Image courtesy of João Victor Ferreira

Rigging and grooming a 3D cartoon character in Maya

By - - Maya
4 mins
Last modification: 22 Jul, 2019

Breaking down the Maya grooming and rigging workflows behind his 3D cartoon character, João Victor Ferreira takes us through the making of "Farmer" alongside riggers James do Carmo and Giovanna Liber. 



The first step of this project was to get several references to create a good concept and an appealing character. Google images is the best source for this, because we can find a lot of different styles for any given subject. I wanted to create a very clean character without too many clothing items, while still maintaining the look of a farmer, so this led me to put overalls on the character.

3D Character Farmer References


3D Farmer Character Sharp Edges

For the character's design, I wanted to create a "believable" farmer, which meant creating a strong character who does manual work that would give him big, strong muscles.

3D Farmer Character Sharp Edges

I like to create a solid look using sharp angles for the shapes, such as on the nose, jaw, elbows, fingers, and ears. Since the character is cartoon-style, I tried to simplify the shapes with simple planes, to quickly visualize the character.

3D Farmer Character Planes


3D Cartoon Character ZBrush Sculpt

The "Farmer" was sculpted in ZBrush using the Dynamesh feature. After some proportion and style tests, I made the final shape.

3D Cartoon Character ZBrush Sculpt


3D Cartoon Character Topology

The topology of this character was made in Maya using a "poly-by-poly" technique. The goal is always to avoid strange bumps when the animators deform the mesh through rigging. I made a topology that could achieve the deformations of the main facial expressions of this character (always considering exaggerated expressions) and for the body's main movements for the arms, torso, and legs.

3D Cartoon Character Poly-by-poly Topology


I used the 3ds Max modifier, "Unwrap UVW," cutting the mesh with Convert Selection to Seams feature, then using the Pelt tool and Peel tool. 

3D Cartoon Character UV Mapping


3D Cartoon Character ZBrush Painting Map

All maps used to compose the final materials were painted in ZBrush. The main one, the diffuse map for the skin, is a mix of colors distributed using a Spray stroke type and some circular alpha brushes.

3D Cartoon Character ZBrush Painting Map


To render the character, I used V-Ray, and I used VRayBlend with a VRayFast SSS 2 material for the skin, tongue, teeth and sclera (white of the eyes), VRayBlendMtl for other pieces like clothing and the cornea, and VRayHairNext material for the hair. I like to use a Falloff map inside the sub-surface color channel to give the skin a little "velvet" aspect.

3D Cartoon Character Surfacing


3D Cartoon Character Grooming in Maya

For the character's grooming, I used Maya's powerful XGen toolset. For the hair, I used the classic XGen with the Tube Groom feature, because it allowed me to have more control of the hair's path. Then I used interactive grooming tools for the eyebrows, mustache, eyelashes, and arms, which gave me a more "artistic" grooming workflow. I had to use some density maps to control where the hair would be.

3D Cartoon Character Interactive Grooming


The rigging of the character was done by experienced riggers James do Carmo and Giovanna Liber, who explain the process: 

We decided to use this rig as an opportunity to see what we could achieve, in terms of deformations, without using corrective shapes. Our approach was to use extra joints and deformers, but as few as possible to keep the rig calculating quickly. We also tried to isolate each module of the rig (spine, head, limbs, etc.) in a way that allowed us to take advantage of Maya's Parallel Rig Evaluation.

3D Cartoon Character Rigging

Another cool thing is the facial setup, where we tried to get the most of the GPU cache. To do so, we built multiple layers of deformations without using blend shape nodes to blend those layers together. This way, everything was running on a single mesh. In doing so, we aimed to achieve a fast rig with really cool deformations.

3D Cartoon Character Facial Rigging


To light the scene, I used a key VRayLightRect coming from the top, two VRayLightRects as rim lights, and a VRayLightSphere with a linking feature for the highlights in the eyes.

3D Cartoon Character VRay Lighting

For the rendering setup, I used an irradiance map for the primary bounces and the light cache for the secondary bounces. The machine used was an i7-6567 3.3GHz, with 16GB of RAM and took about 7 hours to render the image with a resolution of 5K.

3D Cartoon Character VRay Lighting and Rendering


I did quick post-production in Photoshop that allowed me to play a bit with the color of the image and increase the light with a lighting pass.

3D Farmer Character Final Render

See more of João's work on his website:

Find João on Instagram: @joaovictor3dartist
Find Giovanna on Instagram: @giovanna.liber
Find James on Instagram: @james.2js


Posted By
Published In
  • Maya
  • Cartoon
  • Character
  • Rigging
  • Workflow
  • XGen
  • Film & VFX
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| 2 years ago
Amazing work guys, congrats!
Hi Tisun! James do Carmo sent you this where explain the process:
Edited by mtpbRTvf 2 years ago
| 2 years ago
hello , in the facial rigging section, you shared : "Another cool thing is the facial setup, where we tried to get the most of the GPU cache. To do so, we built multiple layers of deformations without using blend shape nodes to blend those layers together" can you help me: "multiple layers of deformations" ,what does it mean,? you mean facial based joint or what?,thanks so much