3D Model Rigging for Games

If you’ve ever wondered how realistic and smooth character animations are created in video games, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will provide you with a wealth of interesting and vital information about how to rig 3D models.

Animation of game characters is a crucial element that brings the game world to life and makes it engaging. And one of the key factors behind captivating animations is 3D model rigging. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of rigging 3D models and provide valuable insights on how to rig them effectively. Additionally, we will explore the selection process for 3D model rigging software, enabling you to choose the right tools for your projects.

3D game art illustration of a male character rigging a skeleton model

Understanding 3D Model Rigging

Rigging in 3D animation, particularly in the context of video games, involves creating a skeletal structure within a 3D model and defining a set of controls or parameters that allow animators to manipulate and animate the model realistically.

Thanks to our practical knowledge in 3D modeling for video games, we can say that it is an essential step in bringing characters and objects to life in a virtual environment. Let’s delve into how a 3D model rig works in the realm of video game development.

The first step in rigging a 3D model for animation is creating a skeleton, often referred to as a rig. These bones are placed strategically to match the articulation points of the model, such as the joints in a character’s limbs or the hinges of a door.

Once the skeleton is established, the next step is to associate each bone with the corresponding parts of the 3D model. This process is known as bone binding or skinning. After the skeleton and bone binding are in place, control setups are created. These controls are used to manipulate the rig and, consequently, the 3D rig model.

Pixar-style animated depiction of a lively game developer character set against a simple backdrop. The character interacts with a 3D skeleton character model

What Does Rigged Mean in 3D Models for Games?

In the context of 3D games modeling, “rigged” refers to the process of creating a skeletal structure within a 3D model and assigning it a set of controls, known as a rig. This rig allows the model to be animated by defining how the various parts of the model move and deform in response to movement.

The rigging process involves creating a hierarchy of joints or bones that mimic the structure of a real or fictional character. These joints are then connected to the corresponding parts of the 3D model, such as the limbs, torso, or facial features. By manipulating the rig controls, animators can create lifelike movements and expressions for the character.

It also involves assigning weights to the vertices of the 3D model, which determines how much influence each joint has on the deformation of the model’s surface. This weight assignment ensures that when the joints move, the model deforms naturally and convincingly, such as bending at the elbows or knees.

A side-by-side comparison of a character's design blueprint and its rendered version, set against a 2D game background with foliage and glowing elements

Benefits of 3D Model Rigging for Games

Based on our experience, we can highlight some benefits of 3D model rigging in gaming are numerous. It allows for realistic character animations, efficient animation workflows, consistent art styles, interactive gameplay, modularity, and detailed facial expressions. 

Here are some of them:

  • Realistic Character Animation

One of the primary benefits of 3D model rigging is its ability to create realistic character animations. This is not cgi vs animation, but by using a rigging system, game developers can define how different parts of a character’s body move, allowing for fluid movements, natural gestures, and lifelike expressions. 

  • Efficient Animation Workflow

The animation rigging workflow for game developers and animators. Once a rig is set up, it provides a structured and intuitive system for controlling and manipulating the 3D model. Animators can easily pose characters, apply keyframes, and create complex animations without having to manually manipulate each vertex or face of the model.

  • Consistent Art Style

With rigging, game developers can establish a consistent art style throughout the game. By defining the system and rigging animation controls upfront, they ensure that all characters and objects adhere to the same set of rules.

  • Modular and Scalable

Rigging games allows for modularity and scalability in game development. Once a rig is created for a character, it can be reused for similar characters with minor modifications, saving time and resources. 

  • Facial Animation rigging 

3D model rigging enables intricate facial animations and expressions. By using rig controls specifically designed for facial features, animators can create a wide range of emotions, lip-syncing, and nuanced facial movements.

3D model of a cute humanoid figure with a symmetrical design, showing its articulated joints and construction against a soft gradient 2D background

The Rigging Process: Key Steps

The rigging process is an essential step in the production of various forms of game animation, including computer-generated imagery (CGI), video games, and even puppetry. Rigging involves creating a digital skeleton or structure for characters or objects, enabling animators to manipulate and animate them realistically. 

This process requires careful planning, attention to detail, and a solid understanding of both artistic and technical principles. Let’s explore the key steps involved in the rigging process:

  • Character Design and Concept

Before starting the rigging process, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the character’s design and concept. 

  • Joint Placement

Joints act as the pivot points for the rig and allow for movement and articulation. The 3D model rigger determines the placement of joints based on the character’s anatomy and the desired range of motion.

  • Skeleton Creation

The rigging process starts by creating a digital skeleton or rigging structure using specialized software such as Autodesk Maya or Blender.

  • Skinning

Skinning, also known as weighting or enveloping, is the process of assigning influence or weights to the character’s vertices of polygons.

Curious cartoon boy standing underneath a large question mark, looking puzzled

How to Create the 3D Model?

If you’ve been wondering how to make game art as a programmer, let’s explore the key steps we need to take on the path to creating the perfect 3D model. 


And the first step, of course, is preparation and choosing between popular game styles. This step involves optimizing the 3D model by removing unnecessary geometry, ensuring proper edge flow, and organizing the model’s components. It may also include UV unwrapping the model for texturing purposes.

Creating the Skeleton

The rigging process begins by creating a digital skeleton, also known as a rig, for the 3D model. This involves placing joints in appropriate locations to mimic the underlying skeletal structure of the character or object.

Binding the Skin

Binding the skin, also known as skinning or enveloping, involves connecting the digital skeleton to the 3D model’s vertices of polygons. This process determines how the model deforms and moves when the rig is animated. It is crucial to be attentive at this stage and involve professionals in the development process because in games with realistic graphics and in all modern games, the appearance and movements of the character are of utmost importance.

Weight Painting

Weight painting is the process of assigning weights to the vertices or polygons of the 3D model. These weights determine how much influence each joint in the rig has over a specific area of the model. Weight painting ensures smooth and realistic deformations during game animation.

What software is used for 3D Model Rigging?

Through trial and error and based on our experience, our team has selected a list of 3D modeling software for games that best suits our needs.

The choice of software depends on the specific needs of the project, the preferences of the artist, and the industry standards. Each software has its own strengths and features, so it’s essential to choose the one that best suits your requirements and workflow. Here are some popular ones:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Blender
  • 3ds Max
  • Cinema 4D
Animated character examining a 3D digital skeleton rigged character

Do Automated Rigging Tools Exist?

Yes, there are automated rigging tools available in some 3D software applications. These tools analyze the 3D model’s geometry and automatically generate a basic rig based on predefined settings or algorithms. While these tools can speed up the rigging process, manual adjustments are often required to achieve the desired results.

High-tech robot in a dynamic pose 3d character with rig

Advanced Rigging Techniques

Advanced rigging techniques involve using more complex rigging systems, such as:

Facial rigs for controlling facial expressions

Lip-syncing

Custom rigs for specialized actions like tentacles or wings

These techniques go beyond basic skeletal rigs and allow for more intricate character rigging animation.

Inverse Kinematics for Games

This technique is used in rigging to control the movement of a character’s limbs by manipulating the end position of the limb rather than each individual joint. IK is commonly used in games to provide more natural and realistic movement for characters.

Prop Rigging

Prop rigging involves creating rigs for objects or props within a 3D scene. These rigs allow animators to manipulate and animate the props in a controlled manner, providing interactive and dynamic elements in a game or animation.

Animated woman in a flowing gown depicted in three stages: wireframe, colored, and shaded, animate rigged model in blender

Rigging for Cloth Simulation

Rigging for cloth simulation in game animation services plays a crucial role in bringing realistic and dynamic cloth behavior to virtual characters and objects. It involves the creation of specialized rigs that allow for the simulation of cloth movement, interaction, and deformation within the game environment. 

It begins with a solid understanding of the principles and properties of cloth dynamics. This includes knowledge of how cloth behaves under different forces, such as gravity, wind, and collisions. Understanding these dynamics is essential for creating accurate and believable cloth simulations.

Best Practices and Tips

When it comes to rigging, we as professionals in the field have developed several tips to ensure efficient and high-quality results. Take the time to thoroughly plan and understand the requirements of the rigging project before diving into the process.

During the search for the necessary software, many people come across the comparison of Unity 2D Animation vs Spine. However, it is important to understand that, for example, in Spine, rigging can be done unlike in Unity.

Use naming conventions for bones and controllers, group related elements together, and create a logical hierarchy. This helps improve readability and ease of use during animation rigging.

Rigging is a collaborative process. Regularly communicate with animators and other team members to gather feedback and address any concerns. Collaboration ensures that the rig meets the specific needs of the animation and overall project goals.

3D model of a humanoid robot with rigging points and interface

Optimization Techniques

Optimizing a rig is essential for ensuring smooth performance and efficient use of resources. Here are some optimization techniques commonly used in rigging:

Reduce the complexity of the model’s geometry by removing unnecessary details or using simpler shapes.

Implementing LOD techniques allows for different levels of detail based on the distance between the camera and the object.

Overuse of complex constraints can slow down the rig’s performance, so consider using simpler setups or baking animations when appropriate.

Rigged 3D figure equipment, warrior model, blender 3d rig

Rigging Workflow Efficiency

Based on our experience, we can say that efficient rigging workflows save time, improve productivity, and allow for easier collaboration. 

We always start by thoroughly planning the rigging process, considering the specific needs of the project. By properly organizing assets, naming conventions, and hierarchies our specialists ensure a structured and easily understandable rigging setup.

You can also create rig components or modules that can be easily duplicated, modified, and reused across different characters or objects. This saves time and effort by avoiding the need to recreate the rig from scratch for each new asset.

An animated adventurer character holding a sword, surrounded by puzzle elements, blender character modeling and rigging

Troubleshooting Common Issues

During the rigging process, various issues can arise that may hinder the smooth functionality of the rig or the desired deformations of the characters or objects. Troubleshooting these common rigging issues requires a systematic approach and an understanding of the underlying problems. Here are some common rigging issues and potential solutions:

  • Joints or controllers may be misaligned, resulting in undesired movement or deformation.
  • Improper weight distribution can cause deformations that appear unrealistic or result in undesirable artifacts such as “skin slipping” or “vertex pinching”.

Certain movements or deformations may not be achievable with the current rig, leading to restrictions in game animation possibilities.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Rigging Services

And now we would like to discuss in more detail the key aspects that influence the selection of specialists for rigging a 3D model. There are several points worth paying attention to, so let’s examine them carefully.

Rigging Portfolio

An outsourcing rigging portfolio serves as a powerful tool to demonstrate their skills, creativity, and the quality of their work to potential clients, employers, or collaborators. 

It allows us to showcase our technical expertise, attention to detail, and problem-solving skills through examples of successfully rigged 3D characters, creatures, objects, or vehicles. Visual evidence of our teamwork is more impactful than mere descriptions or claims, enabling clients to assess the team’s rigging proficiency.

Technology Expertise in Rigging

This kind of expertise is of paramount importance in rigging. It empowers rigging professionals to maximize rigging capabilities, efficiently solve problems, collaborate effectively, automate workflows, keep pace with advancements, and optimize rig performance.

Our rigging specialists with strong technological knowledge are well-positioned to deliver high-quality games rig that meet the demands of modern productions and contribute to the overall success of projects.

Rigging Services Based on Your Game Art Needs

Whether you’re developing characters, creatures, or objects for your game, having well-rigged models is essential for smooth animations and immersive gameplay. Here’s how rigging outsourcing services can cater to your specific game art needs:

blender 3D man model, rigged and surrounded by various tools and equipment, customize 3d character

Character Rigging

3D character rigging involves creating a skeletal animation and structure that allows for realistic movements, facial expressions, and control over various body parts for humans or animals like cartoon cat 3D models. Rigging services can provide custom rigging solutions tailored to your specific character design. 

This includes creating joint hierarchies, setting up controls for body parts, facial rigs, and finger controls. The rig can be optimized for seamless integration with game animation systems which were used for creating animated NFT characters, allowing us as animators to create fluid and dynamic character movements.

Vehicle rigging

Whether it’s cars, trucks, planes, or even futuristic spacecraft like our armageddon vehicle, proper rigging is essential to ensure smooth animations, accurate physics simulation, and interactive gameplay.

Rigging outsourcing services can integrate vehicle rigs with physics engines to accurately represent the weight, momentum, and collision interactions of the vehicles. By applying forces and constraints to the rig, the vehicle can respond realistically to various environmental factors, such as gravity, friction, and terrain conditions.

Creature rigging

If your game features creatures, monsters, or fantastical beings, rigging services can help bring these entities to life. Creature rigging involves setting up complex skeletal structures and controls to handle unique anatomy and movement requirements. 

From quadrupeds to multi-limbed creatures or even stylized 3D birds, our rigging specialists can create rigs that accommodate intricate deformations, muscle systems, and specialized game animation controls. This ensures that your creatures move realistically and interact convincingly within the game environment.