for the creation of the entire rigging system and muscle simulation of a polar bear. As there are variations of bear types, I searched for various references of polar bears, watching videos and saving images to better understand their behavior.

The Workflow

The rigging system was created using Maya, and for muscle simulation, I used Ziva Dynamics.

First, I received the 3D model and created the entire joint chain base with reference 3D modeling of the character.

After that, I created and programmed the shapes of controls around the model to be able to move the skeleton.

The next step is to connect the skin to the joints, and then I worked on skin painting and refining until I had good behavior in the deformations.

Then I worked on the facial rig using blendshapes and controls distributed along the bear's face to achieve a more realistic result.

After the completion of the rig I deliver the file to a 3D Animator, in this case, the animation was made by Wasim Shaikh.

With the animation ready, I work the setup and simulation of muscles using Ziva Dynamics. This can be a very laborious step because the goal is to achieve realism in movements and this needs to be done with affection and a lot of attention.

At the end of doing the muscle simulation, I export only the geometry of the muscles calculated as an Alembic file and reimport again. This is necessary because the next step is to do the simulation of fat and fascia, so the file becomes much lighter to calculate.

Fascia simulation is done only after the calculation of muscle simulation and is a step that shows how the skin will slide over the muscles, it is very cool to do and see. After calculating fascia it is also exported as an Alembic file.

After the fascia is ready, I import it and make the combination with the final skin.

Finally, I create a setup for skin simulation always based on the results of previous simulations, and export the final file with an Alembic file.

The whole process between creating rigging and simulation took about two weeks, but the time for each project has variations and can take more time or less.

And here's the final result:


My recommendation to anyone who is seeking to learn and work with character rigging or CFX is to first be a good real-world observer. If you are going to make a human, look for references of human anatomy related to the goal of the project, for example, a human who practices bodybuilding and is a bodybuilder has a more evident volumetry and muscle behavior than an ordinary person. If you're going to make creatures, then look for related references, the sources are endless.

You can search for courses and tutorials, like these two, for example, over the internet. Learn about the most used programs in the field of CGI, whether for rigging, animation, VFX, or CFX, make your choice and seek to extract what the program offers best for you to achieve your personal or professional goal.

Remember that the industry does not care about your personal taste, it seeks professionals who collaborate to achieve positive results together.

If you want to see more of my works, feel free to visit my website.

Alexandre Fernandes, CFX Artist and Rigger TD

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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