Creating a Skeleton in 3ds Max - Part 1 - Spine Bones

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  • Games
  • Rendering
  • 2013
  • Lighting and Rendering
  • Character Animation
  • 3ds Max
Skill Level
  • Advanced
8 min

Creating a Skeleton in 3ds Max - Part 1 - Spine Bones

In this 3ds Max multi-part series, you learn to build a skeleton. In this first tutorial, you will create the spine chain for your skeleton.

  • Recorded in: 3ds Max 2013
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2013 or higher.
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Before you start building the skeleton, make sure layer Bones is set current.

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You will start by building the Spine bone.

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The spine bone is the easiest bone chain to build as it's centered to the character and doesn't need to be moved or mirrored.

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Start in the Left view. This will orient the local-Z axis of the spine bones to that view.

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As mentioned before, this favors the bending of the spine forward and backward as a primary rotation.

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Actually, you're going to need two chains, one for the pelvis pointing down,

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and one for the spine, moving up all the way to the top of the head.

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Start with the spine. Go to the Create > Systems tab and click the Bones tool.

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Ultimately, you want to ensure that the bone chain you create has bones that are properly positioned to rotate the chain in specific joint placements.

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However, a useful approach is to position the chain first and then go back and fine-tune the joint placements.

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Here, you'll use three bones for the spine, one bone for the neck and one for the head.

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Depending on the complexity of the character, you may decide to have more or less bones.

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Unless you have specific needs, you won't need more than two or three spine bones to rig a character for games.

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Start clicking away to create the spine.

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Depending on the Width and Height values, the size of the bones could be more or less large.

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Undo the bone chain if necessary and set the Width and Height values to 1.

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Click to create the spine,

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neck and head bones roughly in place.

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Right-click to end the process.

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Bone sizes can be important when the time comes to skin the character to the skeleton.

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This depends on the rigger's workflow when using the Skin modifier.

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If the rigger elects to skin the character based on Skin Envelopes, then bone sizes become important.

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If the rigger elects to use Skin Weights (Vertex Weights), then bone sizes become irrelevant.

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Weighting vertices is often the method of choice for professional riggers.

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It is the method you will learn about later in this tutorial.

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This is why you can afford to have what are seemingly small-sized bones for this skeleton.

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At this time, notice that you cannot reposition the bones in any controllable fashion.

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For that, you need to access the Bone Tools dialog from the Animation menu and enable Bone Edit Mode.

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Now you can use the Move tool to reposition individual bones so that the joints are placed where you need them.

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Even though a real spine is further back in the body, placing it a little more centered actually helps when rigging a 3D character.

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Notice also that in this video, the first two spine bones are smaller than the third.

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That's because the third bone is located where the rib cage is, and the rib cage is rather rigid and actually deforms very little.

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When you're done editing the position of the joints, it is usually a good idea to reset the stretch of the bones in the chain.

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This resets any type of weird or unwanted scaling that may have taken place when repositioning the joints.

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This is done by selecting the bones in the chain, and then clicking the Reset Stretch button, lower in the Bone Tools dialog.

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Here's another situation to be aware of: notice what happens if you relocate the head bone in the scene.

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The nub at the end of it doesn't reorient itself to stay aligned with its parent bone.

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To fix this, you can rotate the nub, but an easier method is to actually delete it.

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To recreate it in the correct orientation, select the parent bone (in this case the head bone), and then click the Create End button.

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You still need the nubs in the chain for IK and FK purposes.

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There are very rare situations where you can actually do without the nubs.

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Undo the steps to go back to the correct head orientation.

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Exit Bone Edit Mode when done.

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Rename the bones in the chain.

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Name the spine bones: Spine1,

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Spine2 and Spine3,

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and the other two bones:

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and Head.

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Rename the nub bone: Head-nub

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It is also a good idea to give these bones a prefix identifying the character.

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After all, there could be another character in the scene sharing those bone names.

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To automate that process, select all bones and then from the Tools menu, choose Rename Objects.

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Disable Base Name and enable Prefix.

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Name the prefix: "zombie_"

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The underscore is optional but it makes for a nice separator between the character identification and the bone names.

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Click the Rename tool to rename the selected bones.

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If you test them out individually, you'll notice they all have the "zombie_" prefix.

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Another useful technique is to add a "_bone" suffix to the bone names.

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This works as a friendly reminder that these objects are in fact bone objects.

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This becomes invaluable as you start adding more entities to the rig in the form of shapes and helpers.

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Make sure all the bones are selected again and disable Prefix mode.

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Enable suffix. Name it "_bone" and click the Rename button once again.

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Verify the results. All the bones have proper prefix and suffix values.

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Leave the Rename Objects dialog open.

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Create a new chain for the pelvis. That's just one bone with its nub oriented down.

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Be careful not to start it too close to the spine bone, otherwise it would connect to it.

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In Bone Edit mode, align the pelvis bone to the first spine bone in Position XYZ, Pivot to Pivot.

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Make sure you are NOT reorienting the pelvis bone though.

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Adjust the nub but you'll most likely need to delete it and recreate it to make sure it's aligned to the pelvis.

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Reset the Stretch on these two bones

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and rename them: Pelvis and Pelvis-nub.

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Make sure the pelvis and its nub are still selected.

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Use the Rename Objects dialog to add both the appropriate prefix and suffix labels to the bone names.

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Close the Rename Objects dialog and exit Bone Edit Mode when done.

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If you wish, you can edit the pelvis bone's size to make it bigger.

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This will have no effect on skinning later, but it will make that bone representing the center of mass more prominent.

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In the next movie, you create the leg bones.
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  • 3ds Max
  • Rendering
  • 2013
  • Lighting and Rendering
  • Character Animation
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