Javier García Munuera has told us how the Hamilton Frogman 41 project was made, detailing the process of watch rigging in Cinema 4D, and sharing some tips that can help you along the way.
Hi everyone, I'm Javi García, also known as Pollo, the Co-founder at Verso Studio. For non-Spanish speakers, it might be worth mentioning that my alias, Pollo, means "chicken" in Spanish. My friends started calling me that a long time ago because they thought I looked like the animated character Chicken Little (I might still resemble him a bit), so that's the name I chose as my alias on the Internet.
I studied Multimedia Design at the Centre de la Imatge i la Tecnologia Multimèdia in Terrassa, near Barcelona. During those 4 years, I was exposed to a wide range of disciplines, such as photography, editing, programming, UX/UI, graphic design, game development, VFX, and motion graphics.
My first experience with 3D was with Autodesk's 3ds Max and AutoCAD. As soon as I created my first cube and orbited around it, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I had always been very interested in geometry, but things like calculus and formulas were not my thing. Instead, I was fascinated by the representation of figures, imagining them being constructed in the 3D space I had in my head. And I didn't have to imagine it anymore because I had it on the screen in front of me. On top of that, I later discovered that with lights and materials, you could create realistic images from those models. This was the exact moment my mind was blown:
One of the first things I did that I could be proud of was this T-Rex completely modeled from scratch (with awful topology). Unfortunately, at some point, I cranked up the subdivision levels, the file corrupted and I couldn’t open it ever again.
Soon, I began watching tutorials in addition to my university work, mostly focusing on VRay and hard surface modeling (shoutout to Adán Martín, the best Spanish tutorial maker out there). I started following more and more 3D creators on Instagram, which really sparked my inspiration and motivation. However, I soon realized that the content I liked wasn't created using 3ds Max and VRay, but rather Cinema 4D and OctaneRender. So, I started learning Cinema 4D through tutorials and Domestika courses (although it's not worth mentioning them as there are more up-to-date resources available now).
These are some of my first renders using the Cinema 4D/OctaneRender combo:
During my last year of university, I had my first subject centered on Cinema 4D, but I already had a good foundation from what I learned outside of the university. In fact, at some point, I started unconsciously prioritizing Cinema 4D over most university classes like programming, which cost me a few bad grades (funnily enough, I'm very interested in programming now).
I also had a Character Creation subject where we created an AAA character from start to finish using ZBrush, Substance 3D Painter, Maya, and Unity. Although I'm very happy to have gone through it, that made me realize I didn't like the character world and didn't enjoy any of those software and processes, not even rigging. Nothing resonated with me like Cinema 4D. I also had a Houdini subject, but the teacher and the way he taught it made me lose all interest. I never planned to get back to it until a few years later when Cinema 4D had already taught me the power of proceduralism.
Finally, my final degree project arrived. I knew that if I wanted to start working a 3D job after finishing university, I needed a showreel, but I didn't have almost any content to fill that reel. So I took the logo I had designed for my Instagram page and started playing with it, producing a crazy amount of scenes. Some of them were ideas I had written down for a while, others were based on tutorials. Unluckily for the world and luckily for this project, Covid suddenly came to have us locked down for 3 months, and that allowed me to really squeeze the project to the maximum. Here's the final result:
After my university, I did a Master's Degree in Motion Graphics. Although I had a solid technical foundation in After Effects and Cinema 4D, I wanted to learn more about professional workflows for real production. That degree led me to my first internship and a year later, I founded Verso Studio with two friends who had the same vision and passion as me.
My Relationship with Rigging
I have to say, I don't consider myself a professional rigger, but rather a generalist. In fact, I think it was Cinema 4D that led me to rigging and not the other way around. And by this, I mean that I had never been particularly interested in it, but I really love technical problem-solving, which is basically what rigging is about. However, I think it's worth mentioning that, as far as I know, Maya (and maybe Blender) is the industry standard when it comes to rigging complex characters for games and film, not Cinema 4D.
A couple of years ago, at the studio where I was working, there was a project involving an animated chicken (yes, perfect for Pollo), but no one in the studio knew anything about rigging. So, I took it as an opportunity to improve my Cinema 4D knowledge and spent a month watching tons of tutorials while I rigged the chicken with a lot of trial and error. Unfortunately, I can't show it now, but it involved a few dynamic parts like wiggly eyes, feathers, and crest.
Since then, I have fallen in love with procedural rigs and Xpresso, and I try to incorporate them into almost every project I work on (I even rigged a coffee machine!). There's always something to learn from the rigging process so I encourage everyone who wants to get better at it to try to apply it to everything they can. As I write these lines, I have just spent a whole morning trying to make a procedural chair in Houdini that I could have destructively modeled in 10 minutes.
Hamilton Frogman 41 project
The whole project took about 2 months, including the process reel we did after finishing it. One task I enjoy doing in the projects I'm involved in is preparing the models, correctly labeling and classifying the objects in the hierarchy, texturing them, and of course, rigging them. That process took about a week in this project, although there were some more iterations after that. As you can see, this was a small part of the project as, along with my partners, I was involved in every stage of the production.
I had worked with dynamic joints before, and I had also rigged a few watches, but I had never rigged a dynamic watch. And this one, which had to be floating and almost swimming in an underwater medium, was the perfect opportunity. That was one of the challenges of the project – having the watch go down to the bottom of the sea and then come back to the surface, without it looking like an animated character.
The rig is composed of two main parts: the regular IK chain, which has the dynamics, and the IK-Spline chain, which allows for more precise control of the position with the help of handles. I created a switch in my user data interface to alternate between the two, so when "Dynamics" is on, the regular IK is activated and Spline-IK is deactivated, and vice versa.
The first step was to create the joints. The first joint starts at the same point as the watch's strap itself, and the chain goes all the way to the tip of the strap. I had to do a few iterations on the number of joints and there are probably too many of them (a professional rigger might cringe seeing this), but it helped achieve a smoother look when bending with dynamics. As the strap had some holes, I also made sure with the modeler that the cuts on the strap's topology in that area were equally spaced to avoid harsher edges when deforming.
I bound the joints with the strap and weighted them, basically smoothing a lot (weight painting is my least favorite part of rigging).
Then, I created the IK tag in the first joint of the hierarchy and added the last one to the End parameter. Lastly, I activated dynamics in the Dynamics tab of the IK tag and started adjusting the settings until I achieved the desired motion. To easily observe the effect of each parameter, I like to configure it by creating a vibrate tag in the top null. This allows it to vibrate randomly while I adjust the settings because if it was still, you wouldn't see the effects. You can see the final settings in the screenshots below.
This was a bit trickier to set up, and I needed to repeat it a few times before getting it right. First, we must create the spline, which should go from the first joint to the last one. We might be tempted to use the Joints to Spline command that we can find in Cinema 4D's character menu but we have to be aware that this will create a spline with as many points as joints in the chain, and we only need a spline with one point at the beginning and another one at the end.
Then, we can create the Spline-IK tag in the first joint (same as where we had the regular IK) and specify the spline and the end joint. There are a few settings for aligning the IK that I just had to try until I found the ones that worked for me. Here's my final configuration (which might change in other cases):
Then, in the "Handles" tab, we need to create the handles to control the spline, which is the nulls (displayed with cubes for easier handling) located on the points of the spline. We will find some buttons there to assist us with this; we just need to click Add and Create, and a null will be created on the first point of the spline. If we repeat this process, a second null will be created at the second point of the spline, which should be the end of it. The Depth parameters that you can see under each handle control the weight of each point's tangent. You can use them to further adjust the position of your joints.
And that would be basically it. One last thing to mention is that the parameter interface that you see in the video where I showcased the rig, which has all the necessary parameters together, is just a simple Xpresso where I link the user data I created in the top null of the watch to every parameter I need.
Here you can see the result of the project, and also the process reel:
Final Words and Pieces of Advice
As I said, I'm not a professional rigger, so I don't think my path is the one to be followed by people who aspire to rig for film or games. Anyway, my advice would be to start simple but without being afraid of challenging yourself. Most of the time, a complex rig is just a combination of smaller problems, so just be patient, practice whenever you can, and learn to think procedurally!
During that month when I learned to rig the chicken, I saved all the tutorials I found useful in a YouTube playlist, so I just made it public for anyone interested.
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