Creating a Skeleton in 3ds Max - Part 5 - Roll Bones

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  • 2013
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6 min

Creating a Skeleton in 3ds Max - Part 5 - Roll Bones

In this tutorial, you continue the process of building the arm bones by adding roll bones to the chains. Roll bones are an effective way to ensure the geometry around the bones deform nicely when the hand or wrist rotate resulting in a twist of the arm.


  • Recorded in: 3ds Max 2013
  • This tutorial is intended for use with 3ds Max version 2013 or higher.


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Now that you have the arm bones set up properly, you will need to add roll bones to the arm chains.

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Hide the Mesh layer temporarily.

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Roll Bones can go a long way to ensure the skinned arm deforms properly when you animate the shoulder and wrist rotations.

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When you rotate a wrist, it results in the twisting of the arm.

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Having roll bones rotating a fraction of the angle of the upper and lower arms ensures a nice flow of the geometry.

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To make your work a little bit easier, select the IK and FK chains and hide them.

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You can select a chain by double-clicking its top parent, in this case a shoulder IK or FK bone.

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In the Front view, zoom in on the character's left arm and select the original upper arm bone named "zombie_l_Shoulder_bone".

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Use Edit > Clone to make a copy of this bone.

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Name the copy: "zombie_l_ShoulderRoll_bone"

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At this time, the duplicate sits on top of the original and matches it in every way, making it a little harder to see in the viewport.

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In the Bone Tools dialog, set the taper value to 0. This makes the duplicated bone look more like a box.

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Change its wirecolor to differentiate it further from the original bone.

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Because it was duplicated from the shoulder bone, its parent is still the clavicle.

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Unlink it from the clavicle. You will adjust the hierarchy later.

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In this example, we'll use one roll bone for the upper arm and two for the forearm.

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Because of that, you want the upper arm roll bone to be half as long as the upper arm bone it is parented to.

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One way to do this is to refine the roll bone in the middle and delete the unwanted piece.

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To get a sense of reference where the midpoint is, you can draw a temporary reference box with two width segments.

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This makes it easier to refine the roll bone in the middle.

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Once this is done, you can delete the reference box and the unwanted extra rollbone near the elbow.

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Repeat the procedure with the forearm. Start by making a duplicate of the forearm bone,

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and set its taper value to 0.

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Change its wirecolor as you did earlier.

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At this time, the newly created duplicate is linked to the upper arm bone, much like the original forearm you copied it from.

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Unlink it from its parent. As earlier, you'll worry about hierarchies once the creation process is completed.

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Use the Refine tool to divide the bone in three equal pieces.

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Use a reference box with three divisions instead of the two you used earlier.

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Delete the small section closest to the elbow, you won't need that one.

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Also delete the reference box once you're done with it.

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Now select both forearm roll bones and link them to the forearm bone

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The idea is that when the wrist ultimately rotates, the roll bones rotate with it to varying degrees.

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Again this favors a smoother twist deformation for the skinning of the arms.

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Rename the lower arm roll bones: "zombie_l_ForearmRoll1_bone" and "zombie_l_ForearmRoll2_bone" starting from the wrist.

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Similarly, link the shoulder roll bone to the shoulder bone.

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Again, The idea is to ensure that when the shoulder bone rotates, the roll bone rotates a bit less.

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When you are done with the roll bones of the left arm, you need to repeat the procedure on the right arm.

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Avoid doing any type of mirroring for roll bones.

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Also, notice that these roll bones were created without any nubs.

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This is about the only situation where you use bones without nubs.

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The reason is you won't be using any IK or FK simulations on these roll bones.

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Ultimately, they will be constrained to the skeleton in a variety of ways so that they behave properly.

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In fact, you could have used any other types of elements here, (not just bones) to achieve the same effect.

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You could have used geometry (boxes, cylinders…) or helpers (dummies, points…) among others.

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Using bones however continues a trend you started for the skeleton, and does make selection filtering easier.

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Unhide the IK and FK chains and the Mesh layer before moving on.

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