Working with MotionBuilder in 3ds Max - Part 2 - Max Bones

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  • Film & VFX
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  • 2011
  • Character Animation
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Skill Level
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9 min

Working with MotionBuilder in 3ds Max - Part 2 - Max Bones

In this tutorial, you will create a skeleton in 3ds Max in preparation for further work in MotionBuilder. After you animate the skeleton in MotionBuilder, you will import the animation back to 3ds Max for rendering.


  • Recorded in: Motionbuilder 2011, 3ds Max 2011
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2011 or higher.


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When you want to animate a character, you essentially need two things:

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The first is a mesh object for visuals and for rendering purposes.
This is what defines your character as your eyes perceive it.

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The second requirement is a skeleton that drives the mesh.
This, in fact, is what you need to animate.

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The mesh itself can be built in a variety of ways
and requires knowledge of modeling and texturing.

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This will not be covered here as this movie set is about animation.

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The creation of a skeleton however, is what concerns us at this time.

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There are essentially three skeleton systems you can use in 3ds Max:
Max Bones, Biped and CAT.

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In this movie, you'll learn the workflow in using Max Bones
to build a skeleton that can be animated in Motionbuilder.

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You will learn about Biped and CAT skeletons in later movies.

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This scene named Mia_Bones that you downloaded for this tutorial shows
a girl in a T-Stance pose and facing the -Y axis.

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These are important requirements to go from 3ds Max to Motionbuilder.

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A bone skeleton was created to match the anatomy of this girl named Mia.

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The bone skeleton was created using the Max Bones tool,
found in the Systems panel.

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Bone structures were then created for the various limbs.

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Using the Bone Tools floater, fins were adjusted to help with the skinning
and colors were changed to help with the visuals.

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Next, limb names were renamed from the generic Bone001, Bone002…
to a naming convention that Motionbuilder can understand.

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This naming convention is very important to follow if you wish
to streamline the interoperability with MotionBuilder.

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If you watched the first movie in this series, you would have noticed
how easy it was to rig or "characterize" a skeleton in Motionbuilder.

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This was easy only because the skeleton was named according
to the naming convention recognized by Motionbuilder.

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If you need to export multiple characters (and multiple skeletons),
you can give the skeleton's bones a prefix.

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Select the objects that make up the skeleton, all bones and the helper
for the pelvis, and choose the Rename Objects tool from the Tools menu.

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Ensure only the Prefix option is enabled and enter a prefix name
followed by a colon.

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The colon is a separator. Internally, Motionbuilder is just reading
the bone names that come after the colon,
while the prefix prevents name duplication.

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Click Rename to rename the skeleton limbs.

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If you were building this skeleton to animate this character in 3ds Max,
you'd need to rig it.

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At this time, although there is a hierarchy in the bones system,
there are no constraints to make the skeleton behave properly.

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Rigging a fully-articulated bone skeleton in 3ds Max is no easy task.

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It usually requires the addition of IK solvers, 2D manipulators
and other scripts and expressions.

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However, if your purpose is to animate the character using Motionbuilder,
then you do not need to worry about any rigging process in 3ds Max.

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You do need to skin your mesh to its skeleton though.

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Select the mesh and apply a Skin Modifier.

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Add all of the skeleton elements as skin bones.

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Normally, you would want to fine-tune the skin
but we won't worry about that for now.

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Simply export the file to disk, choosing the default FBX option.

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Choose an export folder and give your file the name Mia_Bones.

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In the dialog that appears, you can choose what information
to store in your fbx file.

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For this scene, the only option you need to ensure is checked is the
Embed Media option.

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This ensures the texture applied to the Mia mesh is included
in the fbx file.

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Click OK to save the fbx file.

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Start Motionbuilder and open the file you just saved to disk.

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With the cursor over the viewer, press Ctrl+A
until the viewer is in X-Ray mode.

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From the Asset Browser, under Templates > Characters,
drag the Character icon to one of the skeleton bones in the Viewer.

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Choose Characterize > Biped to rig your character.

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The process is easy enough as you can see,
but only because you properly named your bones in 3ds Max.

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At this point, you can enable the Control Rig in full FK/IK mode
to animate your character.

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You can also retarget Mia onto an existing Motion Capture file.

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From the Tutorials folder, drag the Punch file into the viewer.

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Merge the Punch sequence into the current scene.

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A new, yellow skeleton appears in the scene and is already animated
to throw a punch.

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In the Character Controls window, under Edit, switch from
Control Rig Input to PunchGuy Input.

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Now Mia is animated to throw a punch.

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Of course, the idea is to take that information back to 3ds Max,
for rendering purposes.

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However, at this time, Mia's animation is dependent
on the motion capture file you added to the Motionbuilder scene.

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In order to export back the information to 3ds Max,
you first need to "bake" Mia's animation to the skeleton.

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The information has to be baked in Forward Kinematics mode,
mostly as rotational information.

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The process of baking the information is called "Plot",
in Motionbuilder terminology.

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This is done by choosing Edit > Plot Character.

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Plot the animation to the skeleton in order to export it back to 3ds Max.

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Accept the default parameters; they work well in most situations.

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If you wish, you can save Mia's animation separately, instead of saving the
full scene which also includes the Motion Capture file and its own skeleton.

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This is done by choosing File > Save Character Animation.

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Give your new file a name, for example, Mia_Bones_animated.FBX

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Back in 3ds Max, where we last left Mia in a T-Stance pose.

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Choose File > Import, navigate to where you saved the animated file
and select it.

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In the File content drop-down menu, make sure the Update scene elements
option is selected.

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This ensures it only updates the animated state of objects
that have the same name, in this case, all skeleton elements.

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Click OK to import the animation and watch it unfold.

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As mentioned before, there is need for a bit of refinement
at the skin level but we'll accept that for now.

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If you need to make further adjustments to the animation,
then you'd best do that in Motionbuilder again.

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Even after you've plotted the animation to the skeleton in FK mode,
you can plot the animation back to a Control Rig for further refinement.

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This is done by choosing Edit > Plot Character > Control Rig.

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You can then use a new animation layer to offset or fine-tune
the Motion Capture clip already on the skeleton.

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For example by offsetting the position of the hands and keyframing these
by pressing the K shortcut.

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Once satisfied, you plot the final animation again to the skeleton
and reload it in 3ds Max as shown earlier.

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As you can see, the process of exporting max bones to Motionbuilder and back
is easy provided you used the right naming convention for your skeleton.

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In the next movie, you look at a different scenario where the skeleton
is based on a Biped skeleton instead of a Max Bones skeleton.
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  • 3ds Max
  • Character
  • 2011
  • Character Animation
  • Character Effects
  • Workflow
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