The control free rigging project represents my attempt to create a clutter free and clean animation environment using a rig that does not use traditional nurbs curves. Instead of animating the character through proxy using nurbs curve controls the user animates the character by selecting the character itself.
Character rigs in Maya and other 3D animation programs can contain upwards of hundreds of nurbs animation controls and attribute sliders on screen at once. Even more when there are multiple characters interacting in the same scene. This creates a very busy working area.
There is also a degree of disconnect between the animator and the character on screen. Rather than focusing on the character and performance the animator is looking at controls and sliders. Animating in 3D with nurbs controllers I liken to the metaphor of using tweezers to turn the page of a book, why not just grab the page itself? In the same way, why not just grab the character. If you want to move the arm, select the arm. If you want to move the joint of a finger, select that joint. If you want to move a point on the eyebrow, select that point.
After a bit of trial and error I came up with a MEL script and a workflow that allowed me use the actual mesh of a joint based character rig to create animation. The result I feel is a clutter free, non technical, very quick and most of all a very intuitive way of working.
Every control is selectable from the character mesh itself but to make sure every part of the rig is always accessible to the animator no matter the pose or camera angle I created a GUI which can select every point on the rig. There are also shortcut buttons to quickly bring up animation tools such as the graph editor, dope sheet, playblast window and the channel box. Quickly opening these controls from the character GUI goes further in creating a clean working environment. Rather than a cluttered screen full of Mayas menus, It is just animator and character.
There are also keying controls and buttons to toggle the rigs visibility, including the use of traditional nurbs curves controls which are also available if the animator prefers them over selecting the mesh itself. It was important that animators using this rig did not feel restricted to using the mesh controls only. They can use either the mesh controls, nurbs controls or both and change at any time. The mesh controls, nurbs controls and GUI selection all set the same keys so there is no restriction on how the animator works.
Lastly the animator can quickly pickwalk through every single mesh and nurbs control on the rig using the arrow keys. This results in a very quick and efficient way of working.